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      Car History: Car History Year 1989
    Posted on Monday, September 27 @ 13:37:34 UTC by Cars
      Cars Producing "grunt" from a V8 engine has never been a problem for US motor manufacturers and, ever since the early 1950s, this tire-shredding horsepower had come from cubic inches. At the height of the muscle car era in the late 1960s, the race for an ever greater power output usually meant an increased engine capacity - it really was that simple. While putting such monster powerplants in relatively inexpensive automobiles with fairly soft suspension and running on skinny biased-belted tires was exciting in a straight line, the combination couldn't be said to do much for controled cornering at high speed.

    As was stated earlier, the original Chevrolet Corvette came about because design chief Harley Earl wanted to show that he could produce a car that would rank alongside the best sports cars from Europe. The 1953 model wasn't up to that standard, but over the years the 'Vette evolved and improved immeasurably. Even so, it wasn't until the arrival of the ZR-1 version in 1989 that the Corvette truly became the first American sports car to beat the Europeans at their own game. And this was done not with brute horsepower from mega cubic inches, but thanks to modern technology and state-of-the-art chassis design.
    It was General Motors' acquisition of Lotus - the famous British sports car and Formula One grand prix racing company - as a research and development facility in 1986 that sparked off the transformation. Prior to the takeover, Chevy engineers had been working on an ambitious project intended to make the Corvette one of the fastest production sports cars in the world. They intended to achieve that aim with either a twin turbocharged or 600bhp naturally aspirated V8. Once the Lotus expertise became available "within the family," so to speak, approval came from GM management for work to begin on a brand-new small-block engine. Although it had the same 350 cu.in. capacity as the long-running Chevy small-block V8, the ZR-1's LT5 engine that resulted from the transatlantic hookup was different in just about every other detail. Deriving from a 4-liter Lotus V8 that never went into production, the LT5 featured four valves per cylinder with dual overhead camshafts in each head. Block and heads were aluminum, and the compression ratio was a healthy 11:1. If the origination of the LT5 came from overseas, the actual production of the engine was handled deep in America's heartland at Mercury Marine of Stillwater, Oklahoma, a company most people would associate with the famous "Mercruiser" boat engines. The LT5 came equipped with a computer-controled, multiple-throttle induction fuel injection system that closed off eight of the 16 inlet ports when the engine was cold or at small throttle openings; this optimized gas mileage and low-end smoothness. Then, when the secondary ports opened at 3500rpm, an impressive amount of power was delivered to the road. How impressive exactly? Try 380 horsepower and 375 Ibs/ft of torque for starters, plus the glorious accompaniment of the hightech V8 howl that wound up to a maximum of 7,200rpm. Translated into performance terms, the result was a zero to 60mph time of 4.3 seconds, with 100mph coming in 10 seconds and an ultimate top speed of 180mph attainable in fifth. Top ratio in the ZF-designed six-speed manual transmission was strictly for cruising -geared to give 41.6mph per 1,000rpm - as the ZR-1 could pull 7,200rpm, in sixth it would be doing almost 300mph! One unusual facet of the gear selection mechanism was a fuel-saving device that obliged the driver to change into fourth directly from first when using a light touch on the throttle. Among all the '80s technology, however, was one piece of engineering on the ZR-1 that harked back to the Corvette's earlier days. The all-independent suspension still used transverse leaf springs, albeit made of glass-fiber composite material rather than steel, but something of an anachronism nevertheless. The standard Z51 Performance Handling Package included heavy-duty springs and stabilizer bars, uprated disc brakes and a cooler for the power rack and pinion steering. Selective Ride Control was a feature previously seen on Lotus Formula One cars that allowed the driver to choose "Touring," "Sport," or "Performance" modes using a switch mounted on the console. The Sport setting was roughly equivalent to the normal '89 Corvette set-up, with Touring set as the soft option and Performance for the racers. Within each of the three bands there were six different shock absorber damping levels, electric motors automatically adjusting to give a firmer ride as the car's speed increased. The final pieces in the handling jigsaw were a Bosch ABS II antilock braking system and the widest tires ever fitted to a US automobile (at that time): P315/35ZR-17 Goodyear Eagle unidirectionals at the rear, with P275/40ZR-17s on the front. Covering those vast expanses of rubber required some subtle flaring of the composite bodywork which began at the doors and extended rearward to the then unique convex panel with its four rectangular taillamps. As you can imagine, ZR-1 owners were not best pleased therefore, when the 1991 facelift of the Corvette incorporated "their" rear quad lights into the standard model. The basic design for the ZR-1 goes as far back as 1978, when, under the direction of Jerry Palmer, the stylists at Chevrolet Studio Three in Warren, Michigan, began working on the new fourth-generation Corvette for its introduction in 1984. However, the credit for the ZR-1 body rests mainly with John Cafaro, studio chief in charge of the new Corvette project, who was also responsible for the Chevy Beretta that came out of Studio Three. The body of the ZR-1 was three inches wider than that of the regular '89 Corvette and an inch longer overall. The horizontal breakline that ran around the car served a dual purpose. Not only was it a styling feature intended to impart an imperceptible rake to the body, but it also acted as a part line between the major body sections, thereby eliminating unnecessary seams. The clamshell hood was also the largest single urethane molding in the automotive industry. But the man who had steered the Corvette's fortunes since taking over as Chief Engineer from the legendary Zora Arkus-Duntov in 1975 was Dave McLellan. At the start of his tenure, McLellan was faced with a situation where higher gas prices, lower speed limits and tightened emission controls were all seemingly working against a performance car like the 'Vette. But despite everything, he maintained the Corvette's performance image and actually managed to enhance it. At the launch of the ZR-1, McLellan stated his philosophy for the Corvette: "I guess the best way I would describe it is that between Jerry Palmer, John Cafaro, the interior people and the engineering team, we've really invented a car for ourselves. It's a car that's the ultimate expression of what we would like to drive around. That's the only way I know to do the Corvette. You can't do it for somebody else. You've got to do it for yourself. Then you literally say to your customers, 'We've got this car that we're excited about. And if you'd like to buy one, we'll make you one.'" He summed up by saying: "ZR-1 is Corvette. Only more so!" The price of wanting more came to something like $50,000 - over $10,000 more than a standard L98 Corvette - but it was a price that plenty of people were prepared to pay in 1989. Specification CHEVROLET CORVETTE ZR-1 Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 350 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.90 x 3.66 ins. Horsepower 385 Body styles Hatchback coupe No. of seats 2 Weight (lbs) 3.465 Ibs Price $58,995 Produced 3,049     Specification FORD PROBE GT Engine Cast iron - 4 Cylinders in line Displacement 133 cu. ins Bore and stroke 3.39 x 3.70 ins. Horsepower 145 Body styles Hatchback No. of seats 4 Weight (lbs) 2,870 Ibs Price $13,794 Produced -     Specification FORD MUSTANG GT CONVERTIBLE Engine V8 - cast iron block Displacement 302 cu. ins Bore and stroke 4.0x3.0 ins. Horsepower 225 Body styles Convertible coupe No. of seats 4 Weight (lbs) 3,333 Ibs Price $17,512 Produced -  
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