It was 25 years ago when General Motors bought Group Lotus, the UK-based engineering company and performance car builder founded by Colin Chapman. Aside from Lotus’ Active Suspension Technology, the company’s high performance engine expertise was of significant interest to GM.
Dave McLellan, who was Chief Corvette Engineer at the time, got together with Lotus Engineering to design a new dual overhead cam, 32-valve, fuel injected engine for the Corvette. The objective was to build a version of the C4 Corvette as the world’s fastest production car.
The resulting all-aluminum, DOHC engine required special assembly which was contracted to Mercury Marine, due to a lack of capacity at other GM engine plants. With its Lotus-designed cylinder heads, hand assembly and relatively low production volume, the engine, designated LT5, was an expensive proposition.
For its 375 hp output, 1990 Corvette buyers would contend with an MSRP of $58,995. Mind you, with its 11-inch rear wheels, the ZR1 would dispatch the 60 mph mark from a standing start in 4.4 seconds.
Changes to the engine in 1993 would bump the power output to 405hp, but the car’s novelty had worn thin in the market and was amply reflected in declining sales numbers. Following the 1995 model year, the LT5 engine was discontinued, although some of its technology and many of the lessons learned went into the development and manufacture of the 32V Northstar engine.
The 1990 ZR1 shown here was listed on eBay recently as an untouched survivor car with only 3,741 miles on the odometer. Remarkably, the car never received a single bid during the 7-day auction. Throughout the six year production run of the ZR1, there was little visually distinctive about the car, thus making it difficult to rise above the crowd when looking for recognition.
The car is located at Superior Chevrolet, in Merriam, KS and may continue to be there for a while yet. Contact information is provided in the eBay listing in case you are interested in following up on this opportunity. While ZR1 production was far more exclusive in years approaching 1996, this is one of 3,049 units built in 1990, according to the ZR1 Registry. In total, just 6,939 cars ever saw the light of day.