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 winter of 1994-95 was spent wearing three layers of clothing and spending endless time unbolting this and cleaning that while admiring the special Lotus parts and modifications to the car. The car was dismantled, tagged, logged, and stripped with every part tagged, bagged, and cleaned of mud and grime accumulated during the 6 years of neglect in the junkyard.

After a search, an '86 Corvette with a similar VIN number was found in the USA and purchased to be used for matching donor parts-which once shipped to the UK, meant even more stripping, bagging, and tagging while the donor was taken down to the bare chassis. The project workshop didn't resemble a high-tech, super-clean race car development area, but it did have lots and lots of bags with labels and endless tagged parts in the dismantling area.

At this point, enter Dennis, a welder extraordinaire. Taking a drill to the factory welds on the damaged roll-over hoop, he removed the broken windscreen frame and then he loosened the whole back end of the donor car, bodywork, glass, roll-over hoop, etc. Then we simply lifted the donor back end onto the prototype. The same was done with the windscreen frame. Measurements and angles were taken, and the whole lot was stitched back together at the factory welds-absolutely amazing! The fit was great, and the roof, doors, and glass all fit perfectly. Attention was then focused on the damaged part of the floor pan, which was cut from the donor chassis and stitched into the prototype. Dennis made it look so simple!

In the course of rebuilding the car, many modifications that were carried out by Lotus in the early development days were uncovered, such as the front crossmember, steering column, firewall, transmission tunnel, and air ducting, just to name but a few. The modifications have been done so well that it is only when you compare them to stock parts that you realize something has been modified. Such was the quality of the work carried out in 1985-86.

The largest of these modifications, not surprisingly, had been made to the wiring harness in order to match it to the LT5 engine, plus the Lotus-installed calibration equipment and the stock '86 L98 harness.

This set of tasks took most of the spring of 1995, and, in the meantime, the engine was shipped off to former Lotus LT5 engineer Geoff Jeal who had been recruited to help with the project. The engine was then stripped and declared rebuildable by Geoff.

In April 1995, I attended the "Legend Lives" weekend in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to see the last ZR-1 come off the production line. Over 300 ZR-1s attended the show, which was a stunning spectacle. I was lucky enough to meet Anthony Young, author of Heart of the Beast, and was fascinated by the presence of Jim Minnaker, the then-head of CPC engineering who was responsible for the LT5 development. As a GM man, he was interested in the prototype project but politely gave me the corporate quote of "that car does not exist!"

During that late spring and early summer ZF, the German gearbox experts, were persuaded to strip, check, and rebuild the prototype six-speed. It turned out that only two people in ZF Great Britain knew anything about these transmissions. But on investigation, they proved to be undamaged and were rebuilt with little problem; it was tremendous fun shifting one of them on a test rig at the ZF factory in Nottingham.

In September of 1995, I went to the Funfest weekend held at Mid America Designs in Effingham, Illinois, where a Phase 1 and a Phase 2 LT5 engine found their way into the large private museum there. Seeing Mike Yager like a kid unwrapping a new toy was amusing; he really has the Vette fever bad! Since then he has had the engines mounted and glassed over to resemble tall coffee tables; anyone attending functions at Mike's Museum can place their drinks on these unique parts of ZR-1 history. During that weekend I was thrilled to meet Zora over dinner for the first (and sadly the last) time and talk to him about his memories of England.

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