Drop-top Turbo-Jet speaks softly, carries a big stick
Tom Peters has spent 35 years in GM’s design organization, amassing a portfolio of design icons that includes the first Saturn vehicles, the Corvette Indy, the Pontiac Banshee, the Cadillac Sixteen concepts, the Cadillac XLR, and the C6 Corvette. Today Tom serves as director of design for rear-wheel-drive and performance vehicles. Adrienne, his daughter, inherited all the car-lust chromosomes and now serves as marketing manager for GM performance, essentially helping peddle the fantastic stuff her dad designs. We had the distinct pleasure of cruising with both of them at the 2017 Woodward Dream Cruise, and we shot photos of the cars that moWost interested the pair. Herewith: the Peters’ picks of the Woodward litter.
Tom’s 1965 Chevrolet Impala SS396
“Big-block, stick, air!” That’s the rare combo that drew Tom to this particular ’65 Impala, but the impetus to seek one out was the fact that a neighbor had one back in the day, and it made a big impression on Tom. He’d grown up liking GM cars, though his dad was not in the business and did not have any car-guy genes to pass along to Tom. “Everything was amped up in those days of absolutely herculean cars—Cobra Jets, 427s, 396s,” he said. Tom and his friends all got the car magazines and compared notes. He built loads of model cars and began drawing cars almost obsessively. He got good enough at depicting the iconic customized cars of the day, such as Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Rat Fink, that he’d sell small original sketches for a quarter or draw them in permanent marker on a T-shirt for $3.50 USD. It was clearly time well spent.
Adrienne’s ’70/’72 Chevrolet Monte Carlo
OK, the VIN identifies this car as a 1972 model, but Adrienne prefers the simpler, finer lines of the ’70. When the best body she could get was a ’72 model, she simply replaced all the trim items that differentiate the styling with 1970 bits. At the start of the project in 2009, while she was still in college, she sat at the kitchen counter with her dad. “I talked,” she said. “He sketched.” They came up with a murdered-out matte black minimalist look with a cowl-induction hood, no badging (her dad debadged even his company lease cars), and tall-sidewall wide rubber all around. The frame was blasted, boxed, minitubbed (to accept 14-inch-wide rear wheels and tires), and signed by Adrienne in welding rod. The engine is an LS6 short-block dressed with a GM Performance top end, mounted to a THM400 automatic spinning a 3.73:1 Positraction axle.
1968 Chevrolet Chevelle 327
Adrienne first set out to find a ’68 Chevelle. She was particularly drawn to the way the narrow taillamps stretched around the side of the car. “I always wanted to build one, but you see a lot of them,” she said. “I wanted something uncommon and unexpected.”
1966 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
When Tom was a kid during a stint living in the greater Twin Cities region in Minnesota, he recalls one of the kids at his school being dropped off every day in one of two C2 Corvettes. They looked similar except one of them had a TV screen in the dash. He presumes the dad in question might have been a Honeywell exec.
As we pass a gathering of Vipers, we ask the man who’s worked on multiple Corvettes what he thinks of the Viper design. “I like the first one the best,” he said. “With the second one it seemed like they were looking at the Corvette too much. I wouldn’t want to own one, but I appreciate it.”
1969 Chevrolet Nova 502
Ate up with motor! If you zoom in on the engine identifier ahead of the front side marker lamp on this “No. 2” Nova, you’ll see it has been customized to match what it is that has forced the big bulge in that hood: one of the five 502 big-block offerings from the Chevrolet Performance catalog. Tom is friends with the driver’s dad—big-block owners unite!
1961 Chevrolet Corvair Lakewood
“Boy, you don’t see one of those every day.” Tom said as we rolled up on this nicely preserved station wagon example of Ed Cole’s rear-engine VW rival. As we pulled alongside the driver’s window, Tom shouted, “You’ve got the coolest car on the street!”
1999 Chevrolet Camaro
As a GM exec’s daughter, Adrienne was fortunate enough to hop on the company car bandwagon pretty early. Her first car, which she got at the age of 16 and still remembers quite fondly, was a 1999 Camaro. “That might have been a bit too much car for her—she got in a bit of trouble with that one,” Tom said. (Only speeding tickets! Nothing serious.)
1965 Ford Thunderbird
“I’ve always loved those,” Tom said as we rolled by this red beauty. “You mean even before Thelma and Louise?” we asked (and yes, they ruined a perfectly good ’66, not a ’65). “Yeah, I’ve always considered that car a symbol of California cool.”
1965 Chevrolet Impala 283
Tom and this guy exchanged the customary pleasantries, which is extremely easy at the low-n-slow pace of traffic during Woodward Dream Cruise week. The Avenue was lousy with ’65s, but we never saw a single ’63 Impala. We were looking for one because Tom is especially fond of the sculpture on that car, some of which was likely imprinted on him during his childhood when he fondly and frighteningly recalls riding along with older 17-year-old friends and tearing up the back roads at blistering speeds.
1950 Chevrolet DeLuxe
When we asked Adrienne if she had any particular fondness for cars born well before she was, she instantly identified “those fun shoebox cars” such as the 1950 Chevy. They must still be popular because we saw several shoebox-era Chevys on the Avenue, including this little cutie standing guard outside the Sprint store.
C2 Corvette Grand Sport Custom Clone?
This quasi Corvette Grand Sport knockoff had even Corvette expert Peters scratching his head. It featured the radical wheel flares, a rear diff-cooler, contoured clear lenses covering fixed headlamps, and an extreme big-block clearance hood of a Grand Sport, but also this six-lamp rear treatment. And it’s black, not blue and/or white. Alas, you’re likely to see anything on Woodward!
1971 Camaro Z28 RS
“When that generation of Camaro first came out, I didn’t like it,” Tom said. “But over the years, it’s grown on me. Now I really like its almost Ferrari-like lines.” We agree wholeheartedly, and a Z28 with the split bumper and Endura nose would be exactly the one we’d seek out.
1971 Ford Torino GT
As we passed this hidden-headlamp, pointy-nosed Torino, we all agreed that its design, which was inspired by the Jaguar Pirana concept (which led directly to the Lamborghini Espada four-seater), was one of the higher points of Ford styling in its time.
1951 Chevrolet De Luxe convertible
See, matte black isn’t just for murdered-out race cars and bucks-up supercars—it can also make “shoebox” cars with chrome and wide whites look totally cool!
1968 Dodge Super Bee
As we were turning off the Avenue at the end of the evening, Tom spotted a ’68 Dodge. “Man, look at that Super Bee,” he said. “There are some beautiful shapes on that car. It’s one of my favorite non-GM cars.” Like father, like daughter. Adrienne said almost the exact same thing, adding her appreciation for classic, expressive Mopar.