In its entire history, there have been few model years that were so widely anticipated as the 1990 Corvette ZR-1. Although the ZR-1 had originally been slated for a midyear-1989 release, it had been delayed until the 1990 model year because of engineering and design refinements that prevented it from being ready prior to 1990.
Chevrolet’s response to heightened competition from Ferrari, Porsche, and others in the late eighties, the Corvette ZR1, was a result of collaboration with Lotus Engineering. They aimed to create a powerful V-8 engine to meet the challenge. The outcome was the LT5, an intricately designed, all-aluminum, 5.7-liter eight-cylinder engine with dual overhead camshafts, 32 valves, and a unique air management system. Initial horsepower stood at an impressive 385, with a ZF six-speed manual being the sole transmission option. The electronically controlled Bilstein adaptive suspension system matched the LT5’s complexity, resulting in capabilities that rivaled, and in some cases surpassed, those of competitors.
While mechanical enhancements were significant, bodywork changes were subtle, including initially wider rear fenders to accommodate 11-inch-wide rear wheels and a redesigned rear bumper fascia with squared-off taillamps.
Priced at $27,016 above the base model 1990 Corvette, the total sales price of the ZR-1 was a then-staggering $58,995, which, for its time, put the ZR-1 financially out of reach for many consumers – even those who had considered purchasing a base model Corvette.
The ZR-1, though a costly option, transformed regular Corvettes into sports cars that could genuinely compete with the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini. Despite its costly price tag, it was still far more affordable than its Italian counterparts, making the ZR-1 a very desirable entry in the world of performance super cars. Fewer than 7,000 are believed to have been produced for the 1990 through 1995 model years.