Corvette Fan Fiction, Volume 1: The 1996 Corvette ZR-1


Corvette Fan Fiction, Volume 1: The 1996 Corvette ZR-1

Photo Credit: 1996 New York International Auto Show

Editor’s Note
Alex approached me this week and said he wanted to try something new while expanding his creative writing by offering up a Corvette “fan fiction” story surrounding “some incredible ‘Vettes that almost came to pass.” We are all for trying new things here and so I hope you enjoy this tale imagined by Alex Sommers. – Keith Cornett,

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When you are a kid, as The Lego song goes, everything is awesome! But, no matter how much you fight it, as you mature, your knowledge grows while your interests narrow, and formerly exciting happenings – a long-awaited Guns N Roses album, new Star Wars movies, seeing a bubble – become constant sources of disappointment. Then, the C8 Z06 reveal happens. Not only does it exceed your lofty expectations, it recalibrates what your mind even considers possible. With this new framework in hand, CorvetteBlogger is happy to introduce a new series that we’ve named Fan Fiction to avoid any legal trouble with Marvel Studios or Hagerty Media. Through this wishful thinking, we will look back at what specific examples of America’s Sports Car could have been (and sometimes almost were) if the C8Z’s bar of excellence was applied to their development and/or continuous improvement. Now, without any further gilding of the lily, set the date on your preferred time travel device to April of 1995, when we will set course for the Javits Center in Manhattan.

You approach the 95th New York International Auto Show, and, immediately, a young newsletter publisher by the name of Keith Cornett is in your face, letting you know that his Corvette-themed flyers can hit your mailbox weekly, with any of his three simple and wallet-friendly subscription options. You grab a sample and back away slowly with some off-hand advice about looking into this new internet thing.

1996 NYIAA Flyer

You grab a bench to collect yourself before heading into the exhibition hall and any further run-ins with overly-enthusiastic ’90s people. Before you know it, you are lost in your newly acquired issue of Corvette Pamphleteer…

Last week I was startled in the middle of the night by the jarring melody of my cordless phone. After groggily making my way to the kitchen of my Tampa flat, I fielded the call with the only word that I could muster at 2 AM, “yeah?”

“Hey, mate,” an accented voice tipped me off that it had to be my Rolodex’ only Englishman in on the other end of the call; none other than recent acquaintance and Lotus powertrain engineer, Graham Behan. “Time zones must have slipped his mind,” I thought to myself as my wits started catching up to my consciousness. “I’m not at liberty to divulge any details, but you’re going to want to get yourself to the motor show in the Big Apple, STAT!” he continued breathlessly.

That was all it took to get me downstairs to my dad’s old Tuxedo Black ’66 Corvette convertible, coffee in hand, and typewriter underarm. I covered i95’s 1,100 miles with haste, only stopping off for fuel, some mustardy North Carolina BBQ, and an Elizabeth, NJ payphone to warn Graham of my imminent arrival. He reassured me that what I was about to see was better than Michelle Pfeiffer in her Catwoman get-up; needless to say; I was intrigued!

Graham met me at the loading dock with newly minted Corvette Chief Engineer Dave Hill in tow. It turns out that they were both fans of what I had come to call “The Pamphlet,” and I was getting a preview of what was about to send the European performance car hierarchy fumbling back to their collective blackboard. In a dimly lit and strangely industrial room behind a makeshift sound stage, buzzing with generators and frantic marketers, trying to put the final touches on the presentation that Hill was set to give the press, we approached what didn’t look too dissimilar from the ZR-1 “Corvette from Hell,” that we’ve come to know and love over the past six years. Sensing my lack of whelm, Hill popped the clamshell hood, revealing something that was immediately recognizable as the LT5 “heart of the beast,” but, somehow, beyond the red hue of its redesigned intake manifold, this hunk of metal was different; it seemed alive, almost; intimidating, even.


The pair then proceeded to walk me through their 475-Horsepower (!!!) curtain call for the long-in-the-tooth fourth-generation Corvette. As with all ZR-1s, the focal point of the upgrades over the excellent LT1 and upcoming LT4-powered (more on that on page 3!) ‘Vettes have to do with the 5.7L living legend behind the flip-up headlights. To create this “Gen-III” one-year-special, Behan and his team incorporated an all-new cylinder head design with larger chambers and new ports that combine to increase airflow some 10% over the 405-horse Gen-II motors and cut the necessary number of injectors in half to eight. The cams were also redesigned for the LT5’s third act, and compression is up to 11.4:1, from the previous 11.1:1 mark, but that isn’t the most noteworthy increase. Hence-forth, the Gen-III’s calling card shall be its abundance of revs. To meet their HP goals, Lotus bumped the LT5’s redline to an almost unbelievable number. When its power peaks, the 32-Valve monster’s forged steel crankshaft is spinning at 7,200 rotations per minute. It redlines 300 RPM later, which is lucky for prospective customers as rumors were flying behind the scenes about the frequency coming out of the small block at 8k, exploding the heart of anyone standing within 17-feet of its fury. Hill refused to confirm nor deny these rumors and moved on to torque, which now matches the old engine’s HP figure with 405 lb-ft of the twisty stuff. Even more impressive is the fact that the torque curve never falls below 280 on the dyno chart, so, no matter where you are in the expansive rev-range, this thing will force your head back.

Speaking of thrust, the swansong LT5’s cup runneth over with it! They say that development mules have blitzed to 60 MPH in less than four seconds, and, a little more than four seconds later, the new King passes the century mark, on its way to a mind-boggling 190-mph top speed.

To deal with the prodigious power, Hill’s merry band of madmen reinforced everything under the ’96 ZR-1’s synthetic skin. The six-speed transmission has been beefed up, and that pesky 1-4 skip-shift feature has been terminated by the Skynet T-800, itself. Almost every piece of the chassis has been put through a similar reinforcement regiment (except for the glass, which has been shaved while many non-essential niceties (radio, AC, sound-deadening insulation) have been added to the order guide as luxury options to keep things light for the Andretti family. Because of all the content that you can leave on the curb, the ultimate C4 can be had for similar money to last year’s fully-optioned model. Of course, if you want to go that route again, you are more than welcome to do so if you are willing to part with a $70,000 bill.

Sounds expensive, no? Well, yes, and no. For that considerable chunk of change, you are getting 25 more horsepower from 2.3 fewer liters of displacement and saving a few thousand dollars when compared to the ‘Vette’s only domestic competitor, the recently announced Viper GTS coupe, and you are also undercutting the price of a gorgeous new Ferrari F355 by nearly half while providing drivers with an extra 100 raging stallions. That’s also 200 HP stronger and more than ten grand more attainable than the NSX-T that Acura unveiled at the NAIAS in Detroit earlier this year. I’ve yet to get behind the wheel, but I have to recommend that anyone with the means snap one of these Detroit Bad Boys while they last. As a driving proposition, they will be absolutely breathtaking, and investment-wise, it’s a no-brainer!

… You snap out of your reading trance and make a b-line for the green glow of an exit door, relieved that GM chose the bright lights of New York as a backdrop for this monumental unveiling; there is bound to be a shady medical office in an alley somewhere in America’s Greatest City that would offer, oh, $70,000, or so for one of your redundant kidneys before you travel back to the present to collect a pristine DOHC Corvette from storage.

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