The 2015 Ponte Vedra Auto Show is a special one for more than a few reasons, but this one will weigh especially heavy on those who’ve had a life-long obsession — or even moderate fascination — with General Motor’s original sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette. This year marks the 20th and 25th anniversary of Chevy’s Corvette ZR1, or “King of the Hill,” as it is referred to by its owners and admirers alike.
According to the auto show’s head judge Larry Weisman, 51, the Corvette ZR1, which was only reproduced from 1990–95, was a turning point for the sports car.
“The Corvette was coming through the late 70s and early 80s as having absolutely no performance at all. It was just a sloppily made, low quality vehicle with low performance that looked okay,” Weisman said.
Most notably for owners of the ZR1 was the addition of the 5.7 liter LT5 V8 engine, a powerful piece of mechanical engineering designed by Group Lotus — which was owned by General Motors at the time — that pushed out an impressive 375 horsepower at 370 pounds of torque per foot. According to Weisman, the engine alone added about $30,000 to the base price of the car.
“In 1990 it was the most expensive car that GM had ever sold,” said Weisman. “It was a big step for a car manufacturer to take back then. They were just starting to grasp an understanding of electronic fuel injection and there were mandates from the government to reduce pollution and increase fuel economy, but in doing so it made the performance level of any kind of car God-awful. This was really breaking out of the box in the performance world.”
The car officially debuted in 1989 at the Geneva Auto Show and by early March of the following year the ZR1 — in an effort to help market the car with its extravagant price tag — had set a new world record for the highest 24-hour/5,000-mile land-speed over 175 mph.
According to Weisman the ZR1 was not economical, however. Despite its wider tail and slight taillight variations, when compared to its non-ZR1 counterpart, the body style differences were not distinguishable enough to warrant the large differential in price.
“Think about the guy who spent 70-80 grand on this exotic Corvette and then nobody knows what it is because it doesn’t look a whole lot different,” said Weisman. “There just wasn’t enough body work done to it for the layperson to say ‘Oh hey, that’s an $80,000 Corvette!’”
In the final three years of ZR1 production Lotus made significant modifications to the cylinder heads, valve train and exhaust system, which brought the horsepower up to 405 with 385 pounds of torque per foot.
“It truly was the ‘King of the Hill’,” Weisman said.
According to Weisman only 6,939 ZR1s were produced in the six-year period and four of them are set to be on display at the Ponte Vedra Car Show on September 13.