Thursday, November 3, 2016

Guilty Pleasure: 1990 Corvette ZR-1

Mention the word Corvette and it conjures up all kinds of memories associated with America's super car.  Boogie Nights...Corvette Summer...Pootie Tang...and old guys in plaid golf shorts with a bleach blonde Barbie in the right seat.  I swore I would never consider a Corvette, yet here I am contemplating one of the best bangs for your buck in the used sports car world today.  Find this 1990 Corvette ZR-1 for sale in Dover, NH for $16,500 via craigslist.

When GM set out to reclaim "King of the Hill" status with their flagship sports car in the late '80s, it soon became painfully apparent that the current C4 offering was less than worthy.  Of course, "more power" must be the answer!  American car manufacturers had always answered such a call by stuffing bigger, bolder engines into their cars, but the C4 chassis was having none of that.

When GM realized turbocharging the existing V8 amounted to no more than an asthmatic wheeze in performance increase, they immediately set their sites on a DOHC engine developed at the Lotus plant in England.  Right thought...wrong engine.  The Lotus power plant was too large to fit the C4 set-up, so it was back to the drawing board.  The final solution was to borrow Lotus engineering and design a new engine that would fit.  Mercury Marine in Stillwater, OK was awarded the contact and the LT5 was born.  

Early production ZR-1's produced a whopping 375HP, more than enough to beat the pants off a similar vintage Ferrari.  Mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, this new engine now made the Corvette top dog once again.  Mercury Marine churned out 18 engines a day to supply the Corvette plant at Bowling Green, KY.  Quality control at Mercury was exceptional leading to near zero reliability issues with the LT5.  The rest of the car received tweaking to differentiate the ZR-1 from your standard C4. 

As a whole, these were excellent street fighters in the day.  ZR-1 production ceased in 1995 with engine output climbing to 405 HP, nothing to sneeze at even by today's standards.  Over the 5 year production run only 6939 units were built, but prices today lag in the $15K - 25K range for a very good example, & $30K plus for pristine time capsules.  Compare that to a beater 911 of the same era for nearly double the price.  Granted, German vs. American engineering is not really a fair comparison, but in terms of performance measurements the ZR-1 would smoke most mid & rear engine slingshots of the era...and maybe even a few from today.

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  1. Replies
    1. Nice find. Seems like there are some good deals to be had for the older 'Vettes lately.

    2. Pretty exotic engine, I think the big mistake with the Zr1 and other cars that were supposed to be special was sharing the body panels. This should have had a kept it's taillights and maybe changed some other stuff from the c4.

    3. Agreed. Unless you knew what the badge and wheels meant, it was just another Corvette.

    4. No doubt...GM cannibalized the ZR-1 by incorporating the same look and style in the standard model. The secret is in the engine. While the stand rd 'Vette got the ZR-1 look, it certainly didn't get the price tag or power.

  2. Replies
    1. Hmmm...seems to good to be true...yep, salvage title! Probably spent some time under water!

  3. I like these 1990 models the best because they are unique. Only the ZR-1 had the sqaure tail lights that year, but they all got it at minor change timing for 1991. I've always had a soft spot for these - maybe because I was in college in Stillwater, OK while these engine were being produced. :-) They've always seemed a bit undervalued, condsidering the values of older "special" Corvettes (fuel injected mid-years, L-88. L-89, etc.). The question is whether people interested in later 80s/early 90s performance cars will ever become interested in these, rather than European cars.

  4. Interesting reflection on these cars in the latest Hagerty News:

  5. Interesting car, but a Z06 C5 for the same money seems like a better car in every way.


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