1986 Corvette ZR-1 Prototype - Unstoppable!

Crushed, Destroyed, and Left For Dead. This Just Goes to Prove That the Heartbeat Is...

James Miles Nov 1, 2004 0 Comment(s)

After extensive circuit diagnosis (thanks to Gordon and Marc), together with my able and now grown-up son Steven (just 6 when I started this project), the relevant correct connections were confirmed and the engine fired into life. This prompted full checks on liquids and the exhaust before the trip to Corvettes at Carlisle in November. And it was there at 2:30 p.m. on November 23, 2003 that the only surviving '86 ZR-1 prototype with a Phase 1 LT5 engine was started by Chip Miller, owner of Corvettes at Carlisle, to the delight of the 100 or so assembled enthusiasts. This was the first time the engine had run fully since being installed in the car seven years ago.

Sadly, as we all know, Chip fell ill shortly after Carlisle from which he did not recover. My memories will remain, and I am so pleased and honored that he granted some time for me in his busy show schedule.

The next day of the show I drove the car around the ZR-1 show arena to receive a Celebrity Choice award nominated by Dave "Mom" Bright of the ZR-1.net. For me this was the drive of a lifetime; 15 years after the car was scrapped by Lotus, I was driving it under its own power!

After getting over the complete wow of the summer success, I continued to add to my UK/USA air-miles program and refine the now-living beast. The injection was focused on and after a strip-down and cleanup-bingo!-all eight cylinders fired and the motor idled. Now the task was to fit the exhaust. The original had rotted many years ago, so using some of the original pipework, a '90 ZR-1 system was cut and stitched into place. The engine idled even better now, steady at 800/900 but revealed the very noisy timing chain tensioner rattle that this phase of engine was renowned for. Whilst not sounding mechanically perfect, it was, and still is, a sweet sound of a project nearing completion.

My beautiful prototype is now firing on all eight cylinders but still needs some minor finishing to be museum ready. The ZR-1 Gathering 2004 was the venue to show off the success of the previous 12 months. So off we went in the now familiar fashion of my trusty Suburban pulling the trailered yellow beast. My ambition was to actually drive the car up Corvette Drive and past the NCM doors-this I managed to my intense personal gratification. Let's hope that with further negotiations, the car can find a place on display in the NCM.

In the course of this lifetime's mission, I have assembled a portfolio on the history and early days of the ZR-1 program and have many technical details that may otherwise have been lost in that junkyard back in England. I intend to use my collated knowledge and hundreds of resurrection photos to compile and publish a book about the discovery and restoration of the original '86 Corvette ZR-1 prototype that will preserve the details and stories for all Corvette enthusiasts.

All I have to do is find the time; that's the tricky part.

Team VETTE met up with the UK Corvette enthusiast and his labor of love at the 2004 edition of The Gathering. Drawn like bees to a flower (a yellow one in this case), we immediately spotted the prototype and played 20 questions with Keith about his subject '86. With the car talk out of the way and some quick wiring-related lessons from the owner on the test equipment left behind by Lotus when they junked the ZR-1, we headed down the street-behind the NCM-for a quick photo shoot. Not only did Keith get to drive up to the NCM that day (an event captured of film by VETTE's occasional freelancer and Keith's new friend, Jerry Heasley), the ZR-1 also got to break its land and speed record, covering the longest distance it has made since being put back together. Skies threatened us all weekend, and by sheer chance alone we were able to get enough light between thunderstorms for our purposes. As the last photo was taken and the film rewound, the clouds turned gray and eventually let loose a small shower-thankfully, as The Gathering was wrapping up. It seemed as if luck was on our side, but not nearly the same luck Keith experienced when he discovered this prototype buried in a salvage yard. This just does go to show you, crushed, broken, and "unsalvageable," the Heartbeat really is unstoppable!


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