Corvette C4 – 1990 -1996 Part II

1990 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

1990 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

That big news was, of course, the 1990 Corvette ZR-1 coupe (the ZR-1 was never available as a convertible). Nicknamed “King of the Hill,” the ZR-1 was built around the Lotus-designed, Mercury Marine-built, all-aluminum 5.7-liter DOHC 32-valve LT5 V8 making an astounding 375 hp. That is, it made 375 hp when an in-dash key was set in “full-power” mode and not in the “valet” mode, where it was limited to just 250 hp. The only transmission available in the ZR-1 was the ZF six-speed and inside its swollen rear fenders were humongous P315/35ZR17 tires on suitably wide wheels. The widened rear fenders on the ZR-1 were capped by a new rear fascia distinguished by squared-off taillights and convex (as opposed to the usually concave) rear fascia.

In testing a preproduction ZR-1, Motor Trend concluded that, “With a top speed in the neighborhood of 175 mph, a 0-60-mph time of 4.71 seconds and 13.13-second/110.0-mph quarter-mile, no one’s going to accuse the DOHC ‘Vette of being limp-wristed.” They were right, no one dared call the limited-production ZR-1 limp-wristed, but it was criticized for its incredible $58,995 price: nearly twice that of a regular L98-powered Corvette.

All the ’90 Corvettes got a new dashboard with a vastly improved mixture of analog and digital instrumentation, better ventilation, better sound systems and an airbag for the driver. Otherwise, the Corvette was very much status quo.

Chevrolet Corvette for 1991

Restyling came to the Chevrolet Corvette for 1991 with a slicker front end incorporating wraparound foglights, a new rear fascia reminiscent of the ZR-1’s that incorporated the third brake light (the latter would remain on the hatch of the ZR-1) and new wheels. Everything else was pretty much a carryover, though the price of the ZR-1 had now ballooned to $64,138, making it the first GM automobile to carry a price beyond $60,000.

For 1992, the L98 was dumped in favor of the new next-generation small-block V8, the LT1 (no hyphen, unlike the ’70 version with the similar name). The LT1 was rated at 300 hp thanks to significant revisions to the cylinder heads, accessory drives, cooling system and fuel injection. But despite that healthy increase in output, it was also an even more engaging driving companion than the L98. Along with the LT1 came traction control — Acceleration Slip Regulation (ASR in GM speak) — whose best feature was that it could be turned off.

The One Millionth Corvette

1992 One Millionth Corvette

1992 One Millionth Corvette

On July 2, 1992, the millionth Chevrolet Corvette, a white ’92 convertible, was built.

A special 40th anniversary package, consisting mostly of badges and special Ruby Red paint, was offered for 1993 on both LT1 and ZR-1 Corvettes. Otherwise, the most notable change for the year was refinement of the LT5 engine in the ZR-1 that boosted its horsepower from 375 to an epic 405: in real-world terms (accounting for the difference between the old SAE gross and current SAE net rating methods), the most powerful production Corvette up to that time. Other changes were minimal.

An airbag was added for passengers in the 1994 Corvettes, while the cockpit’s trim and steering wheel were refined. The LT1 was treated to sequential fuel injection that improved drivability and simplified emissions control but didn’t increase total power output. The ZR-1 got new five-spoke wheels, but that’s about it.

Indy 500 Pace Car

New side gills distinguished the 1995 Corvette from previous editions, but other changes were much more subtle

1995 Chevrolet Corvette Indy 500 Pace Car

1995 Chevrolet Corvette Indy 500 Pace Car

and included improved brakes, revised springs, de Carbon gas-charged shocks and a quieter-running engine fan. And for the third time, a Corvette (this time a convertible) paced the Indy 500.

It was also the last year for the ZR-1. “When the LT5’s throttle body opens into the 16 tuned intake runners (assuming the power key is twisted to ‘full’),” Motor Trend‘s intrepid scribe wrote in its last ZR-1 test, “it humps.” Beyond hazing the P315/35ZR17 Goodyear Eagle GS-Cs under the car’s trademark swollen flanks when accelerating, it bursts down the quarter-mile in 13.05 seconds at over 117 mph. Getting to 60 from rest takes only 4.9 seconds, and getting from 60 to 100 takes only 4.8 more. The mid-range power is even better than the Ferrari F355’s.

“The engine is sophisticated, but the sound of it and the transmission could only be more involving if the driver sat in the crankcase. The ZR-1’s mechanical character thrills in an era when so many cars isolate their occupants. Like all current Corvettes, the handling limits are high, but the ZR-1’s larger tires mean that once those limits have been exceeded that it’s even tougher to rein in. And, like all current Corvettes, the cockpit is a challenge to enter and cramped once inside.”

For 1996, Chevy followed up the ZR-1 with two unique editions that would mark the end of C4 production. The first was a “Collector’s Edition” available on coupes and convertibles that consisted mostly of special emblems, five-spoke wheels and Sebring Silver paint. Far more intriguing was the Grand Sport, which swiped its name and blue-with-white-stripe paint job from an early-’60s racing Corvette and featured an amplified version of the LT1 small-block called the “LT4” that made a healthy 330 hp. A debate still rages on whether the ZR-1 or Grand Sport best expressed the essence and potential of the C4 Corvette.

What was obvious, however, was that it was time for a new Corvette.

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  1. […] 1994 Chevrolet Corvette was part of the C4 generation of Corvettes. Although it remained mostly the same as its predecessor, Chevy still gave it some enhancements […]

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