With spy photos and rumors about the return of the Corvette ZR1 (will there or won’t there be a hyphen in there this time?) flying across the Internet these days, let’s take a few minutes and look back at the second version of this Chevy supercar that debuted 27 model years ago.
People apparently didn’t learn from the 1978 Pace Car that had zoomed way out of control price-wise and has turned out not to be a particularly wise investment.
When the C4 Corvette ZR-1 (this time there was a hyphen; the first ZR1s didn’t have it from 1970-72) hit the scene in 1990, folks again went wild about this rare Corvette just like they did 12 years earlier with the 25th anniversary model, with some dealers asking and getting $100,000 for a car that listed for around $60,000.
For all that money, buyers could at least take comfort in the fact that they were driving one of the best cars General Motors ever built, at least according to a recent article by Hagerty’s Paul Duchene.
Indeed, the King of the Hill, as it was nicknamed in those days, produced a whopping 375 horsepower, with the 1993-95 models getting a bump to 405 horsepower. That performance, of course, came courtesy of the new LT5 Mercury Marine engine that featured four overhead camshafts, an 11-to-1 compression ratio and four valves per cylinder. The ZR-1 could go 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds and produce a 13-second quarter-mile at about 110 mph and 180 mph top speed.
The problem with the ZR-1 wasn’t the performance, though.
In addition to the fact that the ZR-1 was about double the price of the base model, the King of the Hill certainly didn’t look like royalty. While it did feature a unique look at the rear along with a wider body to accommodate the 11-inch-wide wheels with 193 mph Z-rated 17-inch tires, the car just didn’t look that distinctive compared to the regular model that produced just 245 horsepower.
Chevy exacerbated the design problem in 1992 when it handed the same rear look to the regular models, then increased the base car’s horsepower to 300, effectively making it impossible for the average person to know that you just chunked out $60,000 or more for a Corvette supercar (at a time when the base price of the regular model was in the low 30s).
Not surprisingly, by the time Chevy pulled the plug on the ZR-1 after the 1995 model, sales had dropped from a peak of 3,049 in 1990 to just 448 each of the last three years.
So here we are 22 years after the last C4 ZR-1 was built. Should you buy one?
Well, Mr. Duchene of Hagerty says maybe.
“It depends if you will drive it,” he suggests. “The 1993-95 cars were boosted to 405 bhp, and that’s an impressive figure today. The flexible engines are a blast to drive, with maximum power delivered at 5,800 rpm. The ZR-1 is competitive with European supercars of the time and the maintenance is a bargain by comparison.”
Duchene says the highest price at auction is $48,600, a figure hit by Mecum for a 1995 model on Jan. 24, 2015 at Kissimmee. Most ZR-1s go for much less, though, with the range being from $20,000 to $35,000.
That’s not a bad price for a car that will always command an air of respect among Corvette enthusiasts.
Duchene notes that low mileage trailer queens could have seal issues, but regularly exercised cars should be fine. He also says some unique parts (including the windshield) could eventually be hard to find due to limited production, so he recommends hoarding what you might need one day if you plan to hang onto the car for a long time.
He also suggests finding a good mechanic to maintain the Mercury Marine engine, though he notes that it has proven to be very durable over the past quarter-century, even pointing out that he’s seen one with 250,000 miles on the clock without a teardown.
We’ll leave you on a positive note. Duchene says prices are on the way up.
“And well they should be,” he says. “The 6,939 ZR-1s are the least-appreciated Corvette and the best value in the entire lineup.”