When Chevrolet teased us with the tag line, "Power and speed like you've never seen before," we knew the next Corvette ZR1 model would be something special. At the Los Angeles Auto Show we saw just how special: massive power, gobs of aero and just for good measure, a convertible version as well.
Based on the seventh-generation Corvette, this is only the fourth-generation ZR1, and it features a number of key innovations that help make it the most powerful production Corvette ever. General Motors isn't releasing all of its performance stats just yet, but we do know some tasty tidbits. Namely: 755 horsepower and 715 pound feet of torque in a package that weighs 3,650 pounds.
Chevy officials promise that the ZR1 will hit a top speed of 212 miles per hour, and with 105 more horses and 65 pound-feet more torque, it's not unreasonable to suspect that it will be quicker to 60 mph than 2.95 seconds, GM's official time for the. (For added perspective, 715 is roughly two-thirds more horsepower than the 455 in the base ).
Chevy will also offer a ZR1 convertible. Usually cutting off the top of a supercar requires additional support for the chassis. However, the aluminum chassis of the ZR1 is strong enough that no structural changes were needed in the convertible. Instead, the drop top's 60 extra pounds are due to the folding top hardware. Chevy expects the convertible to have nearly the same top speed as the coupe.
Of course, the ZR1 isn't just a case of cranking up the boost on the Z06's 6.2-liter V8. On the contrary, the powertrain has been comprehensively reworked from its air and fuel delivery systems on through its exhaust, with the goal of creating more power up and down the rev range. Despite being "conservatively spec'd," Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter says, "after you drive this car for a while, a Z06 feels really sluggish, like it can barely get out of its own way." He only sounds like he's half joking when he says that to us assembled journos.
Not only have significant upgrades in breathing capacity necessitated major changes to the ZR1's front end, aero changes have been carried throughout the bodywork, all the way to the rear end. You'll hear a lot of that word in this story: "necessitated." As it turns out, when building an envelope-pushing supercar, solving one problem often creates another technical challenge to be surmounted.
As you can see from these images, the ZR1's resulting bodywork is incredibly aggressive, from a completely unique front clip featuring markedly bigger air inlets and front splitter (that incorporates a Corvette-first underwing) to a massive, high-set rear airfoil that's part of an option package.
One of the biggest challenges for the ZR1 was working out improved cooling for the 2.65-liter Eaton supercharger that's 52-percent bigger than the Z06. That in turn necessitated sourcing a 95-millimeter throttle body — GM simply couldn't find one big enough anywhere that could produce a large enough throttle opening to keep from choking the engine, so it had to design its own.
Case in point: Chevrolet learned the hard way with this car's Z06 forebearer that too much cooling is just enough. Embarrassingly, the company suffered a small but statistically significant number of heatsoak/overheating-related issues reported by Z06 owners at racetracks, a development that forced the company to make some changes for the 2017 model year.
That shouldn't be a problem with this new ZR1. It boasts no fewer than 13 heat exchangers, including a pair of additional radiators on each side of the nose. That key addition along with the bigger supercharger changed the weight distribution on the car, so Chevy compensated by widening the front wheels by half an inch for better grip. That, along with the need for more fresh air and a higher hood to clear the supercharger necessitated that the ZR1 would get all-new front bodywork — no Z06 bits would fit.
If you scroll through the gallery of photos accompanying this story, you may take notice of the hood, what with its bare carbon midsection. It may look like one piece, but it's not — that's the top of the intercooler cover poking through. That's right, the ZR1 has a shaker hood. It couldn't have been easy to engineer this solution and still effectively manage any air and drainage concerns. You can practically hear the mix of pride and weariness in Juechter's voice when he speaks of the difficulty in bookmatching the carbon-fiber weave between the hood itself and the intercooler cover.
Better breathing is only half the solution, of course: to get more power, you need more fuel, and that necessitated the development of a new duel fuel injection system, a first for Corvette. Like the Stingray and Z06, the LS9 in the ZR1 relies on direct injection, but it has a supplemental port injection, too.
Transmission-wise, Chevy's 7-speed rev-matching manual will come standard, but GM has chosen to make an 8-speed automatic optional for the first time on a ZR1 — the new 10-speed from the 2018 Camaro doesn't fit. The paddle-shift 7-speed gearbox has received numerous upgrades to improve shift times, and Juechter says those upgrades will filter back down through the rest of the Corvette lineup.
Let's go back to the aerodynamics for a moment, because if you're like me, you can't stop staring at that wing. It's actually part of an optional $2,995 ZTK Performance Package, which incorporates a unique front splitter with tall carbon-fiber end caps, as well as specific chassis and Magnetic Ride Control calibrations and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer rubber.
The wing itself was codeveloped with Corvette motorsports partners Pratt & Miller, and its angle of attack is manually adjustable up to five degrees. Those tall stanchions bolt directly to the chassis for maximum effect, and the wing itself can deliver upwards of 950 pounds of downforce at speed, yet it actually creates less drag than the "wicker bill" fencing on the Z06's wing. The uprights are actually so tall that Juechter says the rear wing clears the rear window so that you can still see out back, and cargo room avoids taking the hit that an active wing's mechanism might necessitate.
The Corvette Z06 sounds plenty snarly, but the new ZR1 promises to go a step further. It still has the former's active clapper valves to sound more socially acceptable around town, but new internal passive valves help build sound more progressively, so it's not an all-or-nothing auditory experience. "It's brutal when you're in track mode and you're revving on it," Juechter says.
According to Tom Peters, director of exterior design for GM, customers have been clamoring for a new orange paint option, so for those buyers, Chevy has developed the decidedly unsubtle Sebring Orange Design Package shown here. It includes Sebring Orange Tintcoat paint, as well as matching brake calipers and accents on the rockers and splitter. Inside, orange seatbelts play off carrot-colored stitching, and there's unusual bronze-finish aluminum interior trim accents, as well.
Most of the Corvette range's other options, including competition sport seats, Bose premium audio and Chevy's trick Performance Data Recorder are also available. After years of downmarket interiors fitted with uncomfortable seats and cheap plastics, the C7 generation took huge strides to make living with a Corvette on a daily basis not just easier, but more enjoyable.
You can snag your very own 2019 Corvette ZR1 for a cool $119,995 for the coupe or $123,995 for the convertible.
Despite repeated pestering, company officials still won't talk about the much-rumored mid-engined Corvette that's still in the pipeline. But the 2019 ZR1 that hits dealers in spring not only looks good enough to be more than just a placeholder until that car arrives, it looks like formidable competition for both track day and valet stand honors — even here in Dubai.
Editor's note, November 29, 2017: This article was updated to reflect information from the Los Angeles Auto Show.