A Salute to the Amazing ZR-1 and ZR1 Corvette

Dateline: 12.6.11

A Salute to Chevy’s “King of the Hill” the ZR-1 and ZR1

(Check out the BIG versions of the ZR1 Tribute print on the right, at the bottom of this post.)

When the ZR-1 Corvette first arrived in 1970 almost the only people that noticed were the Corvette racers and a few magazine gearheads. That’s because RPO ZR1 was the latest of Zora Arkus-Duntov’s “racer kits.” The ZR-1 was an LT-1 version of the ‘67-’69 L-88 racer kit package that Duntov deliberately designed to be a “track-only” car. There were no creature comforts – no radio and even no heater. The suspension was completely heavy duty and could jar your molars out on normal streets. Plus, the lack of a proper radiator shroud made driving the car in stop-and-go traffic an engine killer.

Consequently, from ‘70 to ‘72, only 53 official ZR-1 Corvettes were built. After the end of ‘72, the Corvette market began to move away from performance to a boulevard car. It took 18 years for the ZR-1 to surface again, but this time as a world-class Grand Touring road machine. Packed to the gills with creature comforts and powered by the all-aluminum, double-overhead-cam, Lotus-designed, Mercury marine-built LT-5 engine, this was no “off raod use only” machine. When the clamshell hood of the press preview ‘89 ZR-1 was opened, jaws dropped and grizzled automotive journalists gasped at the sight of the LT-5.

The Corvette team was a very different group from the late ‘60s. One thing Dave McLellan and his team were determined to do was make sure their new world-class Vette was NOT launched prematurely. The team intended to release the ZR-1 as an ‘89 Corvette, but smartly chose to postpone production a year to make sure the car was right. The only downside to the entire enterprise was a small matter of the BIG price. At $27,016 on top of the $31,979 base price, this wasn’t just an engine option. No, no. everything from the flywheel back to the tires was bigger, more stout, and heavy duty. And rather than just add flares to the fenders to cover the oversized tires (ala the C3 L-88 fender flares), the entire back end of the car was widened. Unfortunately, the change was only noticeable to those with a keen Corvette eye or if the ZR-1 was next to a regular C4 Corvette. But, we won’t pick, as it was a magnificent car.
Offered from ‘90 to ‘95, a total of 7,018 ZR-1s were produced. The first year’s sales was the best with 3,049 units built and 448 units produced in ‘93, ‘94, and ‘95. With the C5 on track for a ‘97 release, the Bowling Green assembly plant needed time to tool up for the new car, so the ZR-1 was put out to pasture at the end of ‘95. Perhaps Chevrolet anticipated better sales, but at nearly double the cost of a regular Corvette, plus the recession of the early ‘90s, sales weren’t spectacular.

Enter the C5 with the new LS1 engine followed by the official factory-supported C5-R racing program and the Z06 performance version of the Corvette hardtop model. In retrospect, no one was even talking about the ZR-1 anymore, let alone asking Chevrolet if there might be a ZR-1 in the works. Then, before we knew it, the C6 Corvette arrived in ‘05, followed by the race car-like Z06 in ‘06! WOW! With 505-horsepower on tap thanks to the new LS7 engine, the Corvette community thought they’d gone to Corvette heaven!

Then in early ‘08 we started hearing rumors about a “Super Corvette” that was in development. Some fuzzy long lens photos began popping up, along with “leaked” reports that the car would be called the “SS Corvette” or the “Blue Devil Corvette.” Then one day I happened to see a YouTube video that had been made by some young dudes from inside a car in traffic with an iPhone. The Corvette pulling away from them with a distinctive supercharger “whine” sound. I’ve spent enough time in drag racing to recognize that sound. “I hear a supercharger there!” I said. A little while later, Chevrolet announced the new C6 ZR1. Yes, the ZR1 was back, with a supercharger, and packing a whopping 638-horsepower! And the rest, is history.

After the C6 ZR1 came out I thought, with three distinctive generations of ZR1s, why not create a ZR1 tribute? The below layout is available as an 11×17 parchment paper print, signed and numbered by yours truly for just $24.95, plus $6.95 S&H. Specific print numbers are available. Or, for something really unique, we offer the same layout Laser-Etched on brush-finished metalized mylar for $49.95, plus $8.00 S&H.

Looking ahead, will there be a C7 ZR1? According to the Jalopnik published computer renderings, yes – possibly in 2014. Stay tuned! – Scott

To order your ZR1 Tribute print, you can use the safe PayPal buttons under each of the below images, or call Toll-Free at 1-800-858-6670 10AM to 9PM Eastern Standard Time and order by phone with a credit card.