When it came to performance, the 1970s and ‘80s offered only scattered glimmers of hope. While the introduction of the C4 Corvette in 1984 made huge strides in the styling department, it wasn’t until the debut of the C4 ZR-1 that things began to start moving in the right direction again. With a revolutionary Lotus-designed powerplant, cutting-edge technology and a refined wedge shape, the ZR-1 was destined to be viewed as a milestone in Corvette history. This factory-fresh 1990 ZR-1 marks the first year of C4 ZR-1 production and shows just 100 original miles. How someone had the restraint to drive the car so little is beyond us, but it’s certainly a great collector opportunity. Looking for a turnkey Top Flight or Bloomington Gold C4 to show off during the summer? This Corvette is the answer.
There weren’t many options to add onto the ZR-1 package, but here’s what the car originally came with as told by the original window sticker:
•5.7L MPFI DOHC 32-valve V8
•P315/35ZR17 rear tires
•Styled aluminum wheels (17x9.5 / 17x11)
•Specific rear fascia and stop lamps
•Performance handling package
•Specific side body panels
•Selective Ride & Handling package
•Leather adjustable sport seats
•6-way passenger and driver power seats
•Low tire pressure warning
•Delco Bose Gold Series music system with CD & Cassette player
•Dual removable roof panels (+$915)
•Electronic air conditioning (+$180)
Total price: $60,650.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this C4’s 1990 sticker price is good for roughly $108k worth of buying power in today’s world and, for that kind of coin, the car better be put together well. Thankfully, the folks in Bowling Green delivered on quality throughout. Black is a tough color to work with but, 23 years later, the factory-sprayed top coat remains pristine, offering clean reflections from any given angle. Below the paint, everything from the early-style nose to the widened quarter panels that house the huge 17x11 rear wheels, remains straight and refreshingly original. While first and second generation Corvettes wear their factory flaws with pride, the C4s never had to. Shut lines are even and the car carries a sense of authenticity that simply can’t be recreated.
The 1990s certainly had their fair share of questionable trends but none of those made it onto these beloved Corvettes. In fact, most of their details have aged gently. At the front of the rich black body, a combination of halogen running lamps and amber turn signals frame a stamped Corvette tag panel that’s free of dents, chips, or damage of any kind. Above that tag panel a long hood, which mimics the cowl induction units found on classic Chevrolets, features a fresh black C4 Corvette emblem that’s complete with a pristine mix of black and silver checkers and a red bowtie. The car’s profile carries a similar coke bottle shape like older Corvettes, except whittled down by years of improved aerodynamic understanding. Embedded in that knowledge, a ring of body color trim perfectly complements clear corner lamps, traditional Corvette gills, pristine “ZR-1” emblems, satin black door handles and body-matched mirrors. Inside those mirrors, original glass rides under a small, center high mount stop lamp and either a tinted targa top or a painted targa roof – one of the only regular options available for the 1990 ZR-1 coupe. At the back of the dark green body, four trademark Corvette tail lights frame a broad “Corvette” script, vertical reverse lamps and original square exhaust tips.
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 cost-effective way to 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 to get that power to the pavement. 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 ride control suspension utilized double A-arms up front and a modified five-link out back for a package more than capable of comfortable long-distance cruising. Combine that suspension with Lotus-tuned power steering and massive four-wheel disc brakes and the car''s canyon carving characteristics come to life. Stylistically, the wheels on the ZR-1 were similar to the standard Corvette, but wear massive 17×11''s at the rear. Wrapped in Goodyear Eagles, the factory look remains fully intact. Naturally, the floor pans and hardware present as new, so make sure to get some mirrors for the show circuit!
If you were a 1990s technophile, the scarce code 903 gray leather interior of this ZR-1 was a dream realized. With an advanced digital and analog dashboard, deeply bolstered 6-way adjustable bucket seats and every electronic accessory GM could dream up, the ZR-1 delivered on its promise of high technology. The cockpit embraces the driver, angling all the controls to their favor, including the HVAC and impressive Delco Bose stereo system. The seating surfaces show virtually no wear and the headrest sport attractive embroidered Corvette logos. The car’s door panels are divided into two sections, with their outer portions matching the gray seats and their inner portions matching a like-new black dash. In the center of the seating compartment, a black console centers a black shifter for the car’s ZF 6-speed above stain-free gray carpet. Luxury equipment is evident throughout and includes automatic climate control, power door locks, power windows, power adjustable exterior mirrors and a Delco Bose Gold Series sound system. Behind the seats, the rear window closes over more clean gray carpet and built-in storage for the car’s two targa tops.
To get the full new car buying experience, this ZR-1 comes with its original window sticker and owner’s booklet.
This is surely one of the lowest mileage early ZR-1s in existence. The market is moving up on these cars after many years of depreciation, but factory-fresh examples have always been exempt from the vagaries of the used car market. If you’ve been looking for an investment-grade ZR-1 to complete your collection, it’s hard to imagine a better example!