The Best Corvettes of the 1990s: No.1 – The C4 Corvette ZR-1

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The Best Corvettes of the 1990s: No.1 - The C4 Corvette ZR-1

Photo Credit: CorvetteImages.com


Out of all seven decades of Corvette production, the winner of our Best Corvette of the 1990s was by far the easiest one to select. It could be argued that the best Corvette of the ’90s is the most significant ‘Vette in history. It was the car that brought pride and relevance back to the American performance category and, even today, its engine remains one of the most advanced mills to ever turn the rear tires of the sports car that we are all obsessed with. We are, of course, referring to the “King of the Hill,” “The Corvette from Hell,” the C4 ZR-1, our ultimate ‘Vette of the 1990s.

When the ZR-1 showed up on the scene in 1990 with 375 Horsepower from its Lotus designed-Mercury Marine built DOHC 32v LT5 V8, the top of the line Mustang could only muster 225 HP from its 5.0, the final rendition of the IROC-Z Camaro was only pushing 245 HP, and the all-new 964 generation 911 Turbo made 320 laggy ponies. The ZR-1 was an absolute monster! It was capable of reaching 60 mph in 4 and a half seconds, 100 in 10.4 seconds, and covering 1,320 feet in around 13 seconds on its way to a ridiculous top speed of 175 mph, all while delivering world-class handling and stopping that had been unheard of the last time that a ‘Vette put down even close to those kinds of power and acceleration numbers. In fact, the 3,680 lb. super ‘Vette’s cornering and stopping numbers could embarrass even the most exotic vehicles of the time like the Ferrari Testarossa and Lamborghini Countach. Per Road & Track, the 1990 ZR-1 could do .94g on the skidpad which was the best they had ever tested “bar none”, and the same goes for its stopping distance of 132 feet from 60 mph.

The Best Corvettes of the 1990s: No.1 - The C4 Corvette ZR-1


As incredible as the ZR-1 was though, it did have two fatal flaws that caused Chevrolet to pull the plug on their supercar in the penultimate year of C4 production. The first and most important one of these chinks in the armor was the price. The MSRP of a base C4 had already ballooned $10,000 between its introduction in ’84 (MSRP of $21,800 (about $52,000 when adjusted for inflation) and 1990 to a staggering $31,979 (a bit over $61,000 with inflation). On top of this unprecedented upmarket hike that the ‘Vette had taken, the ZR-1 essentially doubled the price of a coupe. The ZR-1 package added $27,016.00 for an eyewatering price of about $60k. Adding to the unattainable nature of this new beast was enthusiasm-driven dealership markups that saw several early examples of the King of the Hill trade hands for well over $100,000.

The Best Corvettes of the 1990s: No.1 - The C4 Corvette ZR-1


The second detriment to sales (especially after 1991) was the lack of differentiation in looks between the ZR-1 and its lesser brethren. Many people had a hard time forking over twice the money for a car that looked exactly like (maybe even less prestigious than) the droptop ‘Vette that their neighbor just picked up in an attempt to impress the ladies after his divorce.

For real enthusiasts though, the ZR-1 was worth every penny and it was the extraordinary engineering under the skin that truly mattered.

The Best Corvettes of the 1990s: No.1 - The C4 Corvette ZR-1


A total of 6,922 of these supercar slayers left the factory at Bowling Green. A 1993 update bumped power to 405 HP and the 1,344 units that got the upgraded engine remain the most desirable to this day. The good news is that you can still get an excellent specimen for under $40,000, go get one before they start to creep back to their original prices and beyond!

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Check out all of our Best Corvettes of Each Decade features:

The 1950s

The 1960s

The 1970s

The 1980s

The 1990s

The 2000s

The 2010s

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. Great choice, this car as you described put the US and Corvette on top of the automotive world!

  2. I am restoring a 1990 ZR-1 now, just got new tires on her and tags and insurance first of the week. I’m going to drive the wheels off this bad boy, the 74k on the clock are getting ready to rise! Nice article. 👍👍🏁

  3. The yellow ’92 ZR-1 in the picture had 12,000 miles when I got it and was a great runner. Originally delivered in Denver and plastic bagged for 10 years. This picture was from 2011. License plate was 4CM92ZR1 (North Carolina allows eight digits). My only complaint was the shock of the second plenums opening at 3,200 rpm if you were in a slow corner. It took some practice on the track to keep the nose and tail in the proper orientation, and the brakes felt small for the speed potential of the car.
    Regrettably the car was sold to someone who uses it as a daily driver.

  4. Good story. I agree whole heatedly. This was one of the coolest Corvettes ever made. The engine was not just bullet proof and sophisticated. It is still the best looking too. The top speed was actually more like 180. It averaged over 175 for over 24 hours when it set those speed endurance records.

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