The New ZR1 Wasn’t Supposed to Happen, Says Corvette Chief Engineer

The Z06 was originally intended to be the apex of C7 performance.

There’s been a lot of buzz about the freshly unveiled 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 that made its debut at the L.A. Auto Show in November—and rightfully so. Its supercharged 6.2-liter LT5 V8 will make 755 horsepower and 715 pound-feet of torque in both fixed-roof and open-top configurations. Additionally, its six-figure price tag will put the bruiser in direct competition with its high-powered domestic rivals. The new Corvette also comes with an appearance package that means business, especially the available park-bench-sized rear wing. But how did this all-new American supercar come into existence?

According to a recent interview with Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter conducted by GM Authority, the C7 ZR1 was never supposed to happen at all. “We don’t always do a ZR1 every generation of Corvette… we weren’t looking that far ahead,” said Juechter. Indeed, this is only the fourth generation of Corvette to get a high-performance ZR1 trim out of the seven generations the Corvette has seen since the 1950s.

“We weren’t focused on the whole lifecycle,” said Juechter of the development of the C7. “Just get the standard car and the Z06 out there, because we needed something to replace the C6. That was kind of our mindset through the development of the architecture.” Juechter continued, “But most of us worked on the C6, so it was always in the back of our minds that the architecture needs to be capable of going farther if someday we were able to do (a ZR1).”

If the C7 development was rushed, the team sure did a good job hiding it. Since its introduction, the C7 has done a fantastic job of holding true to the Corvette ideal of being an affordable sports car that can go toe-to-toe with much more expensive rivals.

So how did the C7 ZR1 happen if it wasn’t in the cards in the first place? “When we introduced the [C7] Z06, we left it all on the field. We couldn’t think of anything we could do to make this car better than it is,” said Juechter. “That was true at the time, but a couple years later, we started working on some ideas. What could we do to actually up our game even more?

“We started working with our suppliers, we started doing some experiments, we actually built some cars with big aero wings… and we were starting to see what we could get out of a wing package, and see if that was a big advantage over the Z06… the technology marches on, and eventually, we were able to put together a package. New front clip, new engine, rear wing, everything… and a program that made business sense for the company. That’s another reason why Corvettes have such long life cycles. We have a lot of things to do, and technology evolves during the life cycle.”

So, it sounds like what started out as an aero option package for the Z06 ended up turning into a full-blown ZR1, almost by accident. This is the kind of accident we’re very okay with and we can’t wait to drive the new ZR1 in 2018.