The scene is eerily familiar, yet we are talking about an event that happened twenty years ago today. After months of dodging spy photographers with the automotive magazines eager to capture a new supercar in the works, General Motors took the world by storm with the unveiling of the 32-valve 375 horsepower Corvette ZR-1 at the 1989 Geneva Auto Show.
The new ZR-1 represented Corvette’s return to the high performance automotive arena after decades of languishing under emission standards, reduced power and a corporate mentality that seemed to have no interest in further developing one of the most storied names in automotive history. And like the new 2009 Corvette ZR1, the heart of 1989 Corvette ZR-1 was what made this car special: The all-aluminum 32-valve 4 overhead cam LT5 V8.
Developed in conjunction with Lotus Cars of England and assembled by hand at Mercury Marine in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the LT5 represented a technological leap for Corvette. With 375 horsepower and 370 lb-ft of torque on board, the Corvette ZR-1 could run 0-60 mph in just over 4 seconds and had a top speed over 175 mph.
After the unveiling in Geneva, General Motors invited a select group of media from around the world to drive the Corvettes from Geneva to the walled city of Carcasonne in the southwest corner of France. A stop at the Goodyear test track in Mireval, France gave GM the opportunity to show off its new supercar’s performance and abilities in a series of high-speed cornering and wet-pavement tests.
The media fell in love with the new Corvette and the ZR-1 was on the cover of virtually every magazine in the world. This initial hype fueled demand and when the Corvette ZR-1 went on sale in September 1989, dealers were selling the new car for $10,000-$20,000 above the MSRP of nearly $60,000. Many collectors who purchased the Corvette had no intention of driving them, but to store them as a future classic.
The Corvette ZR-1 program lasted six years and during that time, the LT5s power was bumped from 375 to 405 hp. Almost 7,000 Corvette ZR-1s were built during those six years. The last “King of the Hill” rolled off the assembly line in Bowling Green, Kentucky with great fanfare in April 1995. Residing today at the National Corvette Museum, the Torch Red Corvette sports a windshield banners that reads “The Legend Lives”.