In the grand old game of poker, four-of-a-kind is usually enough for a winning hand; but let's face it-nothing is better than a full house. Bill Martin of Greenville, South Carolina, always plays with a full house, which includes four Corvette ZR-1s, two LT5 motors still in the crates, and a spare six-speed ZF gearbox. Now that's a winning hand no matter how you look at it.
Martin, a diehard Corvette enthusiast since the early '60s, has owned many of our favorite automobiles, his first a rare fuel-injected '62 red/black hardtop with a four-speed transmission that was clocked at 103 mph in the quarter-mile in stock trim.
Others included a blue '65 convertible with both soft and hard tops, purchased in nearby Greer, South Carolina, for an amazing $2,100. In addition, he has a second red '65 hardtop and a '77 L82/automatic. Then, after going "cold turkey" for nearly 10 years, Bill bought an '89 red/red automatic, which he called the "best new Corvette I ever owned." The '89 red/red automatic is still in the family, now owned by Bill's son Chris. But his current stable of ZR-1s brings him the most pleasure. These include a black/black '93, a red/black '94, and a yellow/black '95, all bone-stock and original. Bill's newest acquisition is a beautiful, slightly modified red/red '95 that originally sold for nearly $100,000. "I'm like a lot of members of the Corvette community," said Bill. "I've worked hard all my life and these four ZR-1s are a 'reward' to myself for that work."
Bill began acquiring his "full house" back in 1998 with the help of his son. "My son brought me a Corvette-Chevy Trader around Christmas of 1998," said Bill. "I was recuperating from knee surgery, started looking through it, and I came across the black '93. It had been years since I'd thought about a ZR-1, but back when they were new I couldn't afford one anyway.
"I called the salesman, asking about the mileage and other specifics on the car. Well, the car had about 11,000 miles on it, which was great for a car of that age," continued Bill. "They were asking $39,000 for it, and I've found that ZR-1s of that price range and low mileage are usually in pretty good shape. Well, I bought it sight-unseen and have never regretted buying it.
"The story of how I got my hands on the black-on-black '93 was funny. Granted, this may have been the salesman's pitch, but this guy told me he had a couple of people looking at it and he was expecting one of them back in about 20 minutes. I told him I'd take it. He called me later in the day and said the couple came back and, boy, were they mad. Oh, well; you snooze, you lose!"
With ZR-1 fever, it wasn't six months until Bill acquired his next car-a '94 red-on-black sporting 12,000 miles and a $42,000 price tag. This car is also the only one in his current ZR-1 stable that has ever required any repair, that being a leaking clutch slave cylinder and a noisy rear differential, both replaced with new units. Yes, Bill had the original rebuilt and still has it as a spare.
Faced with the possibility of needing replacement parts for a very rare car, and, after reading about GM's upcoming sale of complete, ready-to-install LT5 powerplants, Bill called the local dealer.
"I called my local Chevrolet dealer and got them to check the availability of the LT5 motors. They found out that GM was selling 75 of the LT5s at $15,000 a copy, and I ordered one," explained Bill. "Well the engine came in, and I asked them to check to see if there were any more left. About six months later I got word there were a couple left, and I ordered another. You know, I checked back in late 2002 and there were none left; these things are priceless now."
Bill continued, "Not long after I got the last motor, I was talking to Aaron Scott, the LT5 specialist from Cummingsville, Georgia. I asked him if he knew where I could get a new six-speed ZF gearbox. Well, to my surprise, he said 'I'm looking at one.' Apparently a gentleman from Jacksonville, Florida, had sent it to Aaron to sell. So I called him up and I bought it from him for $5,500. It was a set of spares for both cars."
Now on the lookout for his next ZR-1, Bill wanted a yellow one, but finding one was proving more difficult than the first two. It seems that yellow is the most popular color of the ZR-1s, so not many are on the market. Skeeter Blanton of Valdosta, Georgia, the "godfather" of the ZR-1s, was enlisted in the search.
"I don't remember exactly how I first got introduced to Skeeter, but he knew a doctor who lived in the Sarasota, Florida, area who had a yellow '95. Well, he didn't want to sell," said Bill. "As it turned out, Skeeter had seen the car close up, and it was a beautiful car, perfect in every aspect, with both tops (hard and glass). But it didn't have a catalytic converter; it had been replaced with a bolt-in 3-inch stainless steel pipe. After a couple of weeks, the doctor and I agreed on a fair price ($47,000); then my son and I went down to pick it up.
"After we got the car back home, I thought to myself, I really want this car complete (with the catalytic converters), so I called Chevrolet about getting two converters for the car," Bill continued. "They wanted $800 each for them; but let's face it-if I waited, the price would probably go up or I might not be able to find any, so I ordered two."
Once again, in mid-2002, Bill "felt the need" for something a little different. To complete his "four-of-a-kind" collection of ZR-1s, he was looking for a red-on-red '95.
"When I started looking for the red-on-red '95, the first two I saw got away from me (one in Tennessee and one in Florida), so I called Skeeter; and, go figure, he knew somebody with one," said Bill.
"The car that Skeeter found was just what I was looking for. It had minor porting and polishing of the intake runners and the plenum chamber, along with a heat shield installed between the plenum and injector ports," explained Bill. "It also had a Corsa after-cat exhaust system in place of the stock system.
"It took two or three weeks for the owner and I to agree on the price of $39,000. The car had 19,126 miles on it when I got it, but it also had the original window sticker. This thing sold for nearly $100,000 new; now, granted, $20,000 of that was a so-called 'dealer acquisition fee.' You know, one dealer doesn't like the color, and they had to get it from another dealer; but I can't believe a car costing $100,000!"