Got a Z06 allocation slot? Here are three collections to build around it

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Chevrolet

Are you excited about the new Z06? You aren’t alone. Many enthusiasts already see it as a paradigm-shifting vehicle that is dead-set on its three-sided mission to 1. Give successful working-class people a taste of the recent past when the world’s elite bombed around in wailing naturally aspirated Ferraris, 2. have McLaren worrying about the viability of their $225,000 hybrid V6 Artura, and 3. Inspire the kind of passion that will have legions of well-to-do car enthusiasts falling in love with America’s Sports Car and heading for a Chevrolet dealership for the first time.

Those of you in the third group might be inspired to look on the Corvette’s past with a little more affection after joining its present. Which means building a collection (or, as Miles Collier has said about groups of cars without a specific historical touchpoint, an “accumulation”) of Corvettes to surround your new Z06. Do we have ideas for this? Yes, we do.

Collection 1: The Z06 Family

1963 Corvette Z06:

Regular Production Order Z06 was the brainchild of the Corvette’s first chief engineer, Zora Arkus-Duntov. The celebrated Duntov constantly found himself at odds with the Automobile Manufacturers Association and their ban on factory-backed racing programs that stemmed from a string of fatal racing crashes in the 1950s. His hard-core Grand Sport program may have received walking papers after just five were completed, but it kept prying eyes away from Zora’s upcoming high-performance second-generation Corvette streetcar. Under order code Z06, his new performance package added a thick, 24 mm front stabilizer bar, upgraded brakes, heavy-duty shocks and springs, a dual-circuit master cylinder and brake booster, and options to add a 36-gallon “big tank” (RPO N03) and off-road exhaust (RPO N11) to the top-of-the-line L84 360-horse 327 ci “fuelie” V8.

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Z06 engine
RM Sotheby's/Gabor Mayer

In the fall of ’62, Zora got the first 15 Z06-equipped Sting Rays into the garages of a pre-selected group of racers before opening the order books to the public. In total, just 199 of these road course warriors were built before their RPO met the same fate as the vaunted Grand Sport for 1964. Outside of those unattainable GSes and the 1967 L88 (more on that later), the ’63 Z06 is the priciest way to join the Mid-Year Corvette club. Our valuation data currently pegs a #1=2, Concours-ready specimen at $390,000 with the regular gas tank, or $691,000 if it is one of the 63 examples spec’d with the 36-gallon tank.

2001-2004 Corvette Z06:

Dave Hill, the third person in history to carry a business card reading, “Chief Engineer, Corvette,” dusted off the Z06 moniker 38-years later when he was looking to build a model of the first all-new Corvette generation produced under his watch that was capable of matching his predecessor, Dave McLellan’s fabled “King of the Hill” ZR-1. He also threw the gauntlet at his team his team with the difficult ask of lowering the entry price of the super ‘Vette from the ZR-1’s famed “double the base car” levels. Starting with the lightest body in the C5 lineup, Hill and Co. got to work.

2001 Z06 front three-quarter
Mecum

To the 3,116-lb. Hardtop Coupe, they added a massaged LS1 to 385 horsepower and prescribed an equal dose of twist. The resulting engine inspired dusting-off the legendary LS6 nomenclature from the Chevrolet back catalog. With legs and upper body all set, they turned their attention to core day with a larger-diameter driveshaft, a new six-speed manual transaxle, a stronger clutch, a specific “FE4” suspension package consisting of stiffer rear transverse leaf springs, revised shock calibrations at all four corners, and anti-roll bars fore and aft. The car was released to universal acclaim, but Hill’s engineers remained hungry. In the second year of production, power was bumped to a ’93-95 ZR-1 matching 405 HP, and the Z06 formula that we’ve come to know and love was born!

5,773 were sold in its inaugural year on the market, followed by 8,297 for its sophomore campaign, an additional 8,635 in 2003, and 5,683 in ’04 before stepping aside for the introduction of the C6. Hill accomplished the seemingly impossible, creating a car that eclipsed the C4 ZR-1 in nearly every performance metric while adding less than $10,000 to the base Corvette’s $40,280 MSRP. Even 17-years after its discontinuation, “Billy Bob’s” status as the ultimate performance bargain remains intact! For an average transaction price of just $20,500, you can hit 60 MPH in under 4-seconds, while the best examples of the most desirable C5 Corvette ever to leave Bowling Green can be had for $40,000, all day long!

2006-2013 Corvette Z06:

The Z06 moniker only took a one-year recess this time around. When it returned in 2006, it did so with everything turned up to 11. Power was supplied by a new version of the Gen IV small-block that revived a displacement as notable as the cars themselves. Chevrolet’s first 427-cube production V8 since 1969 sent 505 rampaging horses to the rear Goodyears through a six-speed manual transmission and kept the Z charging all the way to 198 MPH.

2000s Corvette engine
RM Sotheby's/Ryan Merrill

Early examples in Concours-worthy condition have actually dipped below $60,000 for the first time in their existence since last May, while the final run of 2013 60th Anniversary models in #2 condition run in the mid-60,000-dollar range (interestingly, the one-year-only, not-quite-a-Z06 427 Convertible lags its hardtop stablemate by about $1,000). We’ve yet to break out pricing for specific C6 RPOs, but the fully-optimized Z07 of 2011-2013, with its carbon-ceramic stoppers, Mag-Ride, and super-sticky Pilot Sport Cup rubber, has already become the undisputed cream of the crop amongst collectors of modern 427 ‘Vettes. Don’t expect to snag one of the 740 Vettes that left the factory with the Z07 package for under $75k.

2015-2019 Corvette Z06:

And now for something completely different: The C7 generation marks the only time in family history that the Z06 made use of forced induction, in the form of a 1.7L supercharger. It also broke from the manual-only tradition of its predecessors and was offered in either targa or convertible body styles. The model’s added diversity worked in the favor of the C7Z’s bottom line. Even with a starting price that ballooned nearly 60%, Chevrolet was able to move 39,940 C7 Z06s over the model’s five-year stint on the showroom floor. This represents a gain of around 30% over the 26,746 sales that it took the C6 Z06 eight years to accumulate and the four-year, 28,388-example run of C5 Z06s. As we highlighted back in April, these relatively high production numbers are holding the model back a bit on the way-too-soon collectability scale, but the most desirable models (Z07 package, manual transmission, and final-year cars) are already showing significant growth, and they are up again this month! Don’t flinch if you find a car that combines the above “hat trick” of features with an asking price of more than $100,000.

Late 2010s Corvette Z06 rear three-quarter
GM

So, all in, a four-car Z06 collection supplement that contains the highest quality examples from C2, C5, C6, and C7 generations will force prospective owners to part with somewhere near $910,000, but it will also make them 1,920 horses richer; which sounds like a good trade-off to us! Don’t forget to set aside around $125,000 in extra funds…

Collection 2: DOHC Corvettes:

If you are new to the Crossed Flags and don’t want to go all-in on collecting America’s Sports car and becoming a “Corvette Guy” yet, or simply don’t have the million-dollar budget necessary to collect each Z06, accumulating the 32-Valve ‘Vettes could be the best way forward for you! Until the C8Z became official on October 26, 2021, there was only one Corvette (or any V8 Chevrolet performance car, dating back to the advent of the small-block in 1955) that didn’t incorporate pushrods.

From 1990-1995, the King of the Corvette Hill prowled the streets with a Lotus-designed, Mercury Marine-built heart that featured four cams for the only time in the first 69 years of the Corvette’s existence. As Billy Joel would say, she was ahead of her time! Many people who are deeply-rooted in the Corvette community, including your author, regard the C4 ZR-1 as the most significant car to ever roll off the line at Bowling Green. It is the one that brought Chevrolet, GM, and, in large part, Detroit back on the international performance map. And its performance is still impressive today!

A mile-per-minute arrived in the mid-4-second range and the LT5 V8 could propel the American wedge past 180 mph. Those numbers were nothing short of remarkable in the 90s, but it’s endurance where the mightiest C4 can still grab headlines. In March of 1990, to silence anyone questioning the fortitude of the ZR-1’s fancy new powerplant, Chevy grabbed several world records with a bone-stock pre-production example. They ran their new baby for 100 straight miles, averaging 175.6 mph along the way. This continued; 500 miles at an average of 175.5, 1,000 miles at 174.4, 3,106.86 miles (5,000 KM) at 175.71 mph, and 5,000 miles at a staggering average of 173.79 miles per hour! After 12 hours, only stopping to refuel, the King’s average speed was 175.523 mph, which grew to 175.885 at the 24-hour mark!

1990 ZR1 Corvette Engine Closeup
Mecum

In total, the ZR-1 ran at full-tilt for 28 hours, 46 minutes, and 12 seconds, covering enough ground to make the trip from Daytona to Los Angeles and then turn around and make it back in time for tea. setting seven world records along the way, including the 24-hour speed record that was set in 1940. No subsequent Corvette has surpassed any of the C4 ZR-1’s endurance records either, making it a worthy garage companion for the newest record-holder in its lineage. During its six-year production run, a total of 6,922 ZR-1s were assembled. Examples from the model’s inaugural year make up nearly half of that with a final tally of 3,032.

Year two saw a mild facelift and an additional 2,044 units sold, followed by another 502 in 1992. The LT5 got a boost from 375 to 405 horses in 1993 and production was pre-planned at 448 examples per year from here until the model bowed out in 1995, one year before the entire C4 generation folded to make way for the friendlier C5.

Amongst ZR-1 enthusiasts, there is much debate as to which vintage is “the one” to get. First-year fans point to that model’s unique, F40-esque black rubber beltline and one-year fascias. They also stake claim to the records listed above, but the sheer number of ’90 examples on the market at any given time does tend to hurt their value a bit. Our valuation tool pegs the 1990 ZR-1 at $19,600, an incredible value! If you can find a “concours” level specimen, you’re looking at a $50,600 ownership proposition.

1993 Anniversary Edition Corvette
Mecum

The 1993 40th Anniversary camp is the next one that claims to have the best ZR-1. These Ruby Red beauties were the only special edition ZR-1s and also have the distinction of being the first year for the full-strength LT5. Just 245 40th ZR-1s were built, and, as a rule, our valuation tool gives them a $7,500 premium over a “run-of-the-mill” ’93, which bring $19,800 on average and $44,900 for a #1 condition example, for a grand total of $52,400.

The ’94 is as desirable as any of the other 405-horse cars on paper, but the ’95 has proven to be the cream of the collectible crop. It leverages the end-of-the-line fame and a production run that only equates to about 15% of what the first-year enjoyed into the highest value of any non-GS C4 in our registry. Our current 1995 ZR-1 average value is still incredibly cheap at $23,500 but can balloon to nearly $60,000 in concours condition, which is up $5,000 since May. Still not a bad way to spend the price of a decent pickup truck!

Collection 3: The Best of Each Generation

There are faster and more powerful C8s on the horizon, but it is hard to imagine any of them surpassing the pure, unbridled joy that the naturally-aspirated Z will bring to the table. For the highest rollers out there, many of whom are coming into the Corvette fold after years of collecting Ferraris or 911s, the best example from each Corvette generation is the collection we envision for you! We’ve already touched on several members of this club; the previously alluded-to C5 Commemorative Z06 takes the crown for that generation while the C4 is a toss-up between the Grand Sport and ZR-1 from the last section (our recommendation is to always go for the one with a Z in its name!).

C2s and C6s are the generations where the Z06 is a toss-up for the title of Generation’s Best Corvette! The ’63 Z’s competition for “Best Mid-Year” makes up the opposite book-end for the first car to wear the vaunted Sting Ray badge. The tip of the spear for 1967 Corvettes, should you choose one over a ’63 split-window, is the mighty L88. The race-bred engine that sat atop the ‘Vette pyramid in ’67 accounts for each space on the “Five Most Expensive Corvettes Ever Sold at Auction,” list, so you have to have deep pockets to even think about owning one of the 20 that were built.

1967 Chevrolet Corvette L88 Coupe
Mecum

There is good news, though, if you are looking for a relative deal. Since January, #2 condition ’67 L88s have declined in value from $3.25 million to their current standing at $2.9 million, while cars in fair to average condition still command $1.5-$1.75 million. Just under the L88 in the ’67 Corvette pecking order are a couple of more attainable, 435-horse 427s. Your best bet is the triple two-barrel carb L71, which found its way into 3,754 engine bays that year (making up 16% of total production). Concours-condition examples trade hands for $257,000 right now, which is up from around $230k in January while an L71 that needs some work can still be had for around $75,000. The meat in the ’67 desirability sandwich is the L89. The “other” 435-hp ’67 added aluminum heads to the L71 and, when the dust settled, ended up being even rarer than the legendary L88. Just 16 found homes in 1967, and, today they command anywhere between $228,000 and $452,000 on the open market, depending on condition.

As far as the C6 generation goes, the Z07-equipped 2011-2013 Z06s have only one rival when it comes to driving enjoyment and 2021 collector car market value. After taking a sabbatical (during which it misplaced its’ hyphen and picked up half a liter of displacement and a supercharger) from 1996-2008, the ZR1 returned to haunt the established supercar hierarchy. These so called “Blue Devils” were the first ‘Vettes to surpass the 200 mph and six-figure price barriers. The only thing faster than their acceleration has been their appreciation curve since May of 2021. #4 condition cars are suddenly trading for around where #1s were in January while those “1s” have started to eclipse the $100,000 mark again. Look for one of the 375 examples ordered with the PDE Ultimate Performance package if you want the best of the best — or, if you are a sucker for special editions, two graced the C6 ZR1 order guide: the 60th Anniversary Package and the Centennial Edition. 138 and 206 of each were built, respectively. When shopping for the greatest C6, you can pick your poison. Supercharged monster or big displacement screamer, you can’t go wrong!

C6 Z06 505hp emblem
Brandan Gillogly

All the way back to the beginning now, where we come face to face with the most difficult generation of America’s Sports Car to find a definitive high-water-mark for. If it followed the same generational model as the dearly departed Viper, the C1 Corvette would have been called a four-generation-run of its own. C1.1 covers the ground from inception until the first major overhaul (1953-55). Then you have the two-year C1.2 with its side coves and Mercedes SL-style headlights. Next is the 1958-60 C1.3 that doubled its number of headlights and grew 9.2 inches in length. Finally is the mutant C1.4 of ’61 and ‘62 that combines the C1.3’s front end with a foreshadowing of the Mid-year’s unique “ducktail” rear end.

The first-year cars are the rarest but also the least inspiring with their lack of exterior color options and “Blue Flame six” engine, while the fourth-try C1s haven’t ever been as coveted as the more cohesive C2s that followed them into showrooms. Our official choice for best C1, therefore, is the 1957 model. For ’57, Chevrolet bored the ‘56’s 265-cube V8 to 283 cu.in. and achieved several significant milestones along the way. In top-shelf fuel-injected spec, the ’57 was the first ‘Vette to make one horsepower for each of its cubic inches. 1957 also marks the first time that the order guide included an option (RPO 685) for a four-speed manual transmission.

1957 Chevrolet Corvette Super Sport Show Car rear trunk badging
Mecum

Most importantly, ’57 was the first year where Zora Arkus-Duntov was able to get one of his “racing specials” out to the public. His creation was available under RPO 684, which was listed as the heavy-duty suspension package but known colloquially as the “Big Brake” model. Its contents included HD springs, HD front anti-sway bar, HD shocks, a tighter steering ratio, Positraction, upgraded cooling, and “big” brakes that featured linings made of a ceramic/metal mix wrapped in ventilated drums.

Then there was the “Airbox” package that featured a cleaver, sealed cold air intake system. Chevrolet made a total of 756 “fuelies” in ’57. They were joined in showrooms by 664 four-speeds, just 51 examples with the HD suspension upgrade, and a scant 43 Airbox cars. If you can find it, get one that features the grand slam of all four of these ultra-desirable options; one sold for $450,000 in early 2017. Our valuation tool currently only accounts for four-speeds, which add 10% to the value of any 1957. Insurance data places a $72,000 value on an average ’57 ‘Vette and the number balloons to $187,000 for a #1, but expect to pay a king’s ransom if one of those four-option cars crosses the block again any time soon!

1968 L88 Corvette convertible
Mecum

The curvaceous third generation is also a tough one to nail down, though its window of desirability is much smaller than any other generation, save, perhaps, for the C4. Focus in on the first four years of C3 production, and you’ll find plenty to like. 1968 and 1969 used carry-over engines from the banner year of 1967, and the good news is that even the L88 (80 produced in ’68 and 116 for ’69) is more wallet friendly in C3 form. Number 1 quality ’68 L88s are a shadow of their predecessors on the collector’s market, commanding between $324,000 and $620,000 for a first-year C3 and $345,000-656,000 for the year of the moon landing. RPOs L89 and L71 remain compelling alternatives for the sake of your savings account, and streetability.

For the sake of variety though, our favorite C3s hail from 1970 and 1971. The first year of the “Me Decade” saw the introduction of the 350 cubic-inch LT-1 V8, one of Duntov’s crowning achievements. The first of three (to date) GM performance V8s to earn the LT-1 name featured 11:1 compression, a 780 CFM Holley four-barrel carb with a special aluminum intake, and a high-performance cam which teamed up to provide 370 horses and 380 torques. This output made the original LT-1 much more power-dense than any of its big-block contemporaries, while putting less weight over its host vehicle’s front axle. It was the exclusive motivator for the first appearance of RPO ZR1, which also contained the M22 “Rockcrusher” four-speed manual, HD power brakes, a transistor ignition, and beefed-up suspension components while kicking the rear defroster, AC, radio, and other niceties to the curb.

RPO ZR1 side profile
Mecum

Just 25 ZR1s were produced during the first year, and they remain the most sought-after of the RPO’s three-year run that saw power stifled by federal regulations in each successive year. Insurance for a concours-ready 1970 Corvette is based on a value of $130,000 and the ZR1s can easily reach double that on the rare occasion when they are made available.

1971 was the last hurrah for hi-po, big-displacement ‘Vettes, until the C6Z hit the scene 35-years later, and, boy, did they go out with a serious bang! By giving the Chevelle’s monster 454 LS6 a second lease on life, Zora had the basis for the “two” in a one-two (ZR) punch that the rest of the Motor City couldn’t touch. Before it was commandeered by the truck division in the ‘90s, the only ZR2s in history were 12 ’71 Corvettes that were built with the 425-horse LS6 and a murderers row of go-fast options that mirrored its small-block brother’s.

While one dozen obscure ’71 ‘Vettes don’t add up to a fitting swan song for the legacy of in-house racing specials commissioned by the man who brought world-class performance chops to America’s Sports Car, that limited availability makes for outstanding collectability. A ZR2 can easily surpass $400,000 on today’s market, and one of the 176 total ‘71s that were built with LS6 power, sans the handling bits, can reach past the quarter-million-dollar mark.

Which brings us to the final, and easiest, entry in our crazy, out of order “best Corvettes” list: the C7. There hasn’t been a sure-fire future collectible Corvette like the 2019 ZR1 since Nixon was in the oval office. The 755-horse farewell tour (de force) for front-engine Corvettes checks all of the boxes that collectors covet. Along with its layout, it is the last ‘Vette variant available with a manual transmission and it is the most powerful, torquiest, fastest, and quickest of its lineage.

2019 ZR1 Corvette front three-quarter
GM

It was also only available for a single model-year which is a rarity this day in age. Each and every one of the 2,953 examples (split between 2,441 coupes and 512 ‘verts) will bring big bucks down the road, but, like all of the cars on this list, certain options can upgrade the ZR1 from simply good to unbelievable. The “big wing” ZTK track package is the first “must-have” option and you have the choice of 2,077 units so built. Next is the 7-speed manual transmission which brought a third pedal to 884 ZR1s. Just two years into its retirement, and we are seeing low-mileage cars with both of those options trading at over $200k, including a 13-mile example that still has protective tape on its exterior carbon fiber and a little shower cap on its shifter, currently on offer for $289,900 in Florida!

Our backup choice for people who spent all of their money attaining an L88 is the Goldilocks of the C7 lineup, the Grand Sport. The only non-Z06 to receive an all-out, ceramic-brake Z07 package was hailed by many reviewers as the best ‘Vette to drive when equipped with the row-your-own gearbox, but it is an rarer beast than even the ZR1, with just 2028 people seeing the light before the sun set on C7 order banks. They tend to command similar money to the C6 Z07s mentioned above, making life difficult for anyone looking to pair just one other naturally aspirated masterpiece with the new LT6 banshee.

The full list:
C1: 1957 Corvette Fuelie (4-speed, airbox, big brake)
C2: Tie: 1963 Z06, 1967 L88
C3: Tie: 1970 LT-1 ZR1, 1971 LS6 ZR2
C4: 1995 ZR-1
C5: 2004 Commemorative Edition Z06
C6: Tie: 2011-13 Z07, 2012-13 ZR1 PDE
C7: 2019 ZR1
Total Cost: $1.094 Million to $4.15 Million

Now, get out there and start hunting, and as always, feel free to drop any questions in the comment section. We are here for you!

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