The new Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 made a rare Southern California appearance on Saturday, accompanied by its designer, Tom Peters, who gave a comprehensive interview before a packed house at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
Extra chairs were needed to accommodate the unusually large crowd gathered to hear the story and design philosophies of Peters who, as General Motors’ director of exterior design for performance cars, is the man behind both the Gen 5 Camaro and the seventh-generation (C7) 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. The Z/28 is a pillar of Chevrolet’s unprecedented performance car line-up.
Moderated by YouTube celebrity car guy MotoMan, the genial, bespectacled Peters spoke for an hour and half, flanked on the by examples of his latest Camaro and Corvette creations, as well as standouts from prior generations of these icons. Afterwards, he took questions and signed autographs.
“All vehicles today have to be high performance and aerodynamic,” Peters explained. “You think of [aerodynamics] as pure engineering function … [but] there’s always a designer in the wind tunnel working closely with the engineers…. Every millimeter on that surface has been optimized in the wind tunnel.”
Peters’ interview traced his love of cars all the way back to seeing a friend’s father’s 1963 Stingray while growing up in Minnesota (“it was like a spaceship had landed”), and then making pocket money from selling mimeographed copies of his drawings of hot-rodded muscle cars to schoolmates in his early teens.
His dream was always to work on production Camaros and Corvettes (the first production parts he designed were wheels for the 1984 Corvette).
“The  Camaro has so much more sculpture to them, in and out,” Peters told his Petersen audience. “I attribute that not only to the fantastically talented designers and sculptors that I have working with me, but [also] engineering that allows us to enable the realities of putting the car together so we can work together to make these forms work.”
While Peters and his team fully utilize state-of-the-art digital sculpting in their design process, he stressed his continued belief in hand sculpture (“I’m convinced that the soul and the passion and the talent is conveyed into the clay,” he said).
The 505-horsepower 2014 Camaro Z/28 shows style elements of its celebrated 1969 ancestor (a restored example of which Peters himself drives), as well as echoes of its designer’s lifelong love of hot rods, spacecraft and robots. But an overarching influence has been Peters’ memory of the wonder he felt upon seeing that ’63 Stingray as a 9-year-old.
“To me, that’s what it’s all about,” he said. “It’s seeing that kid recognize what you’ve done, and you see a smile. That’s what I really work for – smiles.”