Featured Muscle Cars


2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

by Malcolm Gunn

The Corvette ZR1 was bound to happen.

When a certain direct competitor to Chevrolet's plastic-bodied sports car threw down the proverbial horsepower gauntlet, General Motors' "Bowtie" brand had no choice but to respond.

The challenge to the Corvette Z06's supremacy was delivered by - how dare they - that fun-loving bunch over at Chrysler's Dodge division a couple of years ago. At the time, Dodge told the world that the 2008 edition of the V10 Viper would pack 600 horsepower for its base engine.

What might have been intended to be a knockout punch was instead perceived as a dare. While product boss Robert Lutz posed the question of what a $100,000 Corvette would be like, the engineering and product planning teams were tasked with developing a counter-attack strategy. The ZR1 name was rekindled from the early 1990s since it epitomized the best of the best.

The new model beats on the Viper with 38 more horsepower at an entry fee of $105,000, around $33,000 more than the next-in-line Corvette Z06 and $15,000 more expensive than the Viper.

Chevy has considerable experience whetting the public's appetite for speed by building pumped-up versions of the Corvette, having introduced the 505-horsepower Z06 for 2007. Already considered one of the best values in outright performance, the Z06 as used as the starting point for the Zr1. The design process added a lightweight carbon-fiber hood, roof section, rocker mouldings, chin spoiler and front fenders that are different than the carbon-fiber fenders found on the Z06.

The aluminum chassis and most of the aluminum suspension parts as well as beefed-up rear axle originate from the Z06. The ZR1, however, has been given some specific enhancements, including GM's Magnetic Selective Ride Control that uses special electronically variable shock absorbers that instantly adjust to every subtle nuance on the road surface. Aside from keeping the tires planted, GM says the ride is actually better than that of a base Corvette while providing better handling than the Z06. Talk about balance.

Cornering ability is further enhanced through the installation of Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 run-flat tires (19-inch wheel diameter in front, 20 inches in back) that help the ZR1 generate an exceptional 1.05 g's of skid-pad cornering grip, as reported by Chevrolet.

Whereas the 505-horsepower Z06 uses a high-revving 7.0-liter V8 culled from the C6-R factory road-racing program, the ZR1 uses a smaller 6.2-liter V8 that's supercharged. Dubbed the LS9, it belts out 638 horsepower and 604 pound-feet of torque with 10.5 pounds of "boost". Each of these hand-built engines includes two performance-enhancing intercoolers that sit atop the motor and are visible through a window cut into the one-inch raised hood. Chevy claims that the 3,300-pound ZR1 - 200 pounds more than the Z06 - will sprint to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, reach the quarter-mile mark in 11.3 seconds and top out at 205 mph, making it one of the fastest production vehicles for sale anywhere at any price.

An upgraded six-speed manual transmission with special gearing delivers the LS9's massive torque.

Helping slow things down is a set of Brembo-brand binders featuring wear-and-fade resistant carbon-ceramic rotors that measure 15.5 inches in diameter in front and 15 inches in the rear. Normally reserved for racing, carbon-ceramic, which is very expensive, is also much lighter than cast iron: 11 pounds lighter, each, to be exact.

Inside, Z06-based lightweight seats carry special badging and there's a "boost" gauge for the engine. Heated leather-trimmed seats, power telescoping steering wheel, navigation and premium audio are part of a $10,000 option package. Also available is an upgrade to chrome wheels for $2,000.

Each of the approximately 1,800 ZR1s planned for the 2009 model year will wear a distinctive vehicle identification number designed to enhance the car's status as a future collectible. But based on the coupe's impressive performance profile, that quantity might not be nearly enough to satisfy global demand. In fact, a market glut of overnight-underachieving European sporting machinery costing double, or even triple the price of a ZR1 is a distinct possibility.

courtesy of Wheelbase Communications


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