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Illustrated Corvette Series No. 98 1995 Corvette -
"Small Improvements = A Better Corvette"
It's funny how the mind remembers things. When you mention muscle cars, we usually think of Hemi 'Cudas, GTOs, 396 Camaros, or Boss 429 Mustangs. A 1995 Corvette certainly doesn't come to mind. But the fact is that Dave Hill and his team slowly and carefully honed the Corvette into what would have been hailed as one of the baddest of pavement burners of the muscle car era.
When you consider the dark days of 1981 when Chevrolet actually dropped a 307 passenger car engine into the Corvette, the base model 1995 Corvette is nothing less than amazing. In the good old days, '67 to '70 big-block 427 and 454 Corvettes were at the top of the feeding chain. Quarter-mile times in the low 14's and high 13's made enthusiast's head's spin. The '95 base model Corvette ran 0-to-60 in just 5.1 seconds and the quarter-mile in 13.7 seconds at 103 mph! Remember, that's with a 350 cubic-inch small-block engine. And lets not forget the 161 mph top speed! Of course the icing on the Corvette cake was the EPA gas mileage of 17 mpg in the city, and 27 mpg on the highway.
The C4 Corvette was a example of how factory participation in racing can dramatically improve a performance car. Through the '80s we saw spectacular factory-supported cars such as the Showroom Stock Series Corvettes, the Corvette Challenge racers, the GTP Lola chassis - Chevrolet-powered racers, and the jewel-like, racing inspired ZR-1. Lessons learned from those efforts were gradually integrated into street-driven Corvettes.
1995 was a significant year for two other reasons. It was the last year for the ZR-1 and it was the third time the Corvette was chosen to pace the Indy 500. Although the ZR-1 was not a sales success, it was a record setting, high-speed performance machine. The Indy 500 Pace Car Replica was by far the rarest of the three Corvette pace cars with only 527 units built and sold.
Although the '95 Corvette was essentially a carry over car, there were several improvements made on the car. The only visual change for the '95 model was the redesign of the front fender vents and new windshield wipers that eliminated chatter and floating at high speeds. Dark purple metallic paint was the only new color for the '95 model.
The power rating of the LT1 engine was unchanged, however new powdered-metal connecting rods were used for increased strength and uniformity of weight. At the top end of the LT1, the fuel injectors were improved to better cope with alcohol-blended fuels and to eliminate fuel dripping after the engine was shut off. A quieter fan was installed for overall noise improvement
A new shifter for the 6-speed manual transmission replaced the reverse-lock with a high detent design for easier operation. Automatic transmission equipped cars had improved clutch controls and a lighter torque converter.
Suspension improvements included softer springs for better ride quality and cars with the optional adjustable suspension were equipped with the 13-inch brakes from the ZR-1.
Small interior improvements included a transmission temperature readout on the dash, velcro straps to reduce rattling, improved stitching on the optional sport seats, and improved weather stripping to reduce water intrusion.
Overall, the '95 Corvette was a stunning car, making the number one spot on reader's poll. The end of the C4 lineage was fast approaching and the "Grand Sport" was about to make another appearance. - K. Scott Teeters
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lllustrated Corvette Series No. 97 1995 ZR1 Corvette
"End of the Line for the ZR1"
All good things come to an end, right? The ZR-1 was arguably the most aggressive engineering effort ever put into production in the entire history of street Corvettes. It's a miracle and a mystery that the Corvette is even alive in General Motors. When you hold the stodgy, bean-counting nature of GM up against the $31,258 ZR-1 option, it's even more amazing. Remember, this is a company that has put the Corvette on the chopping block many times since 1953. It just goes to show you what affection, passion, and love of a high performance automobile can do to even the most conservative corporate decision makers. The late '70s and early '80 was like a bad dream.
Despite the basic nature of GM, there were enough performance hounds working at top levels that saw the value of buying Lotus Engineering in the '80s. Thanks to Lotus' expertise in building and developing exotic all-aluminum engines, the Corvette team had the resource to design a state-of-the-art, world class, exotic American V8 engine. In sports car circles, Corvettes had always carried the stigma of its "basic" pushrod Chevy engine. The ZR-1 absolutely put an end to all that nonsense.
When the ZR-1 was being planned and developed, the Chevrolet Marketing Departments optimistically projected at least 5,000 units per year. Since the entire run of ZR-1 cars from 1990 to 1995 amounted to only 6,939 units, from a business viewpoint, the ZR-1 was a dismal failure. But from a performance and status perspective, the ZR-1 was a stunning success.
In the late '80s the "collectibility" craze was in full-swing. The ZR1 was supposed to be an '89 model option, but was delayed due to minor certification problems with the engine. All this did was stoke the magazines and the collectors. When the ZR-1 finally arrived as a '90 model, some dealers sold the cars with steep markups. Five years later, they were selling ZR-1s at steep discounts. Chevrolet marketing guru Ed Cole said, "The problem with sports cars is you have to sell all of them the first day"
Aside from the new front fender gills and a few other details in the base Corvette, the '95 ZR-1 was a carryover. To sweeten the ZR-1 package, the Z07 Selective Ride Control and the low tire pressure tire warning system options were now included. The most noticeable visual change in the '95 ZR-1 was the 17-inch, 5-spoke alloy wheels. Mercury Marine, the manufacturer of the ZR-1 engine, had completed production of ZR-1 engines in November 2003, so the '95 model still had 405 horsepower. And remember, that is "net" horsepower, not like the olden days of unrealistic "gross" horsepower ratings. The gross power rating for the ZR-1 was at least over 500. This shows up in the ZR-1's 111 mph speed after a 13.1-second quarter-mile blast.
So why didn't the ZR-1 become the "to die for" Corvette of the early '90s? It boiled down to aesthetics, price, and the increasingly high standard of the base Corvette. The ZR-1 had dedicated rear body parts to cover the huge 11-inch wide rear wheels. Except for the restyled rear fascia and a slight curve on the front of the rear wheel openings, the ZR-1 looked like a regular Corvette. Then in '91, all Corvettes had similar styled tail lights. So except for minor details, the ZR-1 looked like a regular Corvette.
Then there was the price issue. While no one could argue about the ZR-1 engine, a single option costing almost as much as the car was more than most buyers would accept. Yes, the ZR-1 could run with Europe's big dogs, but it didn't look exotic, it looked like a regular Corvette. And finally, as the base car got quicker and faster, the performance gap got to the point where the price wasn't worth the performance gain. But it sure looked good with the hood open.
The ZR-1 provided valuable know-how that showed up in the '97 LS1 engine for the new C5. Also, let's not forget the Morrison Motorsports 1991 record-smashing, 171.885mph ZR-1 Corvette. The ZR-1 helped put to rest that tired, old rant from the European crowd that the Corvette was nothing more than a pretty Chevy. - K. Scott Teeters
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lllustrated Corvette Series No. 99 1995 Pace Car Corvette
"The Rarest of the Indy 500 Pacer Corvettes"
1995 was an unusual year for the Corvette. It was the final year for one of the most exotic and expensive production Corvettes ever made, the ZR-1. It was also the third time a Corvette was used as the pace car for the "greatest spectacle in motor racing" - the Indianapolis 500. A Corvette paced the Indy 500 in '78 and in '86. Pace Car replicas have been the subject of some wild collectibility speculation, especially in 1978. But the 1995 Pace car Special would prove to be the all-time most desirable Pace Car Corvette.
The 1978 Pace Car Special came along during the darkest days of Corvette performance history. After decades of tire-burning performance in the '50s, '60s, and early '70s, the Corvette had become a shadow of its former high-performance persona. But at least it survived the muscle car meltdown of the early '70s. So when the '78 Pace Car Special was announced, collectors and speculators went a little crazy thinking that the car would become one of the most desirable Corvettes of all-time. What was supposed to be a limited-production run of 300 cars, turned out to be 6,501 cars. And there was a serious issue over quality control, or lack there of. It ended up that many buyers paid way too much for their car and the collector value never was there.
The Corvette was reborn in 1984 and there was no looking back. The roadster returned in 1986 and the Corvette was given the opportunity to pace the Indy 500 once again. To avoid the big collector crunch, Chevrolet decided that every Corvette Roadster would be a "Pace Car Special." This time Chevrolet produced 7,315 pace car replicas. There was also a big price increase from the '78 Pace Car replica. In '78 the 185-horsepower Pace Car option made the car cost $13,653 - a lot of money back then. The 230-horsepower '86 Pace Car cost $32,032. 1995 was like a different world. The Pace Car Special now cost $46,481, had 300-horsepower under the hood, was lighter, and much more refined. And with only 527 units built, it was a true collectible.
The $2,816 Indy 500 Pace Car Replica option was arguably the nicest Corvette pace car package to date and was very distinctive. The paint scheme was dark purple metallic over arctic white and a white convertible top. The new style, 5-spoke ZR-1 allow wheels wore 275/40x17 Goodyear GSC tires. The interior had a black and purple leather seats with 1995 event logo embroidery on the seat headrests. All of the '95 Pace car Special Corvettes were built in March and April of 1995 and the first 50 cars built had all black interiors. As we mentioned in a previous installment of this series, there was no horsepower increase for 1995, but there were many subtle improvements made to the car. The only options that were not available were the lift-out roof panels, the adjustable suspension package, and the ZR-1. A fully loaded 1995 Corvette Pace Car Special could cost over $51,500. The base price of a '95 Corvette was "only" $36,785.
Chevrolet built three cars to pace the Indy 500 in 1995. Two of the cars built had the standard 4-speed automatic transmission and the third car had a manual 6-speed gearbox. The only things added to the actual pace cars were 360-degree strobe lights, a roll bar, five-point driver and passenger harnesses, and an on-board fire suppression system. Everything else on the cars was stock! With 300-horsepower, there was no need for any power enhancements or special performance engines. The stock '95 Corvette was more than up for the job.
Chevrolet only allotted one '95 Pace Car Special to each of the top Corvette retail dealers from 1994. Since the production numbers were so low, the current value of the '95 Pace Car Special is still high, fetching between $24,900 and $36,500.
Chevrolet General Manager, Jim Perkins paced the 1995 Indy 500 with the only stick version of the pace car Corvette. - K. Scott Teeters
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lllustrated Corvette Series No. 96 1995 GS90 Corvette
"The Curse of the Grand Sport Continues"
Dick Guldstrand is a member of a very unique club. He is one of a dozen or so men who actually worked on and raced one of the original 1963 Grand Sport Corvettes. Designed to compete with the Shelby Cobra, only five Grand Sports were secretly built by Zora Arkus-Duntov before the big-wigs at GM caught wind of the plan to build and sell race cars. The axe fell on the light weight racer and all five cars were sold to privateers making the Grand Sport the ultimate "could-have-been" Corvette. Many were touched by the Grand Sport, some more than others. Dick Guldstrand never got over his Grand Sport experience.
"Goldie" went on to race many other Corvettes and eventually started a business tuning competition Corvettes. As one of Chevrolet's back door consultants, Guldstrand was very involved suspension development in the early days of the C4. By the late '80s Guldstrand was offering an enhanced version of the Corvette called the "GS80." The only problem in Dick's mind was that the car just looked like a Corvette with aftermarket wheels and tires. It was "Chevy's car" and he wanted "Dick's car." When the ZR-1 was released, Goldie saw an opportunity to bring back the Grand Sport...
Called the "GS90", Dick's car would prove to be the most elaborate and expensive specialty Corvette ever built. Guldstrand pitched the concept of a radically restyled, hopped-up ZR-1 to his pals at Chevrolet. Dick asked for 15 ZR-1s and a few million dollars. He got one car and a blessing.
The GS90 is essentially a reskinned ZR-1 Corvette with a 475 horsepower ZR-1 from D.K. Motorsports and a Guldstrand- modified suspension. Styling of the car was a throwback to the 1963 Ferrari GTO and the only stock Corvette body parts are the windshield and side windows. The lines are bold and muscular with a few cues from the C2 Corvette. Goldie threw every trick he knew into the GS90 from thicker anti-roll bars to coil-over shocks replacing the stock mono-leaf sprint. Then he capped it all off with 18-inch aluminum wheels from OZ in Italy and a Nassau blue paint job with a single bold white racing stripe. Performance was stunning with 0-to-60 in the low 4-second range and a top speed of over 175mph.
The only problem was the price. The GS90 cost $134,500 over the price of a $72,208 ZR-1, for a total of $206,208! As a result, only six GS90s were built and sold.
Guldstrand was planning roadster, speedster, and lightweight versions of the GS90 to be sold through Chevy dealers. But the Grand Sport "curse" returned when the big-wigs at GM killed the deal. In the end, Guldstrand made one more of "Dick's car" than the original five Grand Sports. - K. Scott Teeters