All hail the King! The new-for-'09 ZR1-now sans hyphen-will beginshowing up at dealers in late summer or early fall of this year. Only2,000 of these new, 200-mph super-Vettes will be built in the firstyear, significantly fewer than the 3,049 "original" ZR-1s constructed in1990. Back then, most dealers sold their initial ZR-1s for well over thesticker price. We anticipate that a similar situation will plague thenew car. Witness January's Barrett-Jackson event, in which the firstproduction ZR1 sold for one million dollars.
Sales of the original ZR-1 decreased each year until production ceasedin 1995. Will we see the same trend with the new edition? We don't thinkso, since today's Corvette is offered at four closely spaced pricepoints-coupe, convertible, Z06, and ZR1-giving buyers plenty of choiceand a clearer model hierarchy to ascend as their fortunes increase. The'90-'95 Vette, by contrast, was only offered in three versions, and theprice gap separating the base car and the similar-looking ZR-1 wasimmense.
Instead of taking the easy route and rehashing the same, old,GM-supplied press photos, we decided to visit the '08 DetroitInternational Motor Show and witness the public debut of the new ZR1 inperson. The car displayed in Detroit was one of only two show-readyprototypes in existence. It was finished in stylish Cyber Gray, one oftwo new colors for '09. (Blade Silver is the other.) This shade blendedespecially well the ZR1's clearcoated carbon-fiber roof, front spoiler,and rocker panels. The see-through Lexan hood, meanwhile, enabledshowgoers to read the "LS9 Supercharged" script adorning the enginecover.
The ZR1 creators were all in attendance, including Tom Wallace, vehicleline executive; Tadge Juechter, chief engineer, Corvette and XLR; JimDanahy, chief engineer, C6 Corvette Programs; Sam Winegarden, GMpowertrain engineering; and Tom Peters and Kirk Bennion of GM design.The team brought along a bare version of the ZR1 chassis, which uses thesame all-aluminum frame structure as the Z06.
Mounted into this frame is the 620hp LS9 engine. The LS9's output isgreatly enhanced with a new, twin-screw, four-lobe supercharger fromEaton. According to Winegarden, several changes were made to the LS3block to accommodate the increased power of the supercharger.
"One of the areas that came up weak on our structural analysis of theLS3 was its bulkhead strength," he said. "So we made the bulkheadsstronger, which helped engine durability. This also allowed us to makebigger openings, or 'windows,' from bulkhead to bulkhead in the block.The bigger windows allowed us to manage the airflow from bay to bay,which helped make more power. It's not often we can make the enginestronger and more powerful at the same time."
Like its block, the LS9's cylinder heads incorporate high-tech touchesinto existing technology. According to Winegarden, the heads are similarto those found on the LS3 and LS7, with the exception of the materialsand the heat-treatment process. "This is because of the increasedpressure in this engine, which made us go to an upgraded material. Thegeometry, port size, etc., are essentially the same. The valves aretitanium, much like the LS7, and the rods are also titanium. It's veryimportant at these power/lift dynamic levels that we have this extrastrength."