Not surprisingly, having such a low ride height does have its drawbacks. At first, it caused the rubber front spoiler lip to scrape just about everywhere. This led Moore to cut it down by five-eighths of an inch, which was a big help. Of greater concern are the various parts of the ZR-1’s undercarriage, including its exhaust pipes; care must be taken on driveways and on just about any abrupt elevation change. “This car does not do speed bumps,” says Moore. As a result, his drives involve some advanced planning, as well as a high degree of caution.
But drive he does. The Corvette’s previous owner—its third—didn’t want to drive it for fear of adding to its low mileage, which is why he ended up selling it. Moore has no such fear. While 11,000 miles over the course of five years might not seem like a lot to most people, to owners of collector Corvettes it’s a considerable amount. Though Moore avoids driving it in the rain, he’s not afraid to get his ZR-1 dirty.
With added mileage and the passing of time come increased maintenance, as well as the possibility of needing replacement parts. A few thousand miles into Moore’s ownership, it became evident that the fuel injectors required replacement—a not-uncommon problem. One theory is that the higher alcohol content in modern fuels eats away at the injector coils, causing their early demise. Whatever the cause, the fix is clear: replace the fuel injectors. It is at this juncture where we can see how the Corvette ZR-1’s bad reputation was born.
First of all, many mechanics don’t want to touch an LT5 engine, throwing up their hands in the face of its complexity and unique parts. To the uninitiated owner, this could be a thoroughly troubling situation. Thanks to the supportive ZR-1 Net community, however, Moore wasn’t one of those. He learned that replacing the fuel injectors was so straightforward that he could do it himself.
Armed with a service manual and the phone numbers of fellow ZR-1 owners, he started by pulling the plenum. “It was a little scary,” admits Moore, but he had no difficulty in carrying out the rest of the job, which includes removing the fuel rails. Nor did he have trouble finding parts. The fuel injectors can be purchased at the parts counter of any Chevy dealer, as they are exactly the same as L98 injectors; the only difference is that you need to buy 16 of them, not eight. Acquiring the proper gaskets, which have to be replaced each time the plenum is pulled, is a different matter. These can’t be found at a dealership, which can cause some to panic. However, a quick online search reveals they are in plentiful supply. Original-equipment gaskets do command a premium on eBay, but remanufactured ones from Gerry’s Gaskets are reasonably priced. The same is true of water-pump gaskets.
However, there are a few LT5-specific replacement parts that are prohibitively expensive. A thermostat housing will set you back a cool $500. (Moore is considering buying one now, before the price gets higher.) A transmission goes for roughly $1,500. Need to replace an entire engine? We found a 405-horsepower version (output went up in ’93) with a $12,500 price tag. Sadly, the high price of such parts combined with the car’s relatively low resale value has led some owners to part-out their ZR-1s instead of selling them whole. This is a sad state of affairs because the ZR-1 is such a great car to drive.
Moore’s ZR-1 is impressively free of squeaks and rattles, especially since the lowered suspension makes the car’s ride quality fairly stiff. The car’s handling is satisfyingly sharp; this Corvette turns into bends without hesitation. However, the fear of scraping the ZR-1’s immaculate underbody does detract from the driving experience.
The LT-5 engine is a real gem. It revs so smoothly and with such eagerness that it’s easy to forget to upshift. No other Corvette engine spins this freely. Yet the LT5 still pulls hard from low revs, a trait it shares with its overhead-valve brethren. Sure, it’s doesn’t have big-block torque off the line, but there’s no waiting for this V8 to come on-cam, either. In this regard, the Z06’s LS7 is peakier; it delivers a much bigger wallop, but you have to wait until around 4,000 rpm for it to hit. The LT5 compensates for its relative lack of torque with its incredibly linear response. Plus, it has enough oomph to make the ZR-1 feel fast, even by modern standards.
“Someday, people are going to wake up and see this car for what it is,” says Moore. That day may be getting closer. Our most-recent C4 Buyer’s Guide (July 2011) showed an upturn in ZR-1 values. Prices for the ’90 ZR-1 were up a solid 16 percent, and the other model years posted either mild appreciation or no change in value. After years of steady depreciation, this change represents quite a turnaround, but whether it marks an impending boom or merely a market correction is anybody’s guess. What is clear, however, is that the ZR-1 is a special Corvette. Its production numbers are low and its performance is high, and the free-revving LT5 delivers a unique driving experience. It deserves respect.