1990 ZR-1 Corvette
King of the Hill
BY: Bob Kroupa of Vette-N-Vestments
This year the ZR-1 celebrated its tenth anniversary. We think it is appropriate to look back at the events that led to the introduction of the ZR-1.
The rumors started approximately three years prior to the actual introduction of the 1990 ZR-1. Chevrolet was going to build a special high- performance Corvette. Soon the press was calling the special Corvette "King of the Hill". The ZR-1 became a reality during 1988. Numerous prototypes were built and extensively tested. During 1988 and early 1989, the press was extremely busy gathering any and all information on the ZR-1, and "spy" photos soon appeared in automotive magazines. Corvette enthusiasts were reminiscing about the high performance 427's. Was Chevrolet going to build a special high performance Corvette again?
Absolutely, was the answer from Chevrolet. Their market strategy was to build the world's fastest production sports car. Many speculated on the delivery of the ZR-1 to be late in the 1989 production year. Price was rumored to be in the $50-52,000 range.
When the ZR-1 Corvette was formally introduced in Geneva in March, 1989, Chevrolet described it as "a sophisticated two-seat sports car, serving up the best combination of performance and comfort ever offered to the American driver."
In the initial press material on the car, then Corvette chief engineer Dave McLellan, described these four main objectives for the LT-5 engine program:
Create a car that is second to none in acceleration - nothing less than the fastest production car in the world.
Achieve that kind of performance without sacrificing driveability - not only at the high end where you expect fast cars to drive well, but at the low end, too.
Package all this leading-edge performance and driveability into an engine that could still deliver great guel economy.
And design this engine to fit between the rails of the existing Corvette's engine compartment - a brand new engine, but not one that would require a totally new car.
The press kept busy as official details became available. The ZR-1 Corvette appeared on the cover of national magazines 31 times! Detroit automotive press had gushing praise for the ZR-1 Corvette, calling it GM's high- tech answer to Porsche and Ferrari without their high price tags.
Finally, the long awaited ZR-1 was available as a 1990 model Coupe. Production started during the week of August 14, 1989. During the month of August, 120 ZR-1s were built and shipped.
The MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price) was $58,995, plus $500 destination charge for a delivered price of $59,495, plus applicable state and local taxes. Many options were standardized as part of the ZR-1 package. Included were the selective ride and handling package, leather adjustable sport seats, six-way power seats, low tire pressure warning system and the new 200 amp Delco Bose music system with CD player. Only two options were available: electronic air at $180 and the glass roof panel at $615.
Numerous stories have surfaced about buying a 1990 ZR-1. Some dealers had been noted to sell their ZR-1 on a fixed priced basis, which varied between list price and $85,000. The Vette-N-Vestments Corvette Market Letter offered their subscribers an opportunity to purchase ZR-1s at the factory list price. Their dealer allocation on nine ZR-1s sold quickly with a required refundable deposit of $10,000.
We heard from one prospective buyer who thought he had bought a ZR-1 at list price from his local dealer. However, when the dealer called with a delivery date, he was told the price was $80,000. Upon checking his deposit slip, the prospective buyer found it was noted that the ZR-1 would be sold to him at a market value price.
Our market research indicated numerous 1990 ZR- 1s were sold for prices ranging from $70,000 to $115,000. The average asking price during the first 60 days of availability was $70,000.
Rumors on future availability of the ZR-1 continued to surface. Some indicated a roadster version was to be available in 1991, others indicated the ZR-1 would be a one year production run.
The final production of the 1990 ZR-1 was 3,032 units. By the end of the production year, initial demand was met and the average price dropped to $57,700, which was below the original list price.
Today, the average price has dropped to $26,800. However, we continue to find "new" 1990 ZR-1s for sale with mileage under 1000 miles with the asking price in the $30-32,000 range.
And as so many initially thought, this was the modern day "427" Corvette. Our experience with the 1990 ZR-1 was that of exceeding advertised expectations. We found the performance of the ZR-1 to exceed that of the C5 Corvette. However, the 2001 Z06 Corvette brings back ZR-1 Corvette performance.
As we have so often indicated, your dollar buys a lot of performance with the late model Corvettes. At a 50% reduction in cost, new versus today's market price, the 1990 ZR-1 is a good buy. We are finding many at this price with under 30,000 miles, which is really low for a ten year old Corvette.
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