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Seven years into its 13-year production run, the 1990 Chevrolet Corvette received some considerable updates as well as the addition of what has become a very special model within the Corvette community.
1990 marked the introduction of the Corvette ZR-1, aka the “King of the Hill” for performance Corvettes of the day. Under the hood lived a 350 cid V-8 designed by Lotus in England (owned by General Motors at the time) and built by Mercury Marine in Oklahoma. Dubbed LT5, the new unit featured dual overhead cams and produced 375 horsepower. This engine was bolted only to the 6-speed manual transmission and the ZR-1 was only available as a coupe.
Non-ZR-1 engines received a revised camshaft, increased compression ratio, and air intake speed density control system. The result was a bump in output to 245 hp.
For all models, an engine cooler now came standard, as did a driver’s side airbag, 17-inch wheels, and ABS-II anti-lock brakes. The Corvette also introduced the Supplemental Inflatable Airbag system – the first of its kind.
To accommodate its wider rear wheels and tires, the ZR-1 received a new rear end with wider fenders. The ZR-1’s rear end was also convex and featured semi-rectangular taillights, replacing the concave tail with circular lights. The FX3 package, a Selective Ride Adjustment system, was also standard equipment on the ZR-1, allowing drivers to select the stiffness of their ride.
The cabin of the 1990 Corvette was thoroughly revised. It was still a tight squeeze with the wide sills and the tall transmission tunnel, but it ditched many of the all-too-‘80s right angles of previous models. The new interior design featured the curving, driver-centric layout that would be honored in the interior of the later C7 Corvette, and for the 1990 model, the Chevy Corvette also received a new instrument panel. The fully digital setup of previous models was replaced with a setup that was still part digital but also part conventionally analog.
Despite all these updates, sales of the 1990 Corvette was still hovering around roughly 26,000, though 3,032 of those were the ZR-1, making 1990 the best sales year for the C4 ZR-1. Their rarity, complexity and completely different level of performance make the ZR-1 much more valuable to collectors today. And although GM had their own factory hotted up ‘Vette to take to market in the ZR-1, the Callaway “B2K” Twin Turbo Corvettes remained available.