For many years the Corvette was American’s only sports car and it has entirely been the most consistent while others have come and gone; and it has remained essentially Americans, despite the steady inward flow of Italian exotica. In a land where speed limits have applied for many years, outsight top speed has been less important than accelerative ability and the Corvette has long supplied that, with its top range option.


None more so than the ZR-1, the first to have a European engine; it was designed by Lotus at the time the company was owned by General Motors, although it derived from a previous project for the still born Lotus Etna. The first Corvette rolled off the line in 1953, a pioneering glass fiber body on well tried mechanical components with a 3.8 liter six cylinder engine developed to produce 150 bhp.

Nothing about it would set European eyes on fire, but it was a step in the right direction; sales were initially slow but the introduction of the first V-8, a 195 bhp 4.3 liter, in 1995 set the Corvette on the performance trail. A new body style in 1956 gave it a more aggressive air, and the 1957 adoption of Rochester fuel injection on the new 283 (4.6 liter) V-8 gave it 283 bhp and the performance that European began to notice, a four speed gearbox arrived too. A 327 (5.4 liter) version followed in 1962 offering up to 360 bhp.

It was the 1963 Sting Ray that brought the Corvette into the world acceptance, an elegant fast back coupe with an equally attractive roadster version, and a new stiffer frame incorporated independent rear suspension. Initially engines were based in the same small block engine, but the success of Shelby Cobra persuaded GM to insert a big block unit, initially 396, and then 427 to give a massive 7 liter lump.


When this became available in 1966, Corvette could clear 150 mph (depending on gearing) and reach 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. A longer, sleeker style for 1968 initially carried the same engine options but there were gradually stultified during the ‘seventies’ in the search of cleaner emissions. Horsepower figures shrunk for other reasons too; the Americans stopped quoting gross power (the engine shorn of all power robbing ancillaries) and quoted net power as measured at the flywheel of production engine, seemingly as much as 100 bhp less.

When the new style appeared in 1983, the engine was just a 200 bhp 5.7 liter, but the chassis had received a major redesign and the car was shorter and lighter, and the aerodynamics were considerably more slippery, it would still to 142 mph and reach 60 mph in 7 seconds. Over the next ten years, engine efficiency has been much improved and the same engine now produces 304 bhp to give a near 160 maximum. But that wasn’t enough for some.

As early as 1984 GM engineers were seeking more power with the idea of getting Lotus to put twin-cam heads on the existing engine. Lotus came up with an all new aluminium four-cam four-valve 5.7 liter engine instead which fitted into the same engine bay; when it went into production in 1989, this developed 380 bhp which was increased to 411 bhp in 1993. Along with the new engine came a new six speed gearbox, a selective ride system, ABS brakes and roadholding developments that have the Corvette up with the best mid engined devices. Maybe the fact that it is still front engined limits its following outside. American, but the ZR-1now has everything that the supercar enthusiast could want, superb style, superb drive-train and very real performance.