The Corvette ZR1: The Supercar Killing Insanity Began In 1970


In celebration of the 2019 ZR1, let's look back at its ancestors.

The is a goodbye to the front-engined setup that’s been in place since 1953. The spy shots have all but proven the existence of the mid-engined C8 Corvette, which could debut as soon as this January at Detroit. Before that happens, the new 2019 Corvette ZR1 has just arrived with 755 hp and 715 lb-ft of torque. It is the current King of the Hill. And not everyone may know this, but the ZR-1 moniker first appeared back in 1970.

For an extra $1,221, buyers could opt for the ZR-1 special engine package that included the solid-lifter small-block V8, heavy-duty four-speed transmission, power brakes, aluminum radiator and a revised suspension featuring special springs, shocks and stabilizer bar. The C3 ZR-1 was pretty badass, and owners had to go without amenities like power windows and steering, and air conditioning. The radio was also a goner. Production was limited to just 53 examples through 1972. The ZR-1 then disappeared for a number of years, finally making a comeback in 1990 during the reign of the C4. Sold until 1995, the C4 ZR-1 was unique in that Group Lotus, newly acquired by GM, had a hand in developing its LT5 V8.

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GM had a goal of building the world’s fastest production car, so it made sense for it to have a new and unique engine. With 375 hp, the C4 ZR-1 soon found itself competing against the likes of the 964 Porsche 911 in both performance and price; some dealers marked up the ZR-1 to as high as $100,000 – in the early 90s. It managed a 0-60 mph time of 4.4 seconds and a top speed just over 180mph. Compared to the regular C4, the ZR-1 received exterior and interior upgrades and was sold as a coupe only. All told, 6,939 C4 ZR-1s were produced. For some reason, the ZR-1 was retired, again, for the C5 Corvette, but it made a comeback in 2009 with the C6.

GM’s CEO at the time, Rick Wagoner, wanted to exploit the full potential of the C6, so he gave engineers the greenlight. To thank him for this, the ZR1 (now with the dash mark) was internally codenamed “Blue Devil” in honor of Wagoner’s alma mater, the Duke University Blue Devils. As expected, it delivered on performance with a recorded top speed of 192 mph, though Chevrolet claims it was engineered to reach 205 mph. Powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 V8 with 638 hp, the C6 ZR1 also had an abundance of carbon fiber components, such as the hood, roof, fenders and rocker moldings.

Without question the C6 ZR1 was a supercar killer, but like the rest of the C6 lineup, it lacked some refinement, mainly with its interior. Obviously its C7 successor resolved the quality issue once and for all, and today’s latest ZR1 looks to be a brilliant machine. Quality. Extreme performance. Style. Not at a bad away at all to phase out the front-engined Vette.

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