Spotless 1990 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1

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If ever the American car needed to shout out to the world that they’d found their performance mojo once again, the 1990 Corvette ZR-1 was the car that could do the shouting. This was not a cheap car, but it could pin you in your seat if you buried your right foot. The asking price meant that the ZR-1 didn’t sell in huge numbers, and finding a good one today is a rare treat. That’s why I need to thank Barn Finder rex m because he is the person who spotted this one for us. The ZR-1 is located in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and has been listed for sale here on Craigslist. Hand the owner $29,500, and you could be driving away in this fantastic classic.

The ZR-1 is finished in Bright Red, and it has the appearance of a car that has been treated with respect throughout its life. It has always been garage-kept, and a life spent in sunny California should mean that it is structurally sound. Of course, rust in the panels will never be a problem, but the harsh UV rays can take a toll on plastic and paint. That isn’t an issue because the Corvette presents in as-new condition. The tinted glass looks flawless, and the same is true of the trim and badges. The ZR-1 rolls on enormous 17″ alloy wheels (9½” at the front, 11″ at the back). These are as spectacularly clean as the rest of the exterior, with no signs of any damage or staining.

Slipping behind the wheel of a ZR-1 is never going to be a bad experience, and it certainly doesn’t represent a life of hardship. You find yourself wrapped in body-hugging bucket seats with leather upholstery and power adjustment. You wrap your hands around the leather-wrapped tilt wheel. At the same time, you can also take the opportunity to adjust the climate-control air conditioning and the premium stereo system that features an AM/FM radio/cassette/CD player. If that isn’t enough, the car comes equipped with a driver’s airbag, power locks, power mirrors, a power hatch release, cruise, and side window defoggers. Once you look past all of these features, you find an interior that presents exceptionally well. There are no issues or problems to report, and the lack of wear on the outer edges of those heavily-bolstered seats reflects a car that has not clocked a lot of miles. There have been no aftermarket additions, and the whole thing looks factory fresh.

How frustrating is it that the seller offers a car like this for sale and then neglects to supply any engine photos? The V8 that hides under the hood is the feature that defined the ZR-1, so that’s a mistake on the seller’s part. Where the regular Corvette was equipped with the L98 version of the venerable 350ci V8 that pumped out 250hp, the ZR-1 was an entirely different animal. The engine was developed as a collaboration between Chevrolet and Lotus and was built under contract by Mercury Marine in Oklahoma. What buyers received for their cash was a V8 that still had a capacity of 350ci, but that is where the similarities between this one and the L98 ended. The cylinder block is made from aluminum alloy, while the cylinder heads are cast from the same material. Each of those cylinder heads comes equipped with a pair of camshafts and four valves per cylinder. That made it a genuine 32-valve quad-cam V8. Throw in fuel injection and a few other little extras, and the engine that was dubbed LT5 was pumping out 375hp. Chevrolet realized that they didn’t possess the expertise to build these monsters, so that is why they contracted Mercury Marine to perform the role. Their experience with aluminum alloy engines made them the perfect choice. All of that power has to find its way to the road, and it does so via a ZF-developed 6-speed manual transmission. With so much performance on tap, Bosch-developed ABS with enormous 4-wheel discs was a matter of necessity. Was it fast? Just a bit! The trip through the ¼ mile would be over in 13.1 seconds. Contemporary reports quote a 0-60mph time of 4.5 seconds, while 0-100mph took 10.4 seconds. Give it enough space, and the ZR-1 could wind its way to 175mph. So, to answer that question; Yes, it was fast. This particular ZR-1 is a one-owner vehicle, and it has a genuine 21,000 miles on the clock. The owner doesn’t indicate how well it runs or drives, but the news should be good if it has been treated with respect. It comes with its original Owner’s Manual, along with the original Window Sticker.

The 1990 Corvette ZR-1 was not a cheap car, which explains why the company only sold 3,049 examples during that model year. Where you could slip behind the wheel of a regular Corvette with the L98 under the hood for around $32,000, stepping into a ZR-1 would cost you $59,000. To put that in perspective, that would be the equivalent of paying about $120,000 today. This ZR-1 will cost its next owner considerably less than that, but that raises the question of whether it is worth the price. Values on these have been heading up in recent months after years of remaining pretty stagnant. You will get the occasional one that will appear on the market for around $25,000, but low-mileage cars will usually sell for above $30,000. That means that the price on this one is slightly lower than might be expected, and that has to make it a tempting proposition.

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  1. Scotty GilbertsonStaff

    Beautiful! In a handful of years, we’ll kick ourselves for not buying this one.

    Like 13
    • Frank Sumatra

      You would kick yourself more for not buying the exact same car with 9500 miles on the ZR-1 Net Registry now at $23,000.

      Like 13
  2. PRA4SNW

    A great car that could generate a lot more interest if photographed at a location more desirable than a gas station.

    The ultimate C4 experience is starting to cost more.

    Like 10
    • Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TNMember

      Yep, I think I’ll sell my terrific ZR-1 Corvette. I’m shooting for $30k. I guess I need to take some pics. Well I’ll just get that done while I’m getting gas. Why should I bother with putting the car in its best context for presentation…I think all that time and effort real estate people put into making houses look their best is just a waste.

      Like 9
      • Daniel Wright

        I think that is a sanitary napkin in the center console next to the soda.

        Like 6
      • Steve Clinton

        Daniel, they make great polishing clothes!

        Like 5
  3. Steve R

    These are nice, a friend bought one new, and still owns it. He did what many owners did, loved it, but drive it sparingly. He tried selling it on eBay a few years ago, for less than this one and had no interest. Afterwards, he bought new tires for it, than rolled it back into the garage, where it still sits. His is not an uncommon story, far too many have survived in similar condition for any to truly stand out in the market.

    The later model LS powers cars eclipsed much of what made these special at the time. The complexity of their engine will probably relegate them to a future where they are more of a curiosity than a sought after collectors item, sort of like the Cosworth Vega, which, on paper have a distinguished pedigree, but not enough of a market to make the prices rise.

    Steve R

    Like 15
    • Brian K.

      Good points. I had the same exact car except in red interior. The problem with these engines is parts. I’m not sure if there is a vendor that makes replacement parts like a water pump for example. You don’t see these cars with high mileage. It’s sad in a way. I drove mine cross country and was one of the most fun times driving I’ll never forget,

      Like 6
    • Joe

      It’s foolish to think GM didn’t have expertise to build this engine in house. That’s insulting and a really ignorant comment. Niche products are difficult for automakers to justify resources and assembly line usage at plants due to things like TARR analysis (look it up if you don’t know what that means). BarnFinds should choose its words more carefully.

      Like 0
      • jokacz

        Are you sure about GM’s expertise after the fiasco that was the Northstar V8? On the other hand Toyota even puts 4 cam V8’s in pick me up trucks.

        Like 0
      • Frank Sumatra

        It was not about expertise. GM bean-counters did not want to tool up for a production run of fewer than 7,000 cars. Plain and simple, it was cheaper to have the LT-5 built by Mercury Marine.

        Like 0
  4. Frank Sumatra

    I don’t think we have enough data to declare a trend but looking at another site (that encourages you to bring a means of conveying your purchase), today has a 1985 selling at, IIRC, $27,000 with an automatic! That is just nuts. As you all know, ZR-1 is the ultimate C4, and they do seem to be showing up a lot right now in a lot of different places.I have lusted after a ZR-1 longer than I can remember and maybe 2021 will be the year I dive in, but certainly not a 1990 and certainly not a $29,995 1990.

    Like 3
  5. Mr Dave

    Get the directional wheels corrected.

    Like 6
  6. Chester

    Beautiful cat inside and out, but I would be terrified of that engine. How is the availability of parts these days? I bet your local Mr Goodwrench has never even seen one of these things, much less tore one apart. Buy one with the standard easy to work on engine. If you can’t get by on only 250 HP, you are a bigger problem to cure.

    Like 1
    • Jcs

      A lot of the earmarks that would indicate a scam ad. Buyer beware.

      Just sayin.

      Like 4
    • Frank Sumatra

      300 HP LT1 on a 92-95 base Corvette. 330 HP on the optional 1996 LT4. The LT4 was standard on the Grand Sport.

      And the hand-built engine in a ZR-1 is probably the least of your worries. There are many being driven today with over 200,000 miles on them.

      Like 2
      • PRA4SNW

        That LT4 is pretty much as desirable as a ZR-1.

        I saw a great LT4 convertible for sale recently with an asking price that rivals this one.

        Like 1
      • Frank Sumatra

        @PRA- Agree. Some say the 330 HP figure may be a tad underrated by the GM folks. An LT4 buyer needs to do a little homework as there were some valve train issues/recalls IIRC. Would not be to tough to get the Serial#’s of the affected cars. Cheers. Long Live The C4!!!

        Like 1
  7. jokacz

    Cuisinart wheels, 30+ years latter they still make me laugh.

    Like 0
  8. Mark

    The Lotus based engine sounds great when reving.

    Like 3
    • Frank Sumatra

      And it loves reving!

      Like 1
  9. jokacz

    An acquaintance of mine bought a couple of these new. He also picked up a couple extra crate engines as spares. I don’t think his investment will pay off, at least while he is still alive. But he is an M.D. and they aren’t noted for their investment acumen.

    Just wondering, do these cars really handle terribly because of all that weight from the camshafts so high on the engine? That’s what the “push rod apologists” would have you believe. [sarcasm font]

    Like 1
    • Frank Sumatra

      Good guess on the investment angle. He sure didn’t pay list price for the cars based on the dealer markups added to the ZR-1. Some were sold for $100,000. If he bought LT5 “crate” engines those cost at least $25,000 each. He was probably in at about $250,000. On the bright side he has two engines worth more than the cars they belong to.

      Like 0
  10. poseurMember

    Great to see a ZR1 without a bordello red gut. I’m heavily tempted by the Polo Green exterior with this interior. Their engines are bulletproof & can easily be coaxed to produce another 100+ hp and still return 25mpg.

    Like 1

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