Jim Perkins Passes Away, The Man Who Saved the Corvette

Jim Perkins Passes Away: The CEO Who Saved The Corvette

Time does not pass for the true classics, but for the people who created them. Less than two years ago Peter Schutz passed away "The man who saved 911". And now, a few days ago, he has left us Jim perkins, responsible for saving the Corvette saga in its lowest hours. This American automotive management legend rose to Chevrolet's top rank from its modest beginnings in cataloging parts. In addition, his little Japanese adventure also linked his name to that of Toyota.

Endowed with a direct and impetuous character Jim Perkins showed off being a typical Texan. A man from the South who got his first job when in 1960 he began to work classifying components returned under warranty for a Chevrolet warehouse. That was the starting gun of a meteoric career rising to manager in San Diego, Dallas, director of marketing, sales manager at Buick ...

In short, if Chevrolet was the largest automobile consortium in the world, it was not only due to its engineers, but also to having good commercial strategists. And Jim Perkins was. So much that in 1980 he became CEO of the company. That boy who started from the bottom now saw himself in front of the Chevrolet with the challenge of continuing to make a dollar machine out of it. Of course, what he still did not know is that he would end up being the savior of the brand's most mythical model: the Corvette.

jim perkins corvette
Along with Corvette Chief Engineers McLellan, Hill and Duntov. Source: Corvette Action Center.


The business world is like football. Even if a player is the icon of a team and it has given him everything he is ... Money ends up sending loyalty and transfer. This is the only way to explain that in 1984 Jim Perkins left a Chevrolet in which he was the "captain general" to travel to Japan as vice president of Lexus. Toyota was interested in launching its luxury car division and spared no expense, writing Perkins a check that it could not refuse.

However, one always returns to what one is by in 1989 he returned to Chevrolet to replace Robert Burger -by the way, who died just a few months ago- as CEO. A priori everything was back in its place, but things were not going to be so easy. The company was going through moments of anxiety in the late 80s, when the competitiveness with other big brands made us rethink many things. In addition, low sales rates put key cars like the Corvette in the spotlight.

It was time to recover sales or go straight to a more than possible catastrophe. So Jim Perkins caught the bull by the horns -a precise expression for a Texan like him- and appealed to the pride of the great Chevrolet of the 60s. One of his first measures was the distribution of a badge to each employee of the company. Everyone had to wear it, clearly visible, united under the motto "Chevy Proud" Chevrolet pride. However, the solutions were not going to be as easy as this ...


During the seven years since he ran the company, Jim Perkins created a business strategy based on two lines. On the one hand the commercial vehicles division had to be strengthened. And he achieve it. Thanks to his dealings with dealers, he relaunched truck sales, helping to clean up Chevrolet's accounts. But on the other ... He was not willing for the company to lose its sporting image, leader in the production of many of the cars that have made the American fan dream.

jim perkins corvette
With the C4 the Corvette saga almost ended. Source: Chevrolet.

For this he reinforced the competition program, achieving 5 constructors' titles in NASCAR as well as numerous victories at Indy. However, although everything was going well on the circuits, Chevrolet's biggest sporting challenge was played in the offices: saving the Corvette. Even though that him Corvette C4 released in 1984 It was a big step forward in the saga, the good commercial results of the beginning began to stagnate at the end of the decade. Taking into account the cost of developing such a model, it is understood that auditors will start to get nervous in a situation of general sales decline.


The pressure from accountants was mounting, and by the early 90s, everything foreshadowed that the C4 would be the last evolution of the saga. Yet Jim Perkins crept behind the back of the rest of the company. His intention was to quietly finance the development of a prototype for the C5. Everything was played in such silence that until 1995 - just a year before the commercial launch of the C5 - Chevrolet did not confirm anything about the next generation of the Corvette.

jim perkins corvette
The C5 came to save the myth. Source: Chevrolet.

With V8 engines of almost six liters, the C5 came to stand up to models like the Viper. Meanwhile, Chevrolet had recovered sales and passed the difficult time of a staff regulation. The company could look back to the future with confidence without giving up its flagship. A Corvette that despite being a mechanical marvel was saved by a sales genius. Corvette fans will not forget Jim Perkins.

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Written by Miguel Sánchez

Through the news from La Escudería, we will travel the winding roads of Maranello listening to the roar of the Italian V12; We will travel Route66 in search of the power of the great American engines; we will get lost in the narrow English lanes tracking the elegance of their sports cars; We will speed up the braking in the curves of the Monte Carlo Rally and we will even get dusty in a garage while rescuing lost jewels.


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