The 1992 model year represented the third year of the ZR-1, with its Lotus-designed, 375-horsepower, 32-valve, 4-cam engine. ZR-1 emblems were added to the front fenders above the vents, instrument face plates and buttons were changed to black from gray-black, and the digital speedometer was relocated above the fuel gauge. Three new colors were introduced to the Corvette range: Bright Aqua Metallic, Polo Green II Metallic, and Black Rose Metallic, in which this car was painted. The ZR-1 package added $31,683 to the Corvette coupe’s base price of $33,635, and 502 were sold.  

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1992 ZR-1 Coupe
Years Produced:1990–95
Number Produced:6,939
Original List Price:$65,318 in 1992
SCM Valuation:$21,000–$33,000
Tune Up Cost:$175
Distributor Caps:n/a (coil-pack ignition)
Chassis Number Location:Driver’s side dashboard at base of windshield
Engine Number Location:Lower rear side of lower crankcase
Club Info:ZR-1 Net Registry
Alternatives:1988–89 Corvette Challenge racer1987–91 Callaway Twin-Turbo1996 Corvette Grand Sport
Investment Grade:C

This car sold for $9,720, including buyer’s premium, at Silver’s Hot August Nights auction in Reno, Nevada, on August 9, 2009.

At the urging of a couple of friends a few years ago, I took the Corvette plunge. I had the pleasure of visiting some former clients of mine in the Detroit area who had a few Corvettes in their collection of interesting cars. One was a prototype, built during the mid-1980s at Lotus in England, when Colin Chapman’s old company was under GM ownership.

I should point out that this was no ordinary collection and the prototype I peeked at was an extraordinary one. I was in the maintenance garage of Custom Automotive Services, once home to the better part of the 1,000-plus cars in the GM Heritage Fleet and Collection on that summer day. With me was Richard L. Balsley, a friendly GM lifer who had been the chief engineering liaison to Lotus on the CERV-III project, better known to the public as “Indy Pace Car.” CERV-III, or Corvette Experimental Research Vehicle-III, was at the time intended to be the next over-the-top supercar, with a twin-turbo version of the GM/Lotus quad-cam LT5 aluminum V8, active suspension, and other complex electro-mechanical devices that would have befuddled even the bravest of Chevrolet dealership service departments.

Naturally, millions of dollars were spent in pursuit of this lofty goal that served to net GM merely a strange DOHC aluminum engine and a handful of prototype cars with radical suspension modifications. The engine shared nothing with the cast-iron small-block, apart from its displacement and bore spacing. Balsley nonetheless reminisced happily about the prototype LT5s and the challenges its complex dual-plenum intake created, mostly having to do with crankcase ventilation; however, he pointed out that despite its challenges, it made a fine engine when it and its ZF 6-speed transmission found their way into the first ZR-1 Corvettes a few years on.

ZR-1 package nearly doubled the sticker price

Balsley further stressed that the running development that allowed for 30 more horsepower by 1993 also made for a better engine; this revision incorporated not just intake, cylinder head and exhaust flow porting but also a four-bolt main bearing crankshaft and some other subtle changes. Taking these hints into consideration, I watched the market closely and bought an early 1993 ZR-1 in an unusual and subtle color scheme that I continue to enjoy.

The ZR-1 package nearly doubled the sticker price of an ordinary 1990 Corvette when it was unleashed on the buying public. Despite this, as well as initial dealer markups that in some cases even tripled the price of a standard L98 Corvette, it was an engineering masterpiece relative to other GM products of the era. The production LT5 was still very potent without turbocharging, and suspension tuning in part derived from CERV-III made it handle better than its standard counterpart. Dubbed the “King of the Hill,” its 375 horsepower required the right speed, gear, and throttle inputs to fully unleash, but its performance was formidable.

Nearly 3,000 examples were sold during this first year, most well above sticker, and like many other “instant collectibles,” many were immediately put away for posterity by those who felt they would be considerably more valuable in the future. ZR-1 production waned thereafter, steadily dropping to a figure of just 448 cars per annum in its last three years of production. The reasons for this are many, but primarily the new LT1 in the standard car that was introduced for 1992 put out a very healthy 300 horsepower from stock (330 horsepower from the special-order LT4 in 1996), and for far less than the $31,000-plus premium a ZR-1 cost, you could extract the 105 extra horsepower from an LT1 to match the ZR-1’s output.

Examples over 100,000 miles are unusual but not rare

While most known ZR-1s were driven off the dealer lot and parked, others were put into service and used, if not often, at least with some regularity. Examples with over 100,000 miles are unusual, but they are not rare. Some have even achieved the quarter-million mark with no more than regular care and maintenance.

The example pictured here, lot 912 at Silver’s annual Reno auction, is one of these. Commanding only $9,720 and with no consignor or auction company-provided description, it was analyzed by roving Corvette Market editor Paul Duchene. He wrote that it appeared to be a “nice Oregon car, not hit, looked to be garaged, good paint (though swirled by buffing), unmarked wheels, 75% tires, Borla exhaust, light wear to driver’s seat, hatch cracked around latch (through only one layer of the glass), purple with a black interior, 111k miles.”

Duchene identified the typical driver-condition ZR-1, usually seen with somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 to 70,000 miles on its digital readout. Like most other cars perceived as being even slightly exotic (read: Dodge Vipers, Porsche 930s, 8-cylinder Ferraris, and etceterini such as De Tomaso Panteras), it appeared to have been garage kept, although the odometer speaks to at least a few trips up and down the West Coast, if not Cannonball Runs across the country.

Apart from the popular Borla exhaust upgrade and a hatch slammed one too many times against the overly-stiff struts, it presumably wore its original Black Rose Metallic finish, black leather, and factory-fitted “meat-slicer” alloy wheels.

Production was just 502 for 1992, down over half from the previous year’s figure, but little was different from a 1990 or 1991 model, apart from some light styling changes to the interior and the attractive exterior hue in which few ZR-1s were painted.

It goes without saying that all ZR-1s are special cars, just as all 427/435 C2s were special when they were 18 years old and still presented well. The ZR-1 was the pinnacle of American performance for a short while and aesthetically most pleasing against its nearest rival, the V10 Dodge Viper. However, with other 1992 ZR-1s with half the mileage selling for at least double this figure in recent memory, and assuming that its decent cosmetics represent similar mechanical care and feeding, this can be considered well-enough bought for a guilt-free driver example.

Of course, there is one caveat—when it comes time for major engine work, some parts are becoming hard to find, and the cost of a complete engine rebuild could easily exceed the purchase price here. And your chances of recovering your drivetrain investment would be practically nil, as it is the high miles that kill the value of this car on the market.

This is a car that should be driven and enjoyed and hopefully sold before any big bad noises start coming from under the hood

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