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)

The car was now beginning to shape up as the minor repairs were finished off and the interior was painted prior to sending it "home" to the USA to be reassembled. When the shipper arrived, there was myself, the driver, one engineless car, and a shipping container 4 feet in the air. Luckily friends came to the rescue, and we literally lifted the car into the container. Despite the worries, it arrived safely in the USA where even more cleaning and prepping took place. A lot of time was spent (and a lot of beer was consumed!) doing all those things you never see, such as cleaning the underside of the car; polishing the suspension; attaching crossmembers, brakes, and pipes; and who knows what else. With a clean and painted underside and an engine bay plus sparkling suspension, the Vette went to the paint shop. It was no small task involving a lot of messing about with trailers and removing trim and glass. After the re-spray, all the major components went back in, like the radiator pack, fuel tank, and rear subframe. All of a sudden there was a ZR-1 starting to look like a successful project.

Back in the UK, the saga of the engine was unfolding. Many rare engine parts had to be sourced and modifications had to be made to some of the internals to give the notoriously unreliable engine some longevity. Geoff assembled the engine and built an engine rig in the garage at his house where, with a new computer and specially produced CAL chip, the engine spluttered into life in April 1996-a historic moment after years of neglect. It was to be some time before the engine would burst into life again!

The engine was flown out to join the Vette in the US in June 1996, and many hours were spent completing the car. Amazingly, in one day, the engine and transmission went in and all the accessories were hooked up in time for the grand unveiling at Bloomington Gold that year. In our Gold Workshop, none other than Dave McClellan, retired GM Corvette chief, and the one person largely responsible for the ZR-1 program performed the introductions. The organizers told us that this was the first time in the 17 years of workshops at the show that an Englishman had given a presentation and it was the first time that a UK car had been shown at Bloomington Gold. The Vette was magnificently displayed in the Mid America Coliseum and attracted a great deal of interest.

As all of you may realize, or know firsthand, any restoration project is very wearing on the mind, body, and soul-not to mention the pocket. I decided that since the '86 had now been publicly and successfully shown in the USA, I deserved some well-earned time off from the project in order to concentrate on my non-Corvette life. Since then, work and "real life" has taken my focus away from the Vette, which had been kept quietly in the USA when I attended only one more show in San Jose, California, in 1998.

I took the summer off from work commitments and post-teen children to finally complete the project and get this unique car fully back into the Corvette world. The car was shown at the May 2003 ZR-1 Gathering, and, of course, the not-to-be-missed June 2003 50th Corvette Birthday Celebrations-both at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The car proved a little troublesome for the last 5 percent of the project. A wiring short or crossover stopped the engine from firing up in the car again, and it proved time-consuming to complete. But after such a long gap, I actually enjoyed spending 12 hours a day on my back in intense heat, being bitten by mosquitoes with a spanner (wrench) in one hand and a telephone in the other, while Corvette gurus, such as Gordon Killebrew and Marc Haibeck, provided long-distance advice on what I was doing wrong! The modifications made to the wiring on the mule cars by Lotus proved elusive to fathom, and much time was being spent chasing, identifying, and, in some cases, eliminating all the relevant wires needed to fire up the engine.


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