Waiting was out of the question. Instead of squandering time on consumer clinics or tapping the company's already murky crystal ball, he shot from the hip. He launched a design competition within the company, challenging his employees to make an affordable two-seat roadster that would squeeze the best out of GM's neglected creative juices. "Keep the car simple, pure, and beautiful," Lutz decreed, "and it will be easy to love." He gave his designers a week to submit their ideas.
Along with a hundred or more of his colleagues, exterior designer Franz von Holzhausen put pen to paper. Though he had worked in GM's North Hollywood, California, studio for less than two years, the 33-year-old auto artist was no stranger to crash programs. At Volkswagen, he had helped shape the Concept One (precursor to the New Beetle), the Audi TT, and the Microbus show piece. "Sports cars from the '50s and '60s are my favorites," says von Holzhausen. "The competition began shortly after I attended the Monterey Historic Races in northern California, so superb Jaguar, Alfa-Romeo, and Cheetah designs were fresh in my mind."
For the most part the designers, von Holzhausen included, submitted sketches of rakish roadsters adorned with chariot-sized wheels and rubber-band tires. But when Lutz sat down to review the hundreds of submissions, it was a flaming orange coupe that caught his attention. "On a whim, I tossed that sketch in at the last minute," von Holzhausen says. "The following week, when my boss told me my theme had won, it was pure elation followed by panic (because of the) daunting deadline."
The race was on. While GM's West Coast team studied two rival roadsters-Honda's S2000 and Mazda's Miata-to help them lock in basic wheelbase and track dimensions, a surreptitious plan was being hatched in Detroit. GM's executive director of design engineering, Mark Reuss, conspired with project manager Mike Lyons to push Lutz's dream even further. Instead of building the fiberglass push car their boss had ordered, the two decided to build a real steel-bodied running prototype. It was a risk. Knowing their jobs could be on the line if the scheme backfired, Reuss and Lyons decided to keep Lutz in the dark as long as possible.
To compress the schedule, GM engineers decided to use as many off-the-shelf mechanical parts-from existing GM cars-as possible. Lyons recruited a small army of Detroit-area subcontractors to handle the myriad engineering and construction tasks involved in creating the body, chassis, powertrain, and various other odds and ends. Wheel to Wheel, a company with extensive prototype and concept-car experience, would build the engine and transmission. Roush Industries would supply the chassis, brakes, and suspension. InSite Industries was hired to provide stamping dies and steel body panels. Special Projects was assigned the critical task of gathering components from the other contractors and assembling them.
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