Getting things done within any entity the size of General Motors takes a certain grit. Thanks to devoted people such as Jim Perkins, Corvette has enjoyed constant production, even when bean counters within Chevrolet were sharpening their blades.
Jim always knew he wanted to work for Chevrolet and he was determined to make that happen. After two stints within the corporation, we can now look back at his career and the ways that he helped keep Corvette alive.
Starting out in 1960, Jim worked his way into a warehouse for Chevrolet, sorting out parts that had been returned under warranty. A wise man once told me, “If you want to see how well a company is being run, always check out their dumpsters. Knowing what they’re throwing away will help you understand where the problems are, what items need improving and what they’re trying to hide.” Unmistakably, Jim’s tenure sorting parts at the warehouse helped him understand the corporation’s true condition and prepared him to make the most impact when he got the opportunity to take the lead.
Within two decades, Jim worked his way into the General Manager position at Chevrolet. It was here, that his car-guy passion and pride for “his” company helped to lead Chevrolet and Corvette into the tumultuous 80’s.
In 1984, Jim was lured away from Chevrolet and went to rival Toyota. There, he helped launch the Lexus brand. After five years, and with a better understanding of why the Japanese had infiltrated the American market to such a degree, Jim returned to Chevrolet. He was chosen to help sort out the division’s line-up of cars and trucks with a new emphasis on quality, performance, fuel economy and safety. These core attributes were most important to customers, and Jim’s job was to share that gospel with the numbers men and executives within GM.
One of the key instances was the extent that Jim held the future of Corvette in his hands. The C4 Corvette was in mid-production and it was thanks to the efforts of Jim Perkins that the C5 generation ever got off the ground. He diverted the necessary funds to allow prototypes to be built and provided marketing funds to get the word out about Chevy’s latest and greatest. The C5 generation went on to dominate as Car Of The Year, several stints as a performance benchmark and dominated the ALMS class at the hands of Corvette Racing.
Jim also boosted Chevrolet’s NASCAR efforts and secured Chevy trucks as the benchmark throughout the ‘90s. In 1996, Jim retired from GM and found himself enjoying retirement with another fellow Chevrolet enthusiast, Rick Hendrick. Jim came on-board as the CEO and orchestrated the operations of the 100 Hendrick Automotive Group’s stores. He later became COO of Hendrick’s retail and racing efforts.
Tributes to Jim Perkins took to the internet late on Friday and the National Corvette Museum (of which Jim was inducted into the NCM Hall of Fame), stated that, “ “He was able to save the Corvette from cancellation by marshaling resources and talent in ways that he freely confessed (with a grin) ‘could have gotten me fired or worse.”
Truly, Corvette owes its very presence today to folks like Jim Perkins. Their hard work and determination led the marque through some dark times. For that, we are truly grateful and are saddened by their passing.