1989 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1

1989 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 1989 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1
Road Test From the June 1989 Issue of Car and Driver TESTED

The Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, unless we miss our guess, is going to cost some people at General Motors their jobs.

You ask, how can that be? After all, is this not the Corvette from hell? The King of the Hill? The Ferrari-fighting world-class two-seater from the Motor City? A legend-to-be? Yes, it is that and more. But it still may cause heads to roll.

To anyone who's ever been a part of the corporate world, such a situation is familiar. In all corporations, only one person can do no wrong. That person is the boss — the chairman or president or chief executive officer or maximum leader or whatever the top man is called. A second group, friends of the boss, can do some wrong. A third contingent, those not a part of the power structure, can quite easily commit perceived transgressions against the entrenched moguls. In short, everyone but the boss is at some risk.

Friends of the boss get in trouble by doing something that doesn't work out. The Outs, those not basking in the shared glow of power, get in trouble by doing something that turns out so outrageously well that the Ins become jealous. Once that happens, the Ins will be out for some heads, determined that no one will make them look bad ever again.

The whole process of carrying any project — a car, for example — to its conclusion has been reduced to a six-step progression that, once set in motion, is as inexorable as the sunrise: (1) unbridled enthusiasm, (2) sudden disillusionment, (3) total confusion, (4) the search for the guilty, (5) punishment of the innocent, and (6) rewarding of nonparticipants.

But what has all this to do with the ZR-1? Just this: the car is so good that those who didn't want it to happen and those who made it happen anyway have both put their livelihoods on the line. Nothing this good can come out of a large American corporation without causing some shock waves. And we all know what some companies — GM, in particular, has been publicly vocal on the issue — think about anything that rocks the boat. Well, the folks up there on the fourteenth floor had best plan on getting wet feet, because if any car can slosh saltwater over the gunwales of the corporate lifeboat, it's this one.

"If you don't keep pushing the envelope, the limits of what's technically feasible," Chevy's chief engineer Fred Schaafsma told us, "you're going to fall behind." Hear, hear. If General Motors engineering could — or would — improve upon a basic sedan to the extent that the Corvette engineering team improved upon the existing Corvette, the crowds at GM dealerships would cause a nationwide traffic jam.

Dave McLellan, Corvette chief engineer, says, "The ZR-1 makes the statement that we can do things today that no one even dreamed could be done ten or twenty years ago. We've achieved a spectacular level of performance and are still able to meet or exceed all government standards for fuel economy, safety, noise, emissions, and so on." The ZR-1 engineering team has done nothing less than prove that Detroit can indeed run with the big dogs. The car is, and deserves to be, a source of pride to U.S. enthusiasts.

The new ZR-1 can provide the best driver in the world with all the slam-bam power that he could ask for, yet its personality and demeanor are such that drivers who are less than world-class — a group that, by our observation, includes a great many owners of high-performance cars — are remarkably well protected from themselves.