VetteGate: Spy photographers respond to fake Blue Devil pics

No doubt by now you've heard about VetteGate, our name for the prank pulled by online buff book Winding Road in its January 2007 issue. To recap, WR took a Corvette Z06 and masked it up with tape, fake fender flares and a hood scoop made from cardboard. The result was a car that looked convincingly like a prototype for the "Blue Devil" super Vette currently being developed by General Motors. The fake "Blue Devil" was then driven around Metro Detroit, which led to the public taking pics of the car and unknowingly submitting them to other media outlets as genuine shots of the "Blue Devil". The shots were then published online by The Car Connection, AutoWeek, MotorTrend and other sites like this one.

We were curious how professional spy photographers reacted to finding out that someone had driven around a faux prototype, perhaps one they themselves could've shot and sold for money to their clients. We asked both Brenda Priddy and Chris Doane, two names you should know if you follow spy shots that we've covered on Autoblog, to give us their take on the prank Winding Road pulled.

You can read a statement prepared by Chris Doane and a short interview with Brenda Priddy after the jump.


It is not uncommon for the prototypes we see in spy photos to be deceiving. Some cars may be comprised of fake body panels, others may be covered in rolls of tape that appear to be inspired by a zebra. Sometimes even the entire shell of a current model car is shoehorned over a chassis that's still in development.

On Friday afternoon, word started getting around on several automotive websites that something was awry with a few current spy photos of a silver corvette purported to be the Blue Devil "super vette." When these photos first hit the web some weeks ago, I knew something wasn't quite right with them. The most glaring issue was the lack of a manufacturer license plate. To me, something also didn't look quite right with the camouflage material. As it turns out, an online automotive magazine, Winding Road, fabricated a mock-up of a test car and drove it around the metro Detroit area.

I'm struggling to see the point of this stunt. I'm sure I will get responses like "Lighten up, it was a joke," but hear me out. If you read the story in the Jan 2007 edition of Winding Road that tells the tale of the fake prototype, the point of the ruse was to deceive other publications into running the photos. The story also chides "Irresponsible speculation has been put forth by Corvette fanatics, magazine editors and competing manufacturers."

If I had to guess, Autoweek, Motor Trend and The Car Connection aren't laughing. All of these outlets published the photos of the fake car on their websites believing it to be an authentic GM prototype. It was, after all, a fairly convincing forgery. Needless to say, this obviously doesn't make those outlets look good in the credibility department. Some of you may think these media outlets don't have any credibility to begin with. That's fine if you think that, but we're talking solely about this particular incident.

I know competition gets fiercer by the day among the various automotive publications, but purposely tricking your competitors borders on something that is less-than-professional journalism. It's certainly not a trend I want to see continue to the point where we have magazines warring with each other much like election time, TV attack ads. In the end, however, whether this stunt is equally or more "irresponsible" than printing speculation is up to all of you to decide.

The bigger issue for me, however, is that the fake corvette hurts the credibility of people like myself, Brenda and others who make their living shooting prototypes for everyone's enjoyment. It didn't take long after the fabrication was revealed for people to start asking if the photos of the black powertrain mule that I photographed back in October were fake as well. Let's answer that right now. No, they are not fake. We have very credible information that this black prototype I shot is a development car for the "super vette" program. For all those worrying that the program is a pipe dream, rest easy. It's very real and it's very loud. The black car I shot wore a typical blue "Michigan Manufacturer," license plate, was with a large group of other GM test cars and was driven by a person I know to be a GM engineer.

Needless to say, we certainly don't want people in the automotive world getting the idea that we fake our spy photos because that is something we NEVER do. If our clients thought we were giving them fabricated photos, we obviously wouldn't be in business very long. We were even offered photos of the fake silver corvette test car by someone via email, but we passed knowing something wasn't quite right with the car. I'm sure it may sound a little funny to hear someone who spies on large corporations for a living talking about his ethical business practices, but we do play by the rules. That is something even the OEMs themselves would tell you.

On a lighter note, the Winding Road crew did a pretty good job making a convincing mock-up. If I'd seen it go past me on the road, I would've turned around to shoot it. I just wouldn't have sent the images out after I got a good look at it on my computer screen. The spy photography business puts me in the unique position of being able to shoot first and ask questions later.

Overall was this meant as a joke? Yes, I think so. I hope so. Were there some unforeseen negative effects? Unfortunately, yes. Hopefully Winding Road and I can agree to disagree on the staging of this prank. I'd hate to lose them as a client. Especially since I'm selling a kidney tomorrow... how else can I afford the plane ticket to Australia to photograph those Camaro prototypes?

-- Chris


AB: What was your reaction to hearing that the Corvette prototype in these spy photos was faked?
Priddy: I was a bit disappointed when I heard about the "prank". Frankly, my major concern was that our actual "spy photos" would lose their value - their creditability. I've already had dozens of e-mails from readers questioning our Blue Devil / Stingray photos, which are in fact actual General Motors' prototypes.

AB: Do you think the prank will negatively effect your business in any way?
Priddy: I think publications will be more careful with "reader's photos" -and several may no longer want to deal with them anymore. It will be harder for the guy down the block to sell a pictures to XXXX Magazine in the future, as the publications will likely only want to deal with the professionals in the future - hoping to avoid such issues.

AB: Why didn't your company buy photos of the Vette in question when they were offered to you?
Priddy: Let's just say that we carefully examine each and every image that arrives in our mailbox. And although we want to distribute more images than any other company, we tend to be rather selective on the photos that we agree to work with.

AB: What do you want auto enthusiasts know about the way you take and screen spy photos before they're sold?
Priddy: When "spy photos" are offered to us by other photographers - professional or amateurs - I ask a lot of questions. Basically I want to make sure that the pictures weren't taken "on the other side of the fence" - and I want to make sure that no laws were broken - such as trespassing. Depending on the circumstances, I tend to ask a lot of questions! As for the photos we personally take - again, we never trespass. Nor do we ever touch the vehicle, or break any laws while getting the perfect shot.

Chris Doane is a spy photographer who works with Brenda Priddy & Co. scanning the globe for the latest, greatest cars that have yet to hit the showroom. Brenda Priddy is the queen of the long lens and one of the most accomplished spy photographers in the world. In the interest of full disclosure; Autoweek, Motor Trend, The Car Connection and Winding Road are all clients of Brenda Priddy & Co.

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