Wesley Wren is an associate editor at Autoweek, a sister publication of Automotive News.
The 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is an impressive piece -- the 755-hp LT5 V-8 engine might not have dual-overhead camshafts, but it still makes incredible power. More importantly, it’s stuffed with track-ready parts that should be more than enough to appease even the most pretentious weekend warrior.
The new king Corvette made us think about a few other landmark moments in the nameplate's history.
The 1957 Chevy Corvette "Air Box" was the first super high-performance version of Chevy's sports car.
5. 1957 Chevrolet Corvette “Air Box” (C1)
This race-ready version of Chevy’s first fuel-injected sports car was THE package to get if you planned to do any serious competitive driving. The package, called 579E by Chevy’s internal brass, received a small performance bump from a cold-air intake system for the already fast, fuel-injected 283-cubic-inch V-8 engine. The package was usually paired with the big brake package -- option No. 684 -- that gave a heavy-duty suspension and larger brakes.
As for power -- this is nowhere close to the latest ZR1 Corvette’s monstrous 755 hp, but for its day, the 283 hp was more than enough to move its 2,849-pound chassis around with authority. According to Chevy, only 43 of these specially optioned Corvettes rolled off the assembly line, which we also expect to be usurped by the ZR1.
Chevy's Z06 package was introduced in 1963.
4. 1963 Chevrolet Corvette (C2) Z06
Building on what Chevy learned from its not-so-subtle racing endeavors with the Corvette, it launched the Z06 package. The package included a 360-hp, 327-cubic-inch V-8 engine with the now-familiar Ramjet mechanical fuel injection, a limited-slip rear axle and a four-speed gearbox. These Corvettes also had a special 36.5-gallon fuel tank, as opposed to the standard 20-gallon tank, to help keep fuel in the cars when tasked with endurance races -- or extremely long trips to the grocery store.
Like the above Corvette and any Z06 that has followed, there was more than just a bump in output. The 1963 Corvette Z06 also had better brakes and a better suspension. But as fast as the first Z06 was, it’s no match for its modern counterpart -- let alone the new ZR1.
Second-generation Corvettes with big block engines would be easily identified by the "stringer" hood. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
3. 1967 Chevrolet Corvette (C2) L88
While the folks behind the Corvette’s racing development were doing good work with the small-block V-8 engine, eventually there became no replacement for displacement. Chevrolet introduced its MkIV big-block V-8 to the Corvette in 1965. Carrying the internal badge L78, the big-block Corvette made way for various high-performance versions -- namely, the L88. Sure, there was an even hotter version of Chevy’s big block -- the ZL1 -- but only two of those race-ready aluminum engines reportedly found a home in Corvettes. The L88, on the other hand, was a cast-iron block with lightweight aluminum heads.
Displacing a whopping 427 cubic inches, the L88 Corvette was rated at 435 hp, but many consider that to be grossly under the engine’s actual performance. With minor tuning adjustments and a few bolt-on goodies such as a set of tubular headers, the L88 could allegedly churn out 560 hp -- in 1967.
The 1990 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 introduced the DOHC LT5 V-8. Photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
2. 1990 Chevrolet Corvette (C4) ZR-1
While not the introduction of the ZR-1, 1990 did mark the special Corvette’s return. It also introduced Chevy’s dual-overhead camshaft LT5 V-8 to the world. Introduced at the Geneva motor show, the ZR-1 was Chevrolet’s step into the future -- the pushrod V-8 was its flagship engine design, and the LT5’s lack of pushrods surprised many. The 32-valve V-8 was rated at 375 hp and could carry the coupe to an astonishing 180 mph. That might not sound like a lot of oomph, considering it barely ekes out more power than the 1963 Z06, but for the time, it was blistering fast.
As we know now, the DOHC V-8 wasn’t the future for Chevy’s performance endeavors -- even the rumored reintroduction in this ZR1 turned out not to be the case. But it did show that Chevy had its eye on the future.
The third iteration of Chevrolet's Corvette ZR1 introduced a supercharged V-8.
1. 2009 Chevrolet Corvette (C6) ZR1
The ZR1 returned, without the hyphen, in 2009 without its DOHC engine. Chevy did spice up the less interesting pushrod V-8 by introducing a supercharger. The supercharged LS9 V-8 produced an impressive 638 hp. The ZR1 also added features available on other GM performance products, including the latest ZR1, such as Magnetic Selective Ride Control.
The last generation ZR1 proved its worth as an ultrahigh performance Corvette, but even it is overshadowed by the latest and greatest (and possibly last front engine) Corvette ZR1.