Generation Gap: Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 vs. Corvette ZR1

Corvette ZR-1 (top) and Corvette ZR1 (bottom)

The Chevrolet Corvette has long been regarded as “America’s sports car,” but there have certainly been faster and meaner pretenders to that throne over the years; do the names Cobra and Viper ring any bells? And let’s not forget the numerous foreign offerings that would not only beat the base Vette to a pulp, they would also steal its lunch money and use said lunch money to buy flowers for the girl the Corvette had a crush on. No, that’s not an anecdote from our own youth…

Anyway, Chevy has never much cared for having its top performer getting smacked around by outsiders (or insiders, for that matter; see “GNX, Buick”) and, as a result, has occasionally returned fire with a Corvette that has its phasers set to “kill.” In the early ‘90s, that super Vette was the ZR-1. Today, it’s the ZR1. In addition to the inclusion or omission of a hyphen, there are plenty of differences between these two track stars, though they share many of the same philosophies. Which one should be on your list? Let’s find out.

1990 Corvette ZR-1

Performance: The Corvette ZR-1 used a special all-aluminum 5.7L V8 (based on the ubiquitous Chevy Small Block) that featured twin-cam, 4-valve-per-cylinder heads which were designed by Lotus (as were the suspension and steering calibrations), and the engine was assembled by Mercury Marine. It was mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, and was rated at 375hp and 370 lb.-ft for the first three model years (1990-92), and was upgraded to 405hp and 385 lb.-ft for the last three model years (1993-’95). The ZR-1 reached 60 in 4.6 seconds and a top speed over 180 mph. The Corvette ZR1 has a supercharged and intercooled 6.2L pushrod V8 based on the base Corvette’s engine of the same displacement, and is also mated to a 6-speed stick. It produces 638hp and 604 lb.-ft of twist. The dozen nickel mark arrives in just 3.3 seconds and terminal velocity is 205 mph. Advantage: Corvette ZR1

Styling: The ZR-1 didn’t look that much different from the standard C4 Vettes, with the most obvious cues being slightly wider haunches, a roof-mounted CHMSL (’91-and-on regular Vettes had it in the rear fascia), and a small badge on the rear fascia (later cars also had similar badges on each side of the clamshell hood). The ZR1 takes the base C6 coupe and adds flared fenders, different side vents, badges on the front and sides, a rear lip spoiler, unpainted carbon fiber roof, and a powerdome hood with a polycarbonate window over the supercharger. Oh, and huge chrome wheels (19x10s at the front, 20x12s out back). Advantage: Corvette ZR1 (A Vette isn’t exactly subtle to begin with, so why not go whole hog?)

2009 Corvette ZR1

Pedigree: As mentioned above, the ZR-1’s LT5 engine was designed by Lotus and built by Mercury Marine in Oklahoma before being shipped to the Corvette factory in Kentucky. The ZR-1 package effectively doubled the price of a base coupe, and only 6,939 ZR-1s were built over the six year run. The ZR1’s engine is designed and built by GM’s performance division in Michigan and shipped to the Corvette factory in Kentucky. Production is limited to about 2,000 per year. Advantage: Corvette ZR-1

Features: The ZR-1 featured anti-lock brakes, active ride control and a special “valet key” that ran the engine at reduced power to nip restaurant parking lot hoonage in the bud. The ZR1 also has active ride control and ABS, plus OnStar, satellite radio, and even an available navigation system. Advantage: Corvette ZR1

The ZR-1 was a technology showpiece and hot you-know-what for its time but, unsurprisingly, GM and the rest of the world have moved on (Today's base Corvette has 430hp, 25 more than the last ZR-1s!), and the world is impressed with the ZR1 (even Jeremy Clarkson is smitten with it). The “King of the Hill” is dead; long live the “King of the Hill.”