C4 ZR-1 Corvettes
Dateline: 8.11.17 – Photos: GM Archives, Michael Beal, Illustrations: K. Scott Teeters – There’s an unwritten, unofficial “Law of the Jungle” that basically states, “If you are at the top of the food chain, you might not be there for long.” Such was the case for the C4 ZR-1 Corvette, for a little while. The C4 ZR-1 had a six-year production run with only 7,018 units produced. The ZR-1’s head-exploding price was the biggest limiting factor. The crummy economy in the early ‘90s didn’t help, and the much-rumored, all-new C5 no doubt was a drag on the ZR-1’s sales. And then there was also that pesky Dodge Viper. The 427 Cobra’s “Marley’s Ghost” was obvious, only this time disguised as a Dodge,
While armchair quarterbacking is easy and hindsight is 20/20, it is worth asking the question, why wasn’t such an awesome car more successful? “Timing” aside, the ZR-1’s aesthetics was a big factor. Stated simply: When viewed by itself, the C4 ZR-1s look like “regular” Corvettes. As an illustrator and stylist, I find it astonishing that Chevrolet would have done this, after all the engineering work that went into the ZR-1. The body panels from the doors all the way back to the rear bumper cover, are unique to the ZR-1 – made wider to cover the widest tires put under a factory-built Corvette body, to that point. This means that the panels had to be redesigned. But rather than make them visually unique, the Corvette stylists were commanded to imitate the basic design of the standard Corvette, with one exception Continue reading
Race-prepared, stock 1990 ZR-1 Shatters a 50 Year 24-Hour Speed Record
Dateline: 5.22.17 (This story first appeared in the May 2017 issue of “Vette Vues”) – Racing Corvettes used to have a long history of durability issues. There are many reasons why Corvette racecars had durability issues, but one of the biggest is easy horsepower. It’s always been relatively easy to get a lot of power out of a small-block or big-block Chevrolet engine. If a builder is more oriented towards drag racing, the temptation for an extra 50-horsepower is just too tempting for many builders. That’s fine for drag racing where a car is stressed to the max for a matter a seconds. But in endurance racing, you have to finish to win.
From the perspective of the mid-1980s, the new C4 Corvette was light years ahead of the previous two-generation Corvettes. In the mid-1980s Corvettes were so fierce in SCCA Showroom Stock racing that after two years they were kicked out for being too fast! So, the factory-built Corvette racecars duked it out in their own series, The Corvette Challenge. Breakage with the C4 cars wasn’t much of an issue thanks to the much-improved structure and suspension, plus the cars weren’t powered by massive, torque-monster big-blocks. Continue reading
1991 Callaway Supernatural 550 Well Bought at Barrett-Jackson Las Vegas Auction 9-25-15 – Video
Dateline: 9-25-15 – Car auctions are a ton of fun! I mean it doesn’t take long and the sing-song of the auctioneer starts to have a happy sound. But not as happy as seeing someone getting an awesome deal on a stunning Corvette.
In 1991 the ZR-1 was the “Corvette to die for!” Everything was SO exotic, it’s too bad Chevrolet played it outrageously safe with the body styling that looks almost exactly like a regular Corvette. On well, ZR-1s are still beauties and the only way it could get better was to have Callaway Engineering do their thing on top of what was already Corvette’s flagship model. Continue reading
August 31, 1992 – Dave McLellan accepts early retirement and steps down after 18 years as the Corvette’s second Chief of Engineering.
General Motors had a mandatory, “retirement at 65” policy, so as Corvette Chief Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov was nearing retirement in January 1975 the big question was who would be chosen to fill Zora’s big shoes. Duntov was not consulted about his replacement and McLellan would not have been his choice, but Dave was definitely the man for the job. McLellan was an Alfred P. Slone Fellow with a degree in engineering and management. The ‘70s was not a fun time and there were serious issues to be dealt with besides horsepower, racing, and mid-engine designs. There were emissions and quality control issues, as well as the implantation of a new assembly plant and an all-new Corvette to be designed and developed.
When the C4 Corvette came out it received rave reviews – “The Best Vette Yet!” and under McLellan’s leadership kept getting better and better every year. By the late 80s, performance was back to late 1960s levels, Continue reading
Wil Cooksey shares his life story and career in GM and building Corvettes.
Dateline: 8.29.15 – Yesterday we told you about the 2015 Corvettes at Carlisle show and that Wil Cooksey is one of the special guests for the event. Actually, ever since Wil put on that stunning, explosive burnout display back in 2007, he’s become an almost permanent fixture of the Corvettes at Carlisle show.
On April 5, 2013 I had the pleasure of interviewing Wil Cooksey on my Far Out Radio program. The YouTube version of the program is below.
Here’s What Corvettes Mean To People
The other day Joe Pruitt, the Event Coordinator/Owner of the National Corvette Homecoming event contacted me to tell me about their new event video by Efran Films that covered the National Corvette Homecoming 2014 event. This is a very touching video that captures what Corvettes mean to people. As we know, they’re not just “car” they’re something else. Actually, the people in the video say it perfectly. This video has heart! Enjoy! – Scott
A Most Excellent Addition To Your Corvette Library
I’ve been collecting car magazines and car books since the mid-’60s. My library has gotten larger than I ever imagined. There’s one book that I accidentally bought three times. I have four different versions of essentially the same book authored by Randy Leffingwell and published by Motorbooks. All four versions are very nice books, loaded with excellent images and well written prose by Leffingwell. But each time I bought the book online, I thought I was getting a different book because the covers and sizes are all different.
So, when I saw that Motorbooks was publishing “Corvette Sixty Years,” I was holding out in hopes of a totally new book and not a shuffled around version of the previous “Corvette Fifty Years” with some updated C5 and C6 material. I was NOT disappointed! Leffingwell and MBI have delivered the goods! The book is, for me, a visual delight. You see, when you have as many books and magazines as I have, you’ve probably seem nearly all of the old vintage photos showing the design and development work on the Corvette. At least, that’s what I thought!
Our New Partnership With FineArtAmerica.com
We are very happy to announce our new Corvette art prints enterprise with FineArtAmerica.com. But first, I must give credit, where credit is due. My lovely wife and business partner Karen, discovered FineArtAmerica.com about a month ago. Partnering with FineArtAmerica.com allows me the freedom to create Corvette art print layouts in any proportion. FineArtAmerica.com allows customers to order my Corvette prints in sizes to fit their budget needs! The optional matte and framing service allows customers the freedom to choosing their color matte and frame style to suit their decor needs.
By offering our Corvette prints through FineArtAmerica.com, customers can order prints as small as 8” x 2-5/8” up to 48” x 16” for our 1×3 proportion layouts and 8” x 8” up to 48” x 48” for our square proportion layouts. Every print can be produced on either archival matte paper, photo paper, watercolor paper, or canvas. Then, if you want, you can have your print custom matted and framed. There are dozens of matte colors and frame styles. You can design your framed print to match your home decor. The possibilities are staggering!
The Master of Cut-Away Technical Illustration Automotive Art
Please allow me to indulge myself and geeze a little. It seems that the farther north you are from the age of 50, the more times from the past begin to blur together. If you’re under 30 or 40 and are wondering what I’m talking about, just wait. I think it was somewhere around 1984 or 1985 the first time I saw one of David Kimble’s cut-away technical illustrations.
While Kimble had been working for many years as a technical illustrator for the US Navy, an RV company, the Chaparral Racing Team, the Harrison Racing team, and Sports Car Graphic Magazine, I believe that it was his 1984 technical illustration of the then-new 1984 C4 Corvette that put him on the automotive map. If it wasn’t his ‘84 Corvette cut-away that I first saw, then it was his Ferrari F40 cut-away that appeared in Motor Trend that definitely caught my attention. In the early ‘80s I was a freelance commercial artist specializing in machines. There was a wonderful magazine for commercial and graphic artists back then titled, “Step-By-Step Graphics” that was truly awesome for aspiring artists. Each issue featured several articles that took you on a step-by-step overview of exactly how the artist created their works. It was a terrific magazine.
One issue had a feature story covering David Kimble’s unique approach to the classic “cut-away” style of technical illustration. I was already familiar with James A Allington’s cut-away illustrations from a series of Shell Oil print ads that ran in the late 60s featuring famous road racing cars, such as the Ford GT40, Jim Hall’s Chaparral, and others. But Kimble’s style was quite different and unique. Where as most cut-away technical illustrations show what’s under the car’s body by illustrating a section of the body that seemed to be snipped away, Kimble created a new dimension to the “cut-away” body sections. David’s illustrations looked as if most of the car’s painted body was transparent. Parts, such as tires, wheels, floorboards, dash panels, transmission cases, valve covers were either transparent or used the traditional “cut-away” technique. When you look at a Kimble technical illustration, you experience a journey of discovery. For us gearheads, Kimble’s art satisfies the the question, “What’s under there?” Continue reading
A Salute to Chevy’s “King of the Hill” the ZR-1 and ZR1
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. Continue reading
Check out the state-of-the-art Bowling Green Corvette factory on “Ultimate Factories.”
Back in the olden days, you know, pre-Bowling Green, if you wanted to buy a Corvette, you simply went to your friendly local Chevrolet dealer and bought your car. While some Corvette buyers may have been aware that their Corvette was built in St. Louis, most couldn’t have cared less, and were more focused on the experience of owning and driving their Corvette, rather than where it was assembled.
All Corvettes from 1953 to 1980 were built in the old St. Louis assembly plant. If you go back and read early road tests from the ‘60s and ‘70s you’ll see a consistent complaint – spotty to poor build quality. Some cars were built very well, most okay, and too many not good at all. It was a time when you didn’t want a “Monday car” for obvious reasons. Owners and magazine writers complained and GM listened. By ‘77 GM started looking for a new Corvette facility. Four location candidates were identified: Waco, Texas, Wichita, Kansas, Montgomery, Alabama, and Bowling Green, Kentucky. The little town of Bowling Green, Kentucky won the contest after granting GM some serious tax breaks.
Once the deal was signed, GM had just 15 months to convert the old Chrysler AirTemp plant into a state-of-the-art assembly plant, ONLY for Corvettes. Floor space was enlarged to a million square feet – about 22 football fields. This move on GM’s part put to rest all concerns as to how serious GM was about building Corvettes. On June 1, 1981, Kentucky Governor John Brown drove the very first Bowling Green-built Corvette off the assembly line. (I wonder how much THIS car will go for at auction some day?) This was arguably one of THE most important developments in Corvette history. Continue reading
Of the 23 Corvettes Edmonds picked, vote for your favorite at the end of this post!
Back on September 14, 2011 we shared with you the results of Chevrolet’s Centennial birthday celebration popularity contest to find the most popular Chevrolet of all-time. Like American Idol or Dancing With the Stars, the Greatest Chevy contest was a popularity contest. Certainly an argument could be made as to why the C6 ZR1 is the greatest Chevy of all-time because of its overall performance, the LS9 engine, top speed, etc. But that’s not what Chevrolet wanted to know. They wanted to know what was the most “favorite” Chevy of the last 100 years.
Well it seems that the people at Edmonds.com decided to draw up their own list of great Chevys. The 100 top Chevys list isn’t limited to production Chevrolet cars, but includes, race cars, prototypes, and show cars. Of the 100 cars in the list, 23 were Corvettes! Pretty impressive for a low-volumn, limited usage automobile. The list doesn’t appear to be in any specific order and there’s a slide show of all 100 cars too. Also, the story does not explain how this list was drawn up. Regardless, it’s interesting just the same. To review the Edmonds story, CLICK HERE.
Here are the 23 Corvettes:
1. 1953 Corvette – The First Corvette.
2. 1955 265 V8 Corvette – The first V8 Vette.
3. 1957 Fuel Injected Corvette – The First Fuelie Corvette
4. 1956 SR-2 Corvette Race Car
5. 1957 Corvette SS Race Car
6. 1959 Stingray Racer – Bill Mitchell’s race car playtoy Continue reading
“There’s only ONE rule – Be a real car guy, or be GONE!”
– Martyn L. Schorr, OWner of Sarasoda Cafe Racers Car Club
Marty will probably blush over this, but I’ll say it. Marty Schorr has made a larger contribution to not just the Corvette world, but to automotive hobbyists all over. Marty was at the helm of High-Performance CARS magazine for nearly 20 years. But “CARS” wasn’t the only pub Marty drove. He was also editor of Chevy Action, Speed and Super Car, the founder of VETTE Magazine and Thunder-AM, plus dozens of CARS Annual special editions and a few dozen stand alone car books. His latest book “Motion Performance – Tales of a Muscle Car Builder” is the official history of the Baldwin-Motion experience, as told by the man that helped create the whole shebang! As front man for the Baldwin-Motion experience, Marty provided those wonderful, “in-your-face” PR, advertising, brochures, and catalog campaigns for the successful Phase III Supercars. The list just goes on and on. “Prolific” is an understatement. And now, we should also add “car club impresario” to Marty’s list of accomplishments.
Car Guys Who Lunch started in 2003 when a group of dudes with gasoline in their veins got together for burgers and bench racing in a cafe in Sarasota, Florida. A good time was had by all with everyone agreeing, “Lets do it again!” Within a year, “Sarasota Cafe Racers” was officially launched, or should I say, “lunched.” (Arr, arr!) There are two aspects of Car Guys Who Lunch that make it so unique.
Show us your engines!
I would venture to say that the most common question Corvette owners get is, “What year is your Vette?” Everyone wants to know how new or how old your Corvette happens to be. The second or third most common question owners hear is “What’s under the hood?” Now, we’re getting down to business. Were it not for stout, high-performance engines, Corvettes would have been just another Detroit pretty face. Two aspects of Corvettes that simply CAN NOT be disconnected on are “looks” and “power.”
In October 2010 when I attended the Vettes at Glasstown Corvette Show I took LOTS of pictures of Vette engines. Since most everyone had their hoods up and were saying in Corvette body language, “Hey! Look at my engine!” why not take pictures? When looked at over the span of nearly 60 years, you can clearly see visual phases in under-the-hood appearance.
From ‘53 to ‘66 engines were amazingly simple and 95% of everything was easily accessible. As emissions controls crept in, things got a little busy and by the end of the C3 generation, all kinds of things seemed to be growing under the hood. The first of the C4 engines had a big, honk’n cover over the cross-fire injectors and by ‘85 Vettes were again full-blown, fuel injected machines. The L98 and the LT1 and LT5 engines all had unique-looking fuelie designs. The LT-5 engine that powered the C4 ZR1 was as visually stunning as the old 427/435 big-blocks.
With the arrival of the new LS-series in ‘97, the all-aluminum engines started wearing engine covers. Open the hood of a C5 or C6 Corvette and the biggest and first thing you see is the engine cover. The covers aren’t really needed, but they sure look cool and are now Continue reading
2011 Corvettes at Carlisle Week continues with coverage of 1984 to 1996 C5 Corvettes!
From 1984 to 1996 the C4 Corvettes arguably made more progress in terms of performance than any other generation Corvette. The ‘84 model arrived with the 205-horsepower “Cross-Fire Injection” engine and was quickly replaced with a real “fuelie,” the 230-horsepower L98 Bosch Tuned Port Injection engine. By ‘90 the 375-horsepower LT-5 engine arrived in the new ZR-1 and was bumped up to 405-horsepower by ‘93. The L98 received incremental improvements and hit 250-horsepower by ‘91 and was replaced with the 300-horsepower LT1 in ‘92. So, we saw some impressive power gains during the rein of the C4s.
And there were several interesting special edition C4s as well. There was the ‘86 Pace Car Special, the ‘88 35th Anniversary Edition, the ‘90 to ‘95 ZR-1 option (the single most expensive optional package in Corvette history!), the ‘93 40th Anniversary Edition, the ‘95 Pace Car, the ‘96 Collector Edition, and the ‘96 Grand Sport. That’s tremendous progress and consistent special editions that kept the C4s fresh and interesting.
Corvettes so heavily dominated the SCCA Showroom Stock racing series they were kicked out! So, the Corvette Challenge “Corvettes only” race series was created. Morrison Motorsports blasted a 50-year speed record with a mildly-modified ZR-1 and Callaway build their 898-horsepower, 254.76-MPH Sledgehammer. Tuners such as Callaway, Greenwood, and Guldstrand offered Continue reading