Mark Horner gives a history of Special ZR-1 Corvettes: 1991 Callaway Super Speedster LM, 1995 Callaway LM ZR-1, Black Widow ZR-1s, Callaway CR-1, and DRM-500 and DRM-600 ZR-1s.
Editor’s Note: We want to welcome Mark Horner, President, ZR-1 Net Registry, who will be contributing to this and future articles in Vette Vues Magazine. The ZR-1 Net Registry is a non-profit club with over 600 members in 14 different countries. “Our mission is to ‘Keep the Legend Alive,’ and we do this by connecting members, conducting ZR-1 events, and facilitating support for the ZR-1.”
The longer I’ve been involved with the ZR-1 Net Registry, the more often I receive calls or emails from both members and enthusiasts requesting my thoughts regarding a prospective ZR-1 purchase.
The two questions asked of me are typically what should I pay, and secondly, what ZR-1s would I purchase? I typically don’t want to provide my thoughts on the value of a ZR-1 as there are so many things to consider, but I do offer some recommendations to arrive at a value.
For most ZR-1s, I recommend researching the past sales of other ZR-1s from the internet: auctions, eBay, the forums, BAT, etc. Even by doing this, you estimate pricing and need to adjust accordingly for the condition of the car, which can be hard to discern by photos and even a seller’s opinion of the condition. Depending on what was done, I find modified ZR-1s typically a great buy. From what I’ve seen, most modifications don’t make much of a difference in price when it comes to resale. Great value if these are modifications you’d likely do anyway, but some of these modifications can also work against the seller if a prospective buyer’s tastes aren’t the same. To me, the best of both worlds is when the seller includes many of the original parts, and you have the option to go backward.
Then I’m asked What ZR-1s I’d buy (if money and storage were not a problem). Well, that’s an interesting question. Truthfully, my list would be filled with ZR-1 race cars I’ve tracked down over the years… but those asking are referring to street-drivable cars, so I answer appropriately (no race cars or prototypes). Knowing that I’d be proud to own almost any ZR-1 out there, there are special ZR-1s produced or modified that are so iconic that I’d purchase them (if money and storage space wasn’t an issue).
On top of my list is the 1991 Callaway Super Speedster LM—OMG! I’d promise my wife I’d never buy another car if she’d agree we could mortgage the ranch for this incredible ZR-1. The above photo is one of 2 Super Speedsters and one of only three twin-turbo and inter-cooled ZR-1s produced by Callaway. The body package on this car is based upon the aerodynamically efficient Le Mans GT2 pole-winning Callaway LM racer and makes 766 HP. What’s not to like?
Running a tight second on my list is the 1995 Callaway LM ZR-1 of our very own ZR-1 Net Registry member, John Christensen. It is the only other ZR-1.
Callaway is outfitted with the LM body. To me, both LMs look scary fast sitting still. This is a race car.
Similar to Callaway’s LM ZR-1s, another set of ZR-1s was born of professional racing—the DRZ-500s, also known as the Black Widow ZR-1s. With Chevrolet’s approval, MerCruiser factory racing engines, used in IMSA endurance and World Challenge racing, were put into 8 ZR-1s. Never has this been repeated in the history of Corvette, let alone Chevrolet. Each of these special ‘black’ racing engines was specifically set up for the owner’s intended use of the ZR-1, such as autocross, road racing, drag racing, or open road racing. Owners were able to select an entire range of racing modifications from full roll cage to (almost) all of Doug Rippie Motorsports’ World Challenge winning suspensions. These cars are fast, set up with the best horsepower and torque combination for their respective application, and done by one of the most winning C4 Corvette pro-road-racers, Doug Rippie. While eight of these historically important ZR-1s were produced, only seven remain, making each even more valuable.
Then there is the Callaway CR-1. Each of these ZR-1s received major engine modifications, increasing horsepower to between 475 and 490hp. The seemingly standard ZR-1 body was upgraded to Callaway’s own ‘Aerobody’ design and covered with Spies Hecker paint and center exhaust, uniquely setting off these incredible cars. As with the DRZ-500 ZR-1s, owners had a variety of options to select from to customize further their CR-1s, including a full custom handcrafted interior of only the finest quality. Similar to the DRZ-500 Black Widows, production of these exquisite ZR-1s ended with 11 CR-1s being produced.
While lacking a distinctive body like the Callaway Aerobody CR-1s, the Lingenfelter Twin Turbo ZR-1s were made for one thing only—going faster than anyone else. John Lingenfelter and Graham Behan built 4 of these super-high HP ZR-1s for four customers who convinced Lingenfelter that only four should ever be made. Parked, the only way to distinguish one of these amazing cars is by finding the unique badge on the passenger side dash; however, there’s no mistaking these cars when they smoke tires at 125mph. I believe these 4 ZR-1s remain the highest horsepower LT5s ever built.
As a new ZR-1 owner in the early 2000s, I’ll never forget how in awe I was at my first ZR-1 Gathering when Graham Behan showed up at the Beech Bend Dragstrip with a 1050HP Lingenfelter TT, #3. With a heavy turbo whine, he filled the bleachers with smoke from his long burnout, moved up into the staging box, then launched when the lights turned green. Unfortunately, he spun tires the entire ¼ mile, leaving deep dark tire tracks the length of the track to prove it. Despite never getting traction, Graham turned a 9.92 second 1/4 mile at 149.31 mph. (I captured this on video!) I later read that this car found better traction and turned a 9.52 second 1/4 mile at 152 mph with John Lingenfelter driving.
I was also fortunate to run the inaugural Texas Mile in October 2003, along with TT #01. At the time, it was one of the top cars at the event, running 191.51 mph in the dead mile on a very slippery runway in Goliad, Texas. It is amazing to me how streetable these cars are.
Then, born of the Black Widow ZR-1s are the DRM-500 and 600 ZR-1s. The DRM-500 series ZR-1s were built upon the technology used in the DRZ-500 ‘Black Widow’ program. These ZR-1s, like the ’Black Widow’ ZR-1s, were configured to the driver’s intended use and made between 415 and 475hp from their 350ci LT5s. The DRM-600 was a game-changer with the 385ci LT5; 550hp in 1994 was earth-shattering, but that’s why these ZR-1s are on my list. The LT5 upgrade is only a portion of what some of these DRM ZR-1s are all about. If the owner had opted, their ZR-1 would have undergone many more changes. DRM was the only tuner with extensive road racing experience, winning races in Trans-Am, Escort Endurance, Corvette Challenge, and the Speedvision World Challenge Series. If you wanted a fast chassis, DRM was your only option. If you’ve ever driven a DRM-converted ZR-1 with these options, you’ll immediately know that when you press down the throttle pedal or dive into a corner at a speed, a DRM-converted ZR-1 is a precision driving machine. During the 1995 Road & Track “Fastest Cars in America” shootout, world-renown race car driver Phil Hill was asked how the DRM-600 ZR-1 felt driving at over 180 mph around the Ft. Stockton track. He replied, “I can’t believe it’s the contrast between the Viper and this, but it seemed to be the most aerodynamically stable of them all…. it’s as steady as a rock everywhere. I think it is the best of the bunch.” (compared to the Saleen Mustang, Hennessey Viper, Lingenfelter Firebird, Vortech Camaro, and stock versions of each) After being asked the same thing when driving a stock ZR-1 around the track, Phil Hill replied: “It doesn’t have near the precision of driving that the Rippie (ZR-1) did.” It’s that dramatically different.
There are some additional one-off ZR-1s to be put on this list, such as the ZR-1 convertible or the ZR-1 driven by Mario Andretti during the 1998 R&T “Fastest Street Cars in America” shootout, but I don’t want to list them all in fear of missing one! I believe it’s all about the background and story of each ZR-1’s history that makes them special.
As for me, I’ve been fortunate enough to have purchased one of the dream cars on the list—the actual ZR-1 driven by Phil Hill around the record run Ft. Stockton track in 1995. It is a DRM-600 w/385ci, which originally made 550hp, but was redone by John Lingenfelter and is the highest hp 385ci ever made by LPE at 620hp/500tq. It runs mid-11-second 1/4-mile times at the dragstrip and reaches into the low 180s at the Texas Mile. While these figures are impressive, their handling is absolutely incredible. Of all the cars on this long list, this is likely the only ZR-1 ever driven by so many different ZR-1 Net Registry members at events, and for many, the most memorable ZR-1 experience. It was for me when I first drove it some 15 years before I was lucky enough to own it.
“Keeping the Legend Alive” – The ZR-1 Net Registry facilitates enthusiasts to meet, socialize, learn, enjoy and preserve the heritage of the ZR-1 amongst the automotive community.
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