2019 Corvette ZR1: Last, and BEST, of its kind



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

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