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1971 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible ZR2 - C3.R

Even in factory form, this LS6-powered ’71 was built to win

Scott Ross Dec 16, 2013
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Time was, you could go to your local Chevrolet dealer and order up a Corvette optioned with the latest in heavy-duty engine, transmission, and chassis parts, then go racing with it. Corvettes like the 1971 Corvette Convertible ZR2 you see here.

Starting with the limited-production “SR” options in 1956, savvy racers knew how to specify a Corvette that was essentially track ready right off the assembly line, lacking only their particular sanctioning body’s required safety equipment. A decade later, the 1966 model year brought a thinly disguised race engine to the second-gen Vette’s option list: the L88 427, rated at a mere 430 horsepower to ensure that non-racers would turn their attention to the “more powerful,” yet more street-friendly, 435hp L71 427.

But it wasn’t just an ultra-high-performance engine in an otherwise-stock car. Corvette Chief Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov made sure that the L88 option included items such as Positraction, a Muncie M-22 “Rock Crusher” four-speed, a transistorized AC/Delco ignition system, and heavy-duty front and rear suspension bits. All that added to the L88 option’s $947.90 sticker price, which was more than twice what the higher-rated L71 427 stickered for.

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With the coming of Corvette’s third generation, the factory-available race hardware grew to include a new transmission choice—the Turbo-400 automatic, built to handle the L88’s monstrous power (reportedly around 560 gross hp) and torque. For 1969, the aluminum-block version of the L88—the ZL1—appeared, but only two were built, owing in part to that option’s $4,700 sticker price.

For 1970, the L88’s heavy-duty powertrain and chassis hardware were slated to go into two new option packages: ZR1, which included the new-that-year 370hp LT-1 small-block; and ZR2, which was to use another theretofore unreleased engine, the LS7 454. Like the L88, the LS7 would carry an output rating (460 hp, in this case) that was nowhere near its true potential.

“This is, by far, the most original ZR2 in the world. There isn’t another one out there that hasn’t been restored.”—Ed Foss

That was the plan, until the onset of emission controls and a four-month-long strike at the St. Louis plant late in the ’69 model run threw a wrench into Chevy’s Corvette plans. LT-1 and ZR1 ended up making the cut for ’70, but the LS7 big-block never saw production (it was offered as a crate engine through Chevrolet Service Parts), and the ZR2 option was delayed until 1971.

By way of compensation, ’71 did bring a 9.0:1-compression version of the LS6 454, equipped with new open-chamber heads that put back power the compression drop (from 11.25:1 in Chevelle guise) took away. The new, pump-gas-friendly LS6 was a Corvette option, available with or without the ZR2 Special Purpose Engine Package. Only 12 ’71 Corvettes were built with RPO ZR2—10 coupes and two convertibles, including this Brands Hatch Green drop-top that’s still as original as the day it was built.

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“This is, by far, the most original ZR2 in the world,” says owner Ed Foss. “There isn’t another one out there that hasn’t been restored.”

That originality is visible under the hood, where the LS6’s valve covers wear their factory- applied paint, and the Air Injection Reactor (AIR) pump is still attached and functional. (AIR pumps were usually the second item to come off a Corvette—or any V-8 Chevy back then—during race prep, right after the window sticker and plastic seat wrappings.)

Goodyear Polyglas bias-belted F70-15 rubber still resides at each corner, a quaint reminder of a bygone era of tire technology. Fortunately for originality’s sake, neither Foss nor the previous owners of this shark saw fit to light up the rear hoops with the LS6’s ample torque. “You could burn the tires right off the rims, if you wanted to,” he says.

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You’d be grinding up those Goodyears while seated in a luxurious cabin. Foss’ car was also ordered with the Custom Interior Trim group, a $158 option that covered the seats in leather, the floor and door panel bottoms in cut-pile carpeting, and the dash, console, and door panel uppers in Chevy’s finest wood-grained plastic.

All told, this ’71’s sticker price—which also included a C07 auxiliary hard top and 4.11 rear gears—came to $7,672.80. That may sound like a bargain these days, but this was when you could buy two well-equipped Malibus—or three Vegas—for that sum.

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Ed Foss’ Brands Hatch Green ’71 is one of only two convertibles built that year with the race-ready ZR2 package.

And when Foss found the car a couple years ago, it was still capable of commanding a premium. “I traded a couple of cars for it,” he says without elaborating. (His Corvette collection currently comprises more than two dozen other rare, low-mileage Vettes, including multiple Bloomington Gold Benchmark and Hall of Fame winners as well as numerous NCRS Top Flight and 4-Star Bowtie Award recipients.)

Is this the quickest or fastest Corvette in his collection? “No, not really,” he says. “I own the ‘Rebel’ car, a ’69 L88 that won Sebring and Daytona back-to-back in 1970 and 1971. And I have another ’69 L88; those cars are all pretty close.” That’s along with another ’71 ZR2—a coupe that’s undergoing restoration in preparation for its debut at this year’s Bloomington Gold.

While the idea of owning one of the rarest race-ready Corvettes ever built might seem appealing, the sky-high prices and severely limited availability of genuine ZR2s mean you’re likely better off finding a bare-bones shark and building it into a ZR2 “tribute” car. If you do, Foss has some advice on how to get it done. “There are several people that can do that,” he says, while mentioning the names of some prominent Corvette builders and restorers. “Kevin Mackay—he does all of my stuff. And there are a couple of other people who are good, including Gary Bosselman in Wisconsin. He also does work on my cars.”

The one-year-only ZR2 option marked the beginning of the end for big-block Corvette performance, with compression—and power—dropping dramatically in the years that followed. At least its thundering LS6 engine ensured that the era of track-ready production Vettes went out with a bang.

“This is, by far, the most original ZR2 in the world. There isn’t another one out there that hasn’t been restored.”—Ed Foss

SPEC SHEET
1971 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible ZR2
Owner Edward Foss; Roanoke, IN
Block Stock LS6 cast iron with four-bolt mains (casting # 3963512)
Displacement 454 ci
Heads Stock LS6 aluminum, open chamber (casting # 3946074)
Valves 2.19/1.88 inches
Camshaft Stock LS6 mechanical
Pistons Stock LS6 forged aluminum
Compression Ratio 9.0:1
Crankshaft Stock LS6 forged steel
Rods Stock LS6 forged steel
Oiling System Stock with mechanical pump
Carburetor Stock Holley 800-cfm four-barrel (PN 3986195)
Intake Manifold Stock low-rise aluminum
Ignition Stock GM AC/Delco transistorized points-type
Exhaust Stock with cast-iron exhaust manifolds and dual pipes and mufflers
Transmission Stock Muncie M22 four-speed manual
Clutch Stock heavy-duty
Driveshaft Stock
Rearend Stock with 4.11 gears
Suspension Stock RPO F41 heavy-duty front coil springs and rear leaf spring bundle; heavy-duty Delco shocks
Brakes Stock RPO J56 heavy-duty four-wheel discs with power assist
Wheels Stock stamped-steel Rally, 15x8 inches (front and rear)
Tires Stock Goodyear Polyglas F70-15 bias-ply blackwall (front and rear)
Current Mileage Approximately 8,700

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