LA Show: Super ’Vette ZR1 goes topless

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Los Angeles – The Corvette ZR1 blew the roof off the Los Angeles Auto Show. Literally.

For the first time since it was introduced to the Corvette lineup in 1970, the top-trim, performance icon has gone topless. Shaking the stage with its 6.2-liter, supercharged V-8, the ZR1 convertible made its debut Tuesday night, emerging from a cloud of dry ice to take its place alongside the coupe -which was introduced to the world earlier this month in Dubai.

Designed from the ground up to be a drop-top, the ZR1 convertible is uncompromised from the coupe for chassis rigidity. The only structural changes made are for the folding top and repositioned seat-belt mounts. The power top can be operated remotely, or while driving up to 30 mph. Weaponized with the same features as the winged 755-horsepower, 715 pound-feet of torque, supercharged V-8 coupe, the convertible adds a mere 60 pounds — and $4,000 — over its stablemate.

With two available rear wings and 105 more horsepower than the already legendary Corvette Z06, the ZR1 coupe offers staggering performance numbers.

"I called the Z06 the 'Big Nasty' when it was introduced in 2014," said GM product chief Mark Reuss on stage next to the blood orange ZR1 convertible. "So I call the ZR1 a VERY Big Nasty."

With a base “low wing,” the coupe will top out at 212 mph. That beats the 205 mph registered by the last-generation ZR1 produced from 2009 to 2013. Put down another $2,995 for the ZTK performance package, and the ZR1 sprouts an adjustable “high wing” and carbon-fiber front splitter that sucks the ZR1 to the ground with a race car-like 950 pounds of down-force. Top speed will suffer a bit but still crest 200 mph.

“The new Corvette ZR1 convertible is a supercar in all respects,” said Reuss. “Few others can challenge the ZR1 convertible’s power and speed while offering the exhilaration of top-down motoring.

The ZR1 coupe will carry a suggested retail price of $119,995, while the convertible will start at $123,995.

The fearsome new Corvette is expected to be the end of an era: It marks the swan song of the front-engine icon as Chevrolet prepares to debut a mid-engine Corvette, perhaps as early as January’s Detroit auto show.

While GM company policy prohibits testing convertibles to their top speed, Chevy estimates the drop top’s numbers to vary little from the coupe that makes its North American debut here in Los Angeles.

That means convertible passengers can fully enjoy the ZR1’s unique, quad-piped stereo at absurd speeds. Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter and his team designed a special spring-loaded passive valve that acts as a sort of truck-exhaust flap in Track mode. At full throttle the system will roar like King Kong and shoot flames out the back. Don’t follow this beast too closely.

Car and Driver estimates that the ZR1 will be the fastest production car ever — eclipsing even the $900,000 Porsche 918 hybrid supercar — at its annual “Lightning Lap” competition around “America’s Nurburgring,” Virginia International Raceway.

As for the real Nurburgring, the fearsome 140-turn track in Germany, Juechter predicts the car could lap below the magic 7-minute mark, a time rarely achieved. The lap would be academic, however, as Chevrolet will not sell the ZR1 in Europe since its huge supercharger — 2.9 inches taller than the already tall supercharger on the Z06 — will not meet European pedestrian safety standards that specify minimum crush zones for the hood.

Other ZR1 bits will be familiar to Z06 buyers, including a sumptuous interior and available 7-speed manual and quick-shifting 8-speed automatic. Chevy estimates the automatic-equipped Supervette will hit 60 mph below 3 seconds, and the quarter-mile in the high 10-second range.

That should be a thrill for the ears with the top down. The ZL1 arrives in showrooms in the spring of 2018.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.