The C3 arrived in 1968, sporting the Corvette’s first major restyling since ’63. Obviously based on the Mako Shark II show car, the new ’Vette had an aero front end with hidden headlights and disappearing wipers. Except for fender air vents and chrome on the rocker panels, the undulating body sides were plain. The blunt, Kammback rear deck had four round taillights. A “tunnel roof” coupe with a removable back window and optional T-top replaced the Sting Ray fastback. The Shark convertible’s optional hard top had a glass rear window.

The ’68 Corvette’s 427 big-block engine came in four versions up to the L88 aluminum-head V8 (See Winter 2008, “C3 Profile,” p. 36). Thought to be the “ultimate big-block” at the time, it cost $947 and was installed primarily in racing cars. It had a 12.50:1 compression ratio, mechanical valve lifters, a special ultra-high-performance cam, and a single Holley 850-cfm four-barrel carburetor. With a 3.36:1 rear axle, the L88 convertible did the quarter mile in 13.56 seconds at 111.10 mph.

Racing was a big part of the C3 story. John Greenwood, Allen Barker, Don Yenko, Hal Sharp, and Tony DeLorenzo were some of the winning drivers. Even actor James Garner and comedian Dick Smothers tore up racetracks in their cars. The Corvette won twelve Sports Car Club of America national titles and was the favorite car in Car and Driver’s Reader Poll four years in a row.

As a new decade began, the focus on racing grew even stronger. A 454-ci big-block V8 replaced the 427 in 1970. For small-block racing classes, an awesome new ZR1 option was released. This special racing package included Chevrolet’s LT-1—a solid-lifter 350—as well as the M22 heavy-duty 4-speed transmission, a dual-plate clutch, J50/J56 dual-pin brakes with heavy-duty front pads and power assist, a special aluminum radiator, and a revised F41 heavy-duty suspension.

Proving that it was a serious competition package, the ZR1 Special Items Group did not offer power windows, power steering, air conditioning, a rear-window defogger, wheel covers, or a radio. The LT-1 engine could propel a ZR1 from 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. The quarter mile took 14.17 seconds at 102.15 mph.

The LT-1 returned in 1971, but for a few brave souls who wanted to go even faster and do even more serious racing, there was a new “ZR2 Special Purpose LS6 Engine Package.” This was basically the ZR1 with the LS6 big-block V8. It was only available for one year and just 12 cars were built with the $1,747 package. As enthusiasts say, there’s no replacement for displacement. Car and Driver reported the ZR2 could sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and run the quarter mile in 13.8 seconds at 104.65 mph.

The War Bonnet Yellow Corvette ZR2 coupe seen here is a beautiful example of a very rare Corvette. Some enthusiasts call the ZR2 the “Zora Duntov Racer.” Both Zora and his wife Elfi drove 1971 Corvettes. Elfi’s was a pretty Sunflower Yellow LS5 convertible, but Zora was more interested in having the fastest car around, so he concocted the ZR2. Cars getting the engine package—factory described as the “RPO ZR2 454-cid 425-hp V-8”—already had all the other ZR1 racing goodies.

The big-block RPO LS6 Chevy V8 had the same 4.251-inch bore as the 427 it replaced, but the stroke jumped from 3.76 to 4.00 inches. For use with the new fuels, it had a mere 8.5:1 compression ratio, but Duntov compensated for this by using a high-performance cam grind and a single Holley 800-cfm carburetor. The LS6 developed peak power at 5,600 rpm and produced 475 ft-lb of torque at 4,000 rpm.

This matching-numbers ZR2 was put up for sale by its second owner, who had possession of it for 20-plus years. It’s one of twelve ZR2s produced, and one of eight ZR2 coupes. That makes it even rarer than an L88. It was restored by Thorpe’s Corvettes, but still has its original drivetrain and original interior.

The car was displayed alongside boards showing documents related to it, other important authenticating items like its original dealer Protect-o-Plate, and an array of awards. These included Bloomington Gold “Gold” Certification, a Top Flight Award, a National Corvette Restorers Society Performance Verification Award, a Duntov Award, and NCRS judging sheets.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1971 ZR2 454/425 Coupe
Years Produced:1971
Number Produced:12 (8 coupes)
Original List Price:$7,500–$8,000
SCM Valuation:$300,000–$375,000
Tune Up Cost:$150
Distributor Caps:$19.99
Chassis Number Location:Top of dash on driver’s side
Engine Number Location:Right front below cylinder head
Club Info:National Corvette Owners of America, 900 S. Washington St., #G-13, Falls Church, VA 22046
Alternatives:1970–71 Plymouth Hemi ’Cuda, 1970–71 Pontiac Trans Am RA IV, 1970–71 Chevy Chevelle SS 454 LS6
Investment Grade:A

This car sold for $357,500 at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale sale on January 19, 2008.

The price is impressive. Barrett-Jackson’s Sneak Preview booklet pointed out that the car had the 454-ci/425-hp engine and the M22 “rock crusher” 4-speed, which Corvette enthusiasts knew as soon as they read “ZR2.” Though 188 Corvettes came equipped with the LS6 in 1971, and some of those with M40 automatics, the ZR2 package necessitated the M22. The booklet showed an attractive photo of the car from the rear (one of its best views) and did a good job pointing out the original drivetrain and interior, the low production, and the fact that it is believed to be the only Duntov and Bloomington Gold winner.

Right color, “righteous” restoration

The ZR2’s War Bonnet Yellow finish is actually an attractive gold color and fits the era so well that Franklin Mint has produced a 1:24-scale 1971 Corvette coupe in its Fiberglass Edition line that looks just like this car. For all we know, they modeled it after the same vehicle (you can see a Tony Perrone write-up on this miniature at Franklin Mint invests a lot of marketing research into picking cars to copy, so that should tell you something about this car and this color.

This ZR2 was a “righteous” restoration with a properly detailed engine bay and its original Saddle interior trim. It was very nicely done, but not over-restored. If you are going to buy a rare, historically significant Corvette, it certainly pays to get one the owner preserved for a long time and then treated to a proper restoration.

Of course, the high value of this car does not lie in its condition so much as in its extreme rarity and the degree of desirability it offers big-time Corvette collectors. This is evidenced by the fact that Barrett-Jackson sold a 1971 Corvette LS5 coupe at the same auction for $34,000, just a bit over one-tenth of the ZR2’s price. When they only made twelve of a model and there’s probably just a handful left, serious collectors are going to bid it up.

The path of ZR2s

What does this high-dollar sale mean for the Corvette market and the average collector, who will probably never own, ride in, or even see a ZR2 in person? The answer is that a rising tide lifts all boats. People who watched the Barrett-Jackson sale on television saw a C3 Corvette sell for over $300,000, and that’s what counts. One look at B-J’s entries shows that probably more C3s (20) were consigned this year than ever before. So a sale like this is going to raise interest in the model and most likely boost the value of cars that look like a ZR2—the ones you and I could afford

Comments are closed.