When Dave McLellan replaced Zora Arkus-Duntov as the chief engineer of the Corvette, he had some legendary shoes to fill. Assuming control in 1975, McLellan lead the brand through some of the darkest days of not only the Corvette but American performance in general. By 1990, change was on the horizon and at the forefront of that change was the Corvette ZR-1. With a revolutionary Lotus-designed powerplant, cutting-edge technology and a refined look, the ZR-1 was destined to be viewed as a milestone in Corvette history. This factory-fresh 1990 ZR-1 shows just 2,892 original miles and comes with some of the most thorough documentation imaginable. If you’re in the market for a pristine example of one of the most desirable C4 Corvettes in the most desirable color, your car has arrived.
Bright Red is the quintessential Corvette color, and the finish on this one is 100% factory original, perfectly preserved and lovingly maintained since new by a dedicated collector. From the early-style nose to the widened quarter panels housing 11-inch rear wheels, the bodywork remains refreshingly original. Coming in at just over $60,000, this was the most expensive car in the GM stable in 1990. The good news? That money brought better than average paint and build quality, thanks to the specialized assembly line in Bowling Green, Kentucky. If anything, this car may even be better than new, thanks to two decades of rubbing and buffing of the paint, and fastidious maintenance. If you like your Corvettes factory original, they don’t get more authentic than this.
The ZR-1 is easy to identify with its high-mounted stoplight atop the rear hatch and slightly squared-off taillights, although the LT1 Corvettes quickly adopted these, making the ZR-1 even more anonymous. The hatch is perfect, with the embedded defroster strips undamaged. The ZR-1 windshield is coated with a special UV-filtering coating. Because of the size of the LT5 engine, GM had to use a smaller less effective AC system. To compensate, Chevrolet used the special windshield in order to block out the suns UV rays. This coating gives the windshield its distinctive bluish cast, and unlike most ZR1’s of this vintage, this one shows no sign of delamination at the very top edge. Out back, the rear comes in at over four inches wider than the base model Corvette.
The pearl under this Corvette’s clamshell hood is the 5.7L LT5 V8. Originally intended to be a set of 16-valve cylinder heads atop a basic small block, Lotus engineers assigned to the project quickly realized that there was no way to cost-effective way build such a beast. Instead, they designed an all-aluminum V8 which shared only basic dimensions with the standard small block. With 32 valves, four cams and a trick dual-path induction system, the LT5 belted out 375 horsepower in 1990. The engine was built by Mercury Marine, whose specialization in aluminum casting won them the contract. When this engine was introduced to the Corvette chassis, it sent waves throughout the automotive community. Visually, there’s no mistaking the unique intake manifold and sculpted cam covers emblazoned with the Corvette logo. More attractively finished than any engine since the 1930s, the LT5 in this ZR-1 is preserved in showroom fresh condition. Operated enough to keep everything healthy, almost every component is original. The fluids have been changed but the plugs, wires, belts, and hoses remain factory issue and in fine condition. If preservation class judging is your thing, this car will deliver the trophies.
The chassis is equally well preserved, including the ZF 6-speed manual transmission. Out back, the ZR-1 uses 3.42 gears with a limited slip on a slightly beefed-up version of the stock Corvette 5-link suspension. By 1990, the Corvette had matured into more than just a street-legal racer with a flinty ride, and the ZR-1’s FX3 adjustable suspension made it more than capable of comfortable long-distance cruising. This one still wears its original brakes and even the original brake pads are in place, with the rotor surfaces bright and shiny. The wheels on the ZR-1 were similar to the standard Corvette, but were special 17×9.5 up front and a massive 17×11. Wrapped in 245/40 and 315/35 Goodyear Eagles, the factory look remains intact.
If you were a technophile living in the 1990’s, the Flame Red leather interior of this ZR-1 was a dream realized. With an advanced digital and analog dashboard, deeply bolstered highly adjustable bucket seats and every electronic accessory GM could dream up, the ZR-1 delivers on its promise of high technology. The cockpit embraces the driver, angling all the controls to their favor, including the HVAC and entertainment systems. At the base of the console, you’ll find what GM called the valet key which shut down half of the LT5’s fuel injectors and intake runners, effectively limiting its performance. A clever, if gimmicky, idea that works as advertised. Forget to switch it to “FULL” and you’ll find that roughly 150 horses have suddenly gone missing from your ZR-1’s corral. The interior of this time capsule car is immaculately preserved, with minimal wear on the seats, carpets, or any other soft parts. The original protective plastic on the seats was only removed for our photo shoot, and is included with the car. The trunk is also flawless, and neatly stows one of the two removable tops when not in use.
Documentation for this Corvette practically defines comprehensive. To start with, ALL relevant paper work from the original sale is present and well preserved. These items included everything from the original window stickers and invoices to the owner’s manual and hangtags detailing the ABS system and cleaning instructions. Next up is the ZR-1 owner’s kit – a gray box that contains a leather portfolio with the Corvette logo on it, a “driver’s manual” (not to be confused with the owner’s manual), a VHS tape about the ZR-1 and a gold key chain. Also included are two books detailing the 1990 and 1991 Corvettes. The original protective steering wheel cover is even here! This is as close to a 90s Chevrolet showroom as you’ll get without a time machine.
The best aspect of owning a ZR-1 like this one is that, whether you decide to drive it or stash it in a collection, you own a genuinely great car capable of being driven anywhere in comfort. While every subsequent generation of Corvette has shared the same set of goals, this one marks the first whole-hearted attempt at transforming the best American sports car into the world’s best sports car. Don’t miss your chance to bring home a fantastic example of one the of the most significant C4 Corvettes assembled.