My story begins with a trip I made with my father, Ron, back in 2000. He was on his way to purchase his first ZR-1 (one of three he currently owns-two '95s and one '94 Lingenfelter 385) from H&H Corvette in Orlando, Florida. During the trip I caught the bug and purchased my own first Corvette, a Competition Yellow automatic LT1. This was to be the "gentlemen's hot rod" replacement for my '90 351ci supercharged and nitrous-injected Mustang. After a year of modifying the LT1 with readily available bolt-on parts, it was still very underpowered compared with a stock ZR-1, so the search began to upgrade to "The King of the Hill."
The decision to step up wasn't solely horsepower based; it also had much to do with the mystique, the engineering, and the history behind these vehicles. Prior to making the decision, I had read The Heart of the Beast: History of the LT5 V-8 and ZR-1 Corvette, by Anthony Young. Having spent my career as an engineering manager overseeing new-product design and manufacturing, both the mechanical and political elements behind the ZR-1 hit home, and I knew the car was something I wanted to own. In addition, I credit my father for giving me my passion for cars (I grew up not at little-league games, but at the dragstrip) and instilling in me a technical appreciation for advanced performance vehicles like the ZR-1.
In March 2002, while attending a yearly Chevy and Corvette show in Chicago, I stumbled upon a low-mile 1995 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 for sale. The owner was taking down names and bids with the plan of letting the car go to the highest bidder. After some lengthy discussions with both him and his wife, he agreed to end his unofficial biding early and sell me the car for a very reasonable sum (about $10K under the typical dealer asking price at the time). The car had already gone through three owners before I made the purchase. But even though it was only seven years old, it only had 4,800 miles on the odometer.
After I got the car home and started inspecting it in detail, I noticed that the underside of the chassis was signed and dated "12/23/94." Wanting to know more, I contacted the original owner to get the story. As it turns out, he was an avid car collector, and this particular ZR-1 was the sixth and final one he had added to his collection. The story, as conveyed to me, was that he and his wife attended a Bowling Green plant tour on the last day of production for '94 models, when his car was scheduled to be built. Thanks to some high-profile connections, he was able to select the seats, assist in the wheel installation, sign and date the underside in a yellow marker, and be the first to turn the key and start the car.
He went on to say that this particular car was also used in a "ZR-1s by the Years" photo shoot during a National Corvette Museum event celebrating the production of the last ZR-1. At the end of our conversation, he offered to trade me for a new '02 Pontiac Trans Am Convertible, but I knew I had a great find, so I declined.
Because of the rare nature of this ZR-1, the complexity of the LT5 engine, and the scarcity of replacement parts, my original plan was to leave the car alone and enjoy it in stock form. My resolve lasted only a few months, however, before I caught the bug to modify my new beast. It wasn't long before I realized that-aside from a few exhaust systems, air intakes, and clutches-aftermarket parts for the ZR-1 were essentially nonexistent. The low-volume nature of the vehicle meant that most manufacturers simply didn't see a viable market for such products.
Since I had experience in the engineering/product-design field, and was able to hand fabricate and machine parts, I took it upon myself to set up shop and see what I could offer myself. The plan was to design and manufacture true bolt-on performance products that I wanted for my own vehicle, and then, after testing and confirming the results on my "mobile R&D lab," offer the same products to the rest of the ZR-1 community.