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1991 Chevy Corvette ZR-1 - Queen Of The Hill

In Her '91 ZR-1, Gail Marlin Is Queen Of The Hill

Rob Wallace III Sep 1, 2004
Vemp_0409_01_z 1991_chevy_corvette_zr1 Gail_marlin_pose 2/1

The old adage goes, "Behind every successful man is a good woman." So it seems reasonable to assume that we could reverse that in today's world to also say that behind every successful woman is a good man. For Gail Marlin, a legal secretary from Huntington Beach, California, you'd better make that a king--a "king of the hill" that is.

In August 1999, Gail's late husband Kelly bought a lovely Rally Red '65 fuelie convertible (featured in "Living the American Dream," July '03). From that moment on, Gail has been absolutely hooked on Corvettes. Although she no longer has Kelly to share the passion for plastic with, she has numerous friends in the American Mid-Year Society and Pacific Coast Corvettes, and she's actively involved with both clubs.

The Sting Ray is still a tremendous joy to drive with the top down, but a girl can never have too many toys, especially the four-wheeled fiberglass variety. The legendary ZR-1s soon piqued her interest, and even with the remarkably competent C5 on the market place, it didn't take long before Gail fell in love with what is still one of the most technologically advanced, unique, and formidable-performing Corvettes of all time.

GM engineered the ZR-1 to be the "ultimate" Corvette, and in the '90 model year, when it was introduced, it certainly was. While the traditional L98 powerplant in standard C4s was putting out a respectable 245-250 horsepower, the power output of the ZR-1 was bumped up substantially to 375 ponies with the help of Group Lotus engineers in Great Britain. The revolutionary LT5 motor they devised uses the same 350ci displacement and 4.4-inch bore spacing as the L98, but the LT5's all-aluminum engine featured dual overhead camshafts, 32 valves, and 16 fuel injectors. The bimodal computer system directed fuel mixtures through an upgraded injection system that allowed for low-, half-, and full-throttle modes and kicked the engine up to 375 hp. They increased the ZR-1's performance even further in the '93-95 models to 405 horsepower, while still avoiding the dreaded gas-guzzler tax.

Despite the fact that the ZR-1 Special Performance Package essentially doubled the sticker price of a standard C4 coupe, there were plenty of folks willing to plunk down serious money for the then-ultimate, creme de la creme of Corvettes-and with pretty good reason, too. Nearly 15 years after the ZR-1's introduction, it is still the fastest factory-built Corvette GM has ever produced (not to mention being seated admirably among the fastest production cars in the world) with a top speed of 180 mph. It is quick, too, with 4.9-second 0-60-mph acceleration and 13.4-second quarter-mile times.

Once the bug to own a ZR-1 bit Gail, she couldn't rest until she got one. That perfect car-a low-miles, all-original '91 Steel Blue Metallic ZR-1-found her on March 15, 2003. When she became its third loving owner, the ZR-1 had spent the previous 10 years in Northern California, most of that time under a cover inside a garage. Gail tells us that, "The previous owner used it as a 'vacation car,' not a daily driver. He only put 20K miles on it in 10 years." That meant that the body, paint, and interior were all in perfect, absolutely original and pristine condition, and the LT5 looks and performs as good as ever. It even had the original front tires on it still, but Gail quickly replaced the rubber at all four corners within a couple of months of ownership.

Despite the fact that GM utilized the ZR-1's convex rear fascia and squarish taillights on all '91 and newer C4s, her ZR-1 still distinguishes itself from other Corvettes with its unique door skins and wider rear body panels that allow it to accept 315/35ZR17 Goodyears on 11-inch-wide rear wheels. Combine the extra rubber with the ZR-1's heavy-duty suspension components and its electronically adjustable Selective Ride and Handling (RPO FX3) so that the ride could be adjusted from firm to very firm, it's no wonder a ZR-1 is equally adept at 65 or 165 mph. And, as Gail can attest, hers is rock-solid well into the triple digits-not that she or any of her fellow club members would ever think of disregarding the posted speed limits on their Corvette caravans...

Gail's ZR-1 gets more than its fair share of attention wherever she goes, despite being painted such a subtle color. But then, the color seems to be part of what draws so many comments. Gail's Vette is one of 2,044 ZR-1s built in 1991 (in their six years of production, only 6,939 ZR-1s were built), and it's wearing one of the more unusual C4 pigments. Steel Blue Metallic was only found on a total of 1,648 C4s in two years (813 in 1990 and 835 in 1991), and Gail knows of only 43 '91 ZR-1s that came with that particular hue. "Because only 43 ZR-1s were built with Steel Blue Metallic paint, I get quite a few looks and compliments on the car," she tells us.

While Gail will never mistake her Mid-Year soft-top for anything but a toy, her ZR-1 is enjoyable and comfortable enough for her to want to drive it often. "She's a magnificent drive, but I only get to drive it about once a week myself," admits Gail. It was a "vacation driver" for 10 years before she got her hands on the ZR-1, and while "I wish it could be a daily driver, I still want it to be in perfect condition in another 10 years from now." No matter whether she takes it out once a week or once a day, whenever Gail gets behind the wheel of her ZR-1, she's automatically the Queen of the Hill!

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