TODAY’S ZR1 VERSION OF THE SEVENTH GENERATION CORVETTE—EVEN AS FUTURISTS LOOK TO NEXT YEAR’S MID ENGINE REDESIGN IS A 755 HORESPOWER AND WONDERFULLY ZANY ODE TO 66 YEARS OF BEING “AMERICA’S SPORTS CAR”
BY EVAN MONROE
In 1953, when General Motors was in the final stages of developing a prototype of its new two seat fiberglass body sports car, a model name was suggested by the company’s public relations department assistant director, Myron Scott: Corvette, a class of small and highly maneuverable warships first christened in the French Navy in the 1670s. The term is still in military use today.
Revolutionary in both conception and execution (not least its body composition, novel component bolting technique, and innovative steel chassis), just 300 examples, all handmade, were produced in 1953, everyone in Polo White and trimmed in Sportsman Red vinyl. Though actually crude in many ways, and with a two speed transmission that was decidedly unloved, the car gained a soon to be fanatical following, principally because of design legend Harley Earl’s astonishingly lovely body contours (he insisted upon fiberglass because traditional steel would not mold to the complex shapes and curves Earl envisioned).
That first generation of what would soon be dubbed “America’s Sports Car” lasted just under a decade, and there have been six more since, typically referred to by the abbreviation “C2,” “C3,” etc. Corvettes have been manufactured since 1981 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, before that in Flint, Michigan. Its uninterrupted streak of production has seen successes and failures, to be sure—in the latter department the moribund, strangled horsepower days of the late 1970s, particularly—but buyers never truly faded. The seventh generation, which began with the 2014 model year, made several aggressive styling moves in an attempt to counter the car’s gathering reputation as “an older man’s toy.”
Just announced by Chevrolet and scheduled for a July 18 debut is the eighth generation (C8), notable for its mid-engine layout and entirely reconceived body lines. Its production will be a sea change not just for Chevrolet but for the industry as a whole, as the C8 will be the first mass produced mid-engine American car since the Pontiac Fiero, and in early spy shots seems to embrace the more compact dimensions of the Porsche 911.
For purists nervous about the change and/or aficionados who appreciate the inherent advantages of grabbing a model generation in its last stage of perfection, there is an extraordinary amount to love about the seventh gen “Vette,” particularly its wonderfully zany ZR1 convertible configuration.
Available in both manual and automatic (grab the former…please), the model’s LT5 6.2 liter supercharged V8 packs 755 horsepower and 715 lb. ft. of torque, good for a zero to 60 time of 2.85 seconds, a jump to 100 mph in six seconds flat, and a 10.6 second quarter mile at 134 miles per hour. Its powerplant produces the highest output ever for a Chevrolet production vehicle, thanks in part to a new, more efficient intercooled supercharger that offers 52 percent more displacement than the Z06’s LT4 version.
Two interior configurations are available. 1ZR features standard Jet Black leather seating surfaces with available microfiber inserts and unique badging, while 3ZR adds heated and vented Napa leather seating surfaces, a leather wrapped steering wheel with a carbon fiber rim, and other perks. (extra supportive Competition Sport seats are available on both trims.) Chevrolet’s infotainment system has its control center in an 8 inch diagonal color touchscreen, and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. There’s also a built in Wi Fi hotspot with available 4G LTE data (3GB or 1 month data trial, whichever comes first) and a 10 speaker Bose audio system with bass box. Curb view cameras (including rear view) and a heads up display highlight driver assist features, along with an Active Handling system with electronic stability control.
MSRP for the ZR1 convertible is $126,495. An additional $3,000 buys the ZTK Track Performance Package, which includes a front splitter with carbon fiber end caps, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer only tires, an adjustable High Rear Wing, and specific chassis and Magnetic Ride Control tuning for greater cornering grip.
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