2019 Corvette ZR1: Last, and BEST, of its kind
CHEVY’S CORVETTE IS BEING REDESIGNED NEXT YEAR WITH A MID-ENGINE CONFIGURATION TO KEEP UP WITH ITS RIVAS. THAT’S A PITY, BECAUSE THIS YEAR’S FRONT-ENGINE ZR1 IS THE MOST DYNAMIC ’VETTE YET
MY BROTHER-IN-LAW recently acquired his dad’s well-preserved 1982 Chevrolet Corvette, which he drove to Thanksgiving dinner. It being a holiday, we even let him park it in the driveway. The ’82 Corvette – the last of the third-generation (C3) design – is perhaps the least-loved model-year of all, due to the fact that these wildly fast-looking cars were so shockingly slow and underpowered.
Trapped inside that wasp-waisted fibreglass bod is a 5.7-litre V8 wheezing out a mere 200 hp due to its crude emissions-control plumbing. The 1982 Corvette is that zoologically unlikely thing, a sexy slug.
As luck would have it, I too drove a red Corvette to the family dinner: a 2019 ZR1, the quickest, most dynamic, most powerful Corvette ever offered by the factory, fully loaded and bristling with carbon-fibre cutlery – notably its huge rear wing, part of the ZTK Track Performance Package that says, around town, “Hey, look at me, I’m a fun-loving dork with money”.
The ZR1 has no trouble breathing, thanks to the immense supercharger sticking through the hood. Nor drinking, either: the 6.2-litre pushrod V8 is fitted with dual fuel systems to pump more gas into the cylinders in extremis. And when this pile of highpriced aluminium reaches its full cyclonic pitch, at 6,400 rpm, it produces 755 hp and shows up on weather radar. Seek shelter. Stay inside.
The ZR1 isn’t fronting. It’s quick. For one thing, the gearing is such that you don’t have to upshift to second gear before it reaches 60 mph (at around 6,100 rpm). You just pop the clutch in first gear, one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, while the big V8 screams in your face like a gorilla.
I wasn’t in a position to replicate the factory’s acceleration pulls – 0-60 mph in 2.85 seconds – due to the fact that the well-scrubbed Michelin track tires our tester was wearing magically turn to stone at about 50 degrees. Most of the time, these tires – kit with the track package ($2,995), along with rear wing and front carbon-fibre splitter – made driving the ZR1 like wrestling a giant bipolar eel: powerful, slippery, hard to get a grip. But when those tires came to temp, oh lord. This thing doesn’t have an accelerator. It has a detonator.
Looking for a Corvette to tuck away in your hot-rod time capsule? Me neither. For one thing, I couldn’t take the psychic heat of being a middle-aged man bopping around town in a red Corvette. These cars should be sold with a restraining order.
Even now, in the Late Baroque Period of Corvettes, these cars have their issues. Why must it reek of glue? Oh right, it’s made of plastic. The ZR1 is a real head-tosser at low speeds, even with the fancy magnetic suspension on soft, in Tour mode. The honking supercharger bulges into the driver’s forward view, blocking the lower third of the windshield. The performance wheels and tires – 19inch up front and 20-inch in rear, wrapped with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 – look curiously undersized in the wheel wells. In all seriousness, skip the track pack.
And yet for collectors, this might be the One, the Ultimate, the Maximum. The next Corvette design (C8), due in spring, will be a radically different automotive proposition. It will be a mid-engine vehicle, like a Ferrari or Lamborghini, not a frontengine car like, um, a Corvette.
There are good reasons for the change, some dynamical, some demographic. The remarkable thing about the legacy Corvette is how well it kept up with highly specific midengine sports cars. But for Corvette to remain among the super-sports car elite, to be considered by millennials in their prime spending years, the design had to go mid-engine. Our ZR1 lands as a joyously egregious finale to the era of front-engine Corvettes.
What will be lost? First, these will be the last Corvettes with a manual transmission – a trick seven-speeder with a rev-matching function for downshifting. The C8 will use a dualclutch paddle-shift transmission, which will be quicker around the Nurburgring than any manually stirred alternative. But purists and collectors will covet the charismatic anachronism of the three-pedal manual. Burnouts are easier too.
Second, the ’Vette will lose its versatility as a multi-day grand touring sports car, owing to its hatchback design. There aren’t many, or any, super-sports that can carry two suitcases and two sets of golf clubs.
Lastly, and saddest of all, the Corvette will lose its hood of goodly length, the conspicuous priapism that has defined the mission for 65 years. The next Corvette might be faster, quicker, safer, better, but it will never swing the same attitude.
May I suggest the 1982 vintage?
Base price: $118,900 Price as tested: $139,660 Powertrain: Supercharged 6.2-litre V8 with dual-fuel system; 7-speed manual transmission with auto rev-matching; rear transaxle with limited-slip differential Power/Torque: 755 at 6,400 rpm/715 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm Length/Width/Height/Wheelbase: 179.8/77.4/48.5/106.7 inchesCurb weight: 3,560 pounds0-60 mph: 2.85 secondsFuel economy: 5.5/8/6.3 kml, city/highway/combinedCargo capacity: 15 cubic feet