The ZR1 moniker is synonymous with the top-performing Corvette, thanks to the exotic DOHC LT4 and supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 and LT5 small-block V-8s that have powered the top Corvette in its fourth, sixth, and seventh generations. Less well-known is the ZR1 Stingray from 1970–72, which used a power-dense 350-cubic-inch LT1. Even fewer American car lovers know that ZR2 was once reserved for the ultimate Corvette performer, and it was only offered for a single year.
In 1972, manufacturers would broadly switch from SAE gross to SAE net horsepower ratings, and soon after, began lowering compression ratios to accommodate unleaded fuel and new emissions regulations mandated by the 1970 Clean Air Act. It would take most manufacturers more than a decade before they could begin to match the power offered in the horsepower heyday of the late 1960s and early ’70s. That marked 1971 as the end of an era, but it also served as a high water mark for some of the highest-performance big-block Stingrays ever built.
Following up on the 370-hp 350-cu-in ZR1 from 1970, Chevrolet gave the 454 LS6 one last hurrah by creating the ZR2 for 1971. Even with a bit less compression than it had in 1970, Chevrolet still rated the big-block with its aluminum cylinder heads at 425 horsepower (it was rated at 450 hp in the 1970 Chevelle). The ZR2 package for ’71 included all of the high-performance options it could ask for, including a Muncie M-22 transmission, twin-disc clutch, heavy duty brakes and suspension with larger anti-sway bars, and an aluminum radiator to help cool all those horses. Proof of its performance priorities, the ZR2 wasn’t available with a radio or air conditioning. The ZR2 was one of the best-handling big-block Corvettes ever, and it was no slouch on the dragstrip, either.
Just 188 LS6 Corvettes were built in 1971, only 12 of which had ZR2 package that included the aforementioned chassis and cooling upgrades. Only two were convertibles, and one of them will be at Monterey. This Ontario Orange ZR2 at Mecum includes its factory optional hardtop and all of its documentation. It carries a pre-sale estimate of $350,000–$450,000. Earlier this year at Mecum’s Kissimmee auction, the car was a no-sale at $380,000.
Perhaps the Monterey crowd will embrace one of the rarest Corvettes ever built and appreciate a time when ZR2 was a menace on the streets, not an off-road option for pickup trucks.