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1991 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 - Longview

Piecing Together a ZR-1

Kevin Shaw Mar 1, 2006

We're pretty lucky here at Corvette Fever. We get paid to meet some of the most enthusiastic Corvette owners in the nation, and sometimes outside of our borders as well. Since the hobby is growing at such a phenomenal rate, we've had to become more selective as to what kind of car is Corvette Fever material. As we browse the lines of Corvettes at all the major shows and cruises, we have to not only find a car that is "cosmetically appropriate," but also see if there's an interesting story behind the car.

In the case of Ken Reeves' outstandingly original ZR-1, we were so blown out of the water by the tale he had to tell that we figured it would be best if we let him tell it himself.

"In late 2002 at our usual Friday night gathering, I mentioned to my good friend, Bob Hall that I was in the market for a ZR-1. After spending a bit of time researching the venerable ZR-1, I knew I just had to have one of those LT5-powered Corvettes. Soon after, Bob told me of a ZR-1 available in Houston. The price was right, but it needed to be put back together. Eager to see it, we planned the trip to Houston to look at the car.

"It had sat in storage for a couple of years in a building that could have passed for a barn. In the dim light it was difficult to get a good look at the car, and since it was on jackstands we couldn't roll it out into the light. After scrounging a drop light, we got a little better look at the condition of the car. It needed quite a bit of work, to say the least-no motor, no tranny, no cooling cell, pretty much bare. Electronic gadgets sprouted out of where the glovebox once was, as well as extra switches mounted in the radio bezel. Odds and ends were stacked all over the luggage area, passenger seat, and floor boards.

"Yet, underneath all the butchery and missing hardware were some unique highlights. It was the only ZR-1 I had seen with a Grand Sport stripe, and when you held a light at the right angle you could see the ghost flames that raced up the hood and down both sides to the rear wheelwells. The Torch Red paint looked reasonable, aside from a few scrapes here and there, but, overall, not in bad shape.

"In addition, it had a six-point rollbar and the sport seats appeared to have been recently reupholstered. To boot, it only had 13,231 miles on the odometer! So, I took the plunge. As I got more information on the car, I discovered it had belonged to a man named John Stewart. John's wife Julie was selling it to help keep the family business, Nitrous Warehouse, going after John's death. It would turn out that John was an early pioneer and inventor in his own right of nitrous nozzles and systems. This ZR-1 was going to be his test vehicle and promotional sales tool. He had taken it to the track to promote his products, but hadn't actually raced the car as of yet.

"The block and crankshaft were in Kentucky at Bill Kirchhofer's shop. He had already studded the crankshaft ladder, but the cylinder liners needed to be replaced. We found most of the engine parts except for the driver side cylinder head. I removed a basket full of wiring and gadgets and had to remove the six-point rollbar to accommodate my 6'2" frame into the driver seat. After some surgery on the glove box, radio bezel, ventilation ducts, and door sill/speaker assemblies, I had most of the interior back in working order. There was no way for me to figure out all the nitrous and ignition goodies wired into the car, and I knew it would be better to start from scratch with the entire factory wiring intact and operational.

"Since I already had most of the interior out of the car, I covered the floor and rear compartment with a sound deadening/thermal barrier material. I found the '91 sport seats just a tad narrow for my wide frame, so I located a pair of '96 Collector Edition seats and had them recovered by Mark's Custom Upholstery in Converse, Texas. The black seats with special red stitching and custom red ZR-1 logo on the headrest really sets off the interior. I also covered the sun visors and headliner with the same material as the seats. I worked in my garage and driveway to clean up the paint and, with the exception of the hood, wound up repainting the entire car.

"I put the ZR-1 racing logo on the rear fascia to match the logo on the seats and air horn. Pat, my wife, came up with a nice idea for a custom touch to the gill panels. With plenty of time to get the engine bay ready, days of cleaning, painting, and detailing made it look factory fresh. Prior to assembling the motor, I decided to polish all the major aluminum parts. I lost track of how many hours I spent with my air tool whining. I replaced the original wheels with polished late-model five-spoke ZR-1 wheels and installed some drilled and slotted Baer Eradispeed two-piece rotors, polished Baer calipers, and stainless steel brake lines up front.

"Corey Henderson let me assemble the short-block with some over-the-shoulder guidance. Piece by piece, the LT-5 took shape. Oliver rods, four-inch bore J&E pistons with two different high-tech coatings, nodular iron cylinder liners, three-angle valve job, titanium retainers, back radiused valve stems, studded crankshaft ladder, ported and port matched heads/injector housings/plenum, 63mm dual-throttle body, custom 160-degree thermostat from Randall Woods, Jeal headers, three-inch B&B stainless exhaust, Hurst Billet Plus shifter, Fidanza flywheel and Spec clutch, as well as 4.56 gears in the rear. I wanted a street driver with good manners and lots of low-end torque, so Corey put the stock cams back in with a little tweak on the timing. According to the math, the bottom end should be good for 800 hp if I ever needed it.

"Bill Boudreau at Z51 Performance in Arizona worked his magic on the transmission. It's been fully blueprinted with all the rotating parts cryogenically treated for durability and set up for an external oil cooler. Last December we finally got all the pieces working together and fired up the LT-5. After a few miles and oil changes-four in the first 1,000 miles-Corey went to work on the ECM program. Since LT-5s have no mass air flow sensor, the tuning revolves around the MAP (manifold air pressure) sensor and TPS (throttle position sensor). After a few changes to the program, the chassis dyno revealed 442 rwhp and 407 lb-ft of torque.

"At the drag strip, with street tires, it ran a 11.85 at 120.64 mph, running through the traps in fourth gear at over 7,000 rpm Not bad for stock cams and a weight of 3,640 pounds (including the driver). I knew with the proper tires it had an 11-second run in it. Even with the 4.56 gears, it's only running around 2,100 rpm at 70 mph in Sixth gear. I think it will still get better than 20 mpg just cruising on the open road.

"In April 2005, at the 13th annual Texas Corvette Association's Open Car Show, the car won a first place trophy in the Corvette Limited Edition category. At the 2005 National Corvette Museum Gathering in Bowling Green, Kentucky, it won two Celebrity Choice awards: one from Wendell Strode of the National Corvette Museum and the second from Graham Behan of Lingenfelter Performances Engineering.

"For me, it's the perfect combination of fun-factor, style, performance, and comfort. I have a feeling this one will be with me for a long time, although it may be my last basket case project."

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