Courtesy of Mecum Auctions Inc.

This exceedingly rare 1971 Chevrolet Corvette ZR2 convertible from the famed Ed Foss Collection is a reference-grade, multiple award winner of the highest caliber. Known as “Zora’s Racer” after Corvette Chief Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, the ZR2’s entry in 1971 was shrouded in mystery, with no pre-production hype, road tests or leaked photographs. The spiritual successor to the mighty racing-purposed L88, the RPO ZR2 Special Purpose LS6 Engine Package followed the same blueprint, matching the new 454/425 Mark IV big-block V8 with the Muncie M22 close-ratio “Rock Crusher” 4-speed manual transmission, transistorized ignition, high-capacity aluminum radiator with shroud delete, heavy-duty power disc brakes, F41 Special Suspension with specific springs, shocks and front and rear sway bars.

The ZR2’s price tag put it out of the reach of all but 12 fortunate buyers, only two of whom chose the convertible version, making this example one of the rarest big-block Corvettes in the marque’s history. Beyond its unrestored and highly original condition, it is also the lowest-mileage ZR2 known to exist, by virtue of its odometer reading of just 8,702 miles. Finished in its factory-original Brands Hatch Green paint and black leather interior, this one-of-two ZR2 convertible comes with both the original black soft top and color-matching auxiliary hard top. Its overall presentation has earned many of the Corvette hobby’s most coveted awards, including induction into the Great Hall in 2011 when it also won the MCACN Triple Diamond Award recognizing Corvettes that have earned Bloomington Gold Certification, the NCRS Top Flight Award and MCACN Concours Gold.

In 2015 it was crowned with the rare dual honors of Bloomington Gold Benchmark Certification and Survivor Certification, underlining its value to Corvette historians, judges and future restorers in determining factory authenticity. Subsequently, the car again won NCRS Chapter Top Flight honors at the 2017 Indiana NCRS Spring Meet. As one should expect of such a rare and significant specimen, this ZR2 convertible is offered with full documentation that includes all award certificates and the prized Great Hall Medallion, the original Vehicle Purchase Order and shipping invoice and the original tank sticker and Protect-O-Plate.

SCM Analysis

Detailing

Vehicle:1971 Chevrolet Corvette ZR2 Convertible
Years Produced:1971
Number Produced:12 (including 2 convertibles)
Tune Up Cost:$500
Chassis Number Location:Top left of dashboard near base of windshield
Engine Number Location:Stamped on pad on front of right-hand cylinder head 
Club Info:National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS) 
Website:http://www.ncrs.org
Alternatives:1963 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, 1967–69 Chevrolet Corvette L88, 1971 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

This car, Lot S127, sold for $962,500, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum Auctions’ Indianapolis, IN, sale held May 21, 2022.

Calvin Martin walked into Kluge Chevrolet in Bremerton, WA, on May 8, 1971. With $184.43 down and 36 payments of $168.21, he left with a $7,672.80 Brands Hatch Green 1971 Corvette ZR2 convertible. The ZR2 option was intended for competition only, so this was probably a special order since no race car needs optional leather interior or a fiberglass hard top. What Calvin could not have known was that by year’s end his ZR2 Corvette would be one of just 12 produced — 10 coupes and two convertibles. It would also be the last factory-built racing Corvette for nearly two decades.

A smog-legal racer

The ZR2 package was offered as a turn-key racer, perfect for regional SCCA action, autocross or local dragstrips. Chief Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov actually created two ready-racers in 1971, the 350-powered ZR1 “Special Purpose LT1 Engine Package” along with the 454-powered ZR2, both nearly identical save the engine.

Like their L88 predecessor, the ZR1 and ZR2 came with a Regular Production Order alphabet soup of high-performance options. Even the radio and heater were deleted, items that weight-saving racers would scrap anyway. But unlike the L88, which was equipped with a race-ready, fire-breathing 560-hp 427-ci engine, the ZR2 instead had to make do with the 9.0:1-compression, smog-pump-laden, 425-hp LS6 454, which was the highest-performance engine available at the time. At least it was still equipped with aluminum cylinder heads.

Why less power than the L88? A four-month labor stoppage in 1969 delayed the release of the ZR2 from 1970 to 1971. Then, the ramifications of the Clean Air Act of 1968 reduced the number of engines that manufacturers had time to certify for sale (with GM also mandating those engines run on regular-grade fuel in anticipation of more upcoming regulations). For those reasons, the competition-bred LS7 454 intended for the stillborn 1970 ZR2 had to be shelved.

Car and Driver recorded a stout quarter-mile time of 13.8 seconds at 104.65 mph, but the ZR2 was a one-year wonder. The automotive world was changing rapidly in the early 1970s, and due to factors outside of Arkus-Duntov’s control, his racers were not the world-beating machines he intended. Just 188 Corvettes were powered by the LS6, including the 12 ZR2-package cars. ZR1s were even more rare, with only eight built.

Only original once

I’ve never driven a ZR2, but my experience with L88s is they are recalcitrant on the street, created instead for the wide-open expanses of Sebring or Watkins Glen; just imagine a modern-day Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo or Porsche 911 GT3 Cup racer cruising on Main Street. Yet, like most of the ZR2s sold and many of the L88 Corvettes that preceded it, Calvin Martin’s factory racer never saw the business side of a racetrack. Instead, it was rarely driven, kept in immaculate showroom condition.

“This is, by far, the most original ZR2 in the world. There isn’t another one out there that hasn’t been restored,” the late Ed Foss told Motor Trend in 2013 regarding our subject car. Foss’s Fort Wayne, IN, collection of original, low-mile Corvettes was extraordinary, and he “traded a couple of cars for it.”

As the ZR2 option was practically unknown in 1971, it is equally anonymous today. The more-plentiful L88 Corvettes (216 built between 1967 and 1969), with their long, rich history of racing success, get all the love. Just look at Mecum’s 2020 sale of a 1967 L88 coupe for $2,695,000 (SCM# 6940704). Yes, this was a C2 model and just 20 were produced that year, but it’s also a restoration. The one-of-two Foss ZR2 is factory original down to the tires, has all dealer documentation, and even has the original Protect-O-Plate warranty card, something vintage Corvette owners will spend small fortunes to ransom from previous owners. As they say, it’s only original once, and this Corvette is the definition of original.

Exceptional car, unexceptional legacy

Due to the obscurity of the ZR2, the SCM Platinum Auction Database shows only three sales prior to this one, with the previous high mark of $550,000 paid for the other ZR2 convertible, a correctly restored Ontario Orange example sold at Mecum’s 2008 Bloomington Gold auction (SCM# 117104). However, the same car was sold again by Mecum in 2011 — after failing to sell at auction twice in 2009 — for just $434,600 (SCM# 182154). It’s extraordinary when a vehicle brings nearly double the previous high sale, but as a Corvette enthusiast and connoisseur of original automobiles, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed.

Rarity and condition are only two components of a car’s value; there are plenty of oddball vehicles out there of minimal interest or worth. The third component is a vehicle’s legacy, and the sad reality is the 1971 ZR2 is an obscure footnote to Corvette history that contributed nothing to motorsport heritage. It still seems that the showroom-fresh condition and near uniqueness of this ZR2 could have accounted for a bit more value than this sale suggests.

I consider the Foss ZR2 well bought, yet this result certainly should not be a disappointment to the seller. A little higher price would have made it a real winner. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)

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