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2018-3-1 | Chevy New Roads Magazine

Meet the ZR1: Corvette’s Street-smart Supercar

The usual supercar sacrifices don’t apply here. Turning a stock sports car into something truly ready for the track typically starts with cutting out creature comforts in the name of reducing weight. Even the first great track-ready production Corvettes got the diet treatment. When you checked the RPO ZR-1 box in 1970, you got a 370-horsepower, high-compression, 350-cu.-in. V8 and heavy-duty transmission, suspension, and brakes, but lost the taller top gear for easier cruising and even the radio in the dash. Fast-forward to today, and there’s no reason to compromise. The proof is the baddest, fastest, most powerful production Corvette ever made: the 2019 ZR1.


The mission brief for this car was simple, but daunting, says Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter. Chevrolet wanted a Corvette that would be capable of both ferocious race car performance and docile everyday driving. 


It wanted to add, not subtract.


“This car represents a new performance benchmark for us,” says Juechter, who unveiled the ZR1 with Chevrolet director of design for performance cars Tom Peters in Dubai in November. “It’s the king of Corvette performance—performance among the most elite cars in the world—while also delivering daily drivability.”


On paper, there’s no dispute. The raw numbers almost read like typos.


The ZR1’s LT5 small block shares the same basic engine architecture as the power plant in the current Z06, but modifications to the ZR1’s supercharger and throttle body make this hand-assembled 6.2-liter generate 755 horsepower and 715 lb.-ft. of torque (compared to “only” 650 hp and 650 lb.-ft. for the Z06). The most powerful engine in Chevrolet’s history is good for a top speed of up to 212 miles per hour on the track.


That kind of thrust could make it easy to leave the pavement without some serious grip. The available ZTK Performance Package takes care of that. It adds specific chassis tuning, carbon fiber end caps on the front splitter, and an adjustable high wing mounted directly to the chassis that provides 950 pounds of downforce at top speed for Michelin® Sport Cup 2 summer-only tires. And all ZR1 models incorporate a racing-derived front underwing that makes the entire front of the ZR1 a downforce control surface.


Simply put, the ZR1 has limits few people who drive it will likely be able to challenge. But with the available big-brained performance traction management system keeping all that power pointed in the right direction, you’ll have good fun trying.

ZR1 is a milestone for the marque, and for some, simply owning it will be its own reward. But there’s still something to be said for actually being able to use a car day-to-day to drive to work or pick up something from the store. That’s the result of ditching heavy materials instead of creature comforts, like the available heated and vented Napa leather seating surfaces and a Bose® audio system that’s engineered to deliver crystal-clear tunes if your playlist includes more than the small block symphony under the hood.


Indulgences like these are right at home in ZR1 because weight is offset by the extensive use of carbon fiber. “The ZR1 has the most carbon fiber components ever in a Corvette,” says Peters. “Beautifully integrated, providing lighter weight, strength, and aesthetic that’s needed for it to be a world-class supercar.”


Track devotees will probably stick with the standard seven-speed manual transmission, but you can get an optional eight-speed automatic mated to paddle shifters and blend smoothly with commuter traffic—as much as that’s possible in a thundering, track-ready street car with a carbon fiber engine cover bulging from the hood.


The carbon fiber cap covers the massive intercooler on the top of the engine, and the hood actually cuts away to reveal it—a form of “function-driven sculpture,” Peters calls it (because of the increased size, the supercharger needed to be moved up and out of the “V” in the engine). Close the iconic forward-hinging hood around it and you can still see the top of the engine pulsate from the driver’s seat when you get on the accelerator. The four settings on the quad-tipped exhaust system let you decide just how many other drivers you want to feel your presence—from none to everybody within a quarter mile.


It’s fast, luxurious, technologically advanced, and it draws a crowd with its looks. The 2019 ZR1 is simply the production Corvette with the most.