C4 ZR-1 Flashback: King Of The Hill Takes On The World
A 1990 ZR-1 takes on Ferrari, Porsche, Lotus, and an Acura, who comes out on top?
Photo Courtesy of Car and Driver
My first impression after taking this nostalgic walk back to the supercars of the 90s was wow, look how far we have come. The Ferrari 348ts had “only” 296 horsepower and now our most powerful ZR1 has over 700hp, compared to 375 for this first-year model.
The birth of this “King of the Hill” Corvette was both glorious and ambitious, and ironically GM reached out to Lotus to help design that phenomenal 32-valve masterpiece. GM had acquired Group Lotus in 1986, so why not tap them for some supercar knowledge, right?
Oddly Lotus did not build the engine, that job lay with Mercury Marine, due to their experience working with aluminum. Despite the intricacies of building an engine that required special assembly (with four overhead camshafts) and the subsequent outsourcing, a track record of 33 years with no major weaknesses indicates GM made all the right decisions. Let’s take a quick look at this piece of automotive art before we move on to the battle.
The next thing I noticed was that all five of these supercars (Car and Driver called them Eroticars) have the proper transmission and are manual shift. If they did a similar comparison today how many of the Car and Driver testers do you think would be using a third pedal? We know the Corvette wouldn’t. I did a story mourning the loss of the manual here, called ‘What’s Up With This Bull-shift?’
Here’s a quick recap of the contestants, for fun in order of least horsepower to highest, with other relevant data splashed in. First, we have the Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Cabriolet with 247hp and a 14.3 quarter mile, at 3280 lbs, that could be yours in 1990 for $80,257. Really Porsche, $80k in 1990 only got me 247hp?!?
Then there is the stunning (always loved this design) Lotus Esprit Turbo SE with 264hp and an impressive 13.5-second quarter-mile run, undoubtedly due to its featherweight 2980 lb curb weight. This package also doesn’t come cheap at $83,095. Has anyone done the conversion yet? $80,000 in 1990 is the equivalent of $183,000 today… yikes!
Next up is the new contender on the supercar block, the 270hp Acura NSX, which tipped the scales at 3020 lbs and produced a 13.8-second quarter mile, all while coming in at a “bargain” price of $58,300. Of course, I don’t think there is any enthusiast who would claim 270hp for $130,000 in today’s money is a bargain, but it did turn an impressive quarter-mile time compared to the others.
Next to first in the horsepower ratings is the 296hp Ferrari 348ts Spyder, and you’d think that would be enough to propel it to the 13-second range, but a diet would be required first, as the “portly” 3300 lb Ferrari managed to squeeze out a paltry 14.5-second quarter mile time. And no surprise, it was the most expensive at $103,400.
And of course, as no surprise, the King of the Hill ZR-1 prances across first in the horsepower challenge, with that glorious 32-valve V8 producing 375 purebred American ponies. It comes at a price though, as the ZR-1 tipped the scales as the heaviest with an embarrassing 3520 lbs. Not to worry though, she still crossed the quarter-mile line in a blazingly fast (for the era) time of 13.4 seconds, all for a steal. Well not really, but at $59,795 it was the second cheapest “Eroticar” in the test.
Before we get to the results, how about a few pictures of this beautiful ZR-1.
Well with a verdict from Car and Driver that read, “An all-star jock that runs like the wind but can’t carry on a decent conversation”, it shouldn’t surprise any of us Corvette enthusiasts that the ZR-1 did not win. Despite being the fastest, and having considerably more horsepower from the aluminum-block LT5 masterpiece, the editors at Car and Driver placed the ZR-1 midpack. The light and nimble exotic from Acura took first, the Porsche second, with the Ferrari and Lotus rounding out 4th and 5th place.
Their story was peppered with anti-Corvette sentiment, and the writer’s summary displayed it best. “This is a car that produces great numbers on the test track, and yet, when the day is done and the beer mugs are making rings on the bar, we always find ourselves saying, ‘If only . . .’ If only it didn’t rattle and creak so much. If only the instrument panel weren’t so gauche. If only Chevrolet would get serious.”
I think Chevrolet may be getting the last laugh, as GM got seriously serious with the new C8 Z06 and has fans and car rags from all over the world gushing and tripping over themselves to get in line for one. Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me. We often have vibrant discussions on our Facebook page, I would love to hear from you! Douglas B.