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1989 ZR-1 Snake Skinner Corvette Illustrated Series No. 159

1989 ZR-1 Snake Skinner Corvette Illustrated Series No. 159

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Here's the story on this print:
Illustrated Corvette Series No. 159 - 1989 ZR-1 Snake Skinner Corvette
"Suddenly It's 1963 Again!"

It was no secret in the late ‘80s that Chevrolet was developing a super-Vette. But when the 488ci V-10 Dodge Viper RT/10 debuted at the 1989 New York Auto Show, the Corvette guys didn’t know what hit them. For their part, Dodge product planners were completely open about their source of inspiration for the Viper: It was the minimalist ‘65 Shelby 427 Cobra. Suddenly, it was like 1963 all over again. This time, instead of the Z06 racer kit taking the Corvette to new heights in SCCA road racing, the upcoming ZR-1 was to be GM’s flagship performance car. Chevrolet and the media were calling the ZR-1 a “world-class supercar,” and in many ways, it was. But just like the Cobras from ‘63, the new Viper was a force to be reckoned with.

While the Viper was indeed a beautiful machine, it wouldn’t be available to the public until 1992, whereas the ZR-1 could be purchased as a ’90 model. Both vehicles were true sports cars, but the Viper was spartan, just like the Cobra before it. The Corvette, meanwhile, had evolved into a legitimate Grand Touring, or GT, car—a fast, powerful machine designed for long-distance performance driving. Nevertheless, Corvette development manager John Heinricy took a proactive stance by commissioning a lightweight ZR-1 engineering study—just in case a Viper-killer was needed. The ZR-1 also had another problem to deal with, in the form of the so-called “gas guzzler tax.”

Heinricy’s engineering study had two weight-reduction objectives. The ZR-1 was very close to being hit with the guzzler tax, something that was unacceptable to GM. Weight reduction would surely help the car’s mileage ratings. In the end, it turned out that the ZR-1’s fuel efficiency was saved through electronics. Beginning in 1989, all Corvettes were fitted with the Computer Aided Gear Selection (CAGS) system, which required the driver to shift from First to Fourth gear in low-speed/low-throttle conditions.
The second objective of the study was a more personal one: to maintain Corvette’s performance supremacy. Remember, Vettes had been dominating the SCCA Showroom Stock Series and other class events for the past several years. The car was definitely the “Top Dog,” and plenty of contenders were primed to take it down several notches. Heinricy would have none of that.

The project used two of the leftover ‘89 ZR-1 pilot cars. Dubbed ZR-1 SS (for “Super Sport” or, more colorfully, “Snake Skinner”), the cars were first subjected to a weight-reduction regimen. All luxury items were removed, including the air conditioning, the Delco-Bose sound system, the low-tire-pressure warning system, and the spare tire. The power leather seats were replaced with cloth-covered manual buckets, and cool-looking cast-magnesium Dymags stood in for the standard ZR-1 wheels. The stock flywheel and bellhousing were replaced with a heavier dual-mass flywheel and a magnesium ‘housing. The above items removed about 250 pounds, dropping weight from 3,479 to approximately 3,229. The LT5 engine then received modified camshafts and Walker DynoMax mufflers to replace the stock exhaust hardware. This is how the car was first shown in late 1990.

By mid 1991 Snake Skinner had even more grunt under the hood. The LT5 engine now had ported heads, even-more-aggressive camshafts, a higher-volume plenum, and larger throttle-body barrels. Morrison four-into-one headers were added, and the resonators were removed. The stock 3.54:1 rear gears were replaced with a 3.91:1 gearset. While they were at it, engineers trimmed even more weight by replacing the rear glass with Plexiglas; the front end, meanwhile, received a new Kevlar hood. The headlights were removed and their covers riveted shut. Illumination came courtesy of a set of mini-quad lamps and turn signals from a Pontiac Grand Prix. A larger, baffled gas tank was installed to prevent fuel starvation. For some added visual differentiation, Corvette engineer Scott Leon added the four-louver vents from the Corvette aero kit, along with ‘92 LT1 exhaust outlets. The software for the FX3 Selective Ride & Handling option was modified, but the springs were unchanged. This caused the car to sit a little high due to the reduced weight. Between the modified LT5 and the removal of another 100 pounds, the ZR-1 SS was ready for some serious testing.

For its time, this 3,100-pound, 425hp ZR-1 was pretty heady stuff: 0-60 came up in just 3.87 seconds, compared with the stock car’s 4.4-second run. The quarter-mile time was 12.04 seconds at 122.2 mph, compared with the stocker’s 12.8 at 113.8.

Snake Skinner was eventually lightened to 2,700 pounds, after which Heinricy bettered the 427 Cobra’s 0-100-0 dash of 14 seconds with a scorching 12.8! But since the ZR-1 SS wasn’t a production car, the time wasn’t considered an official record. Imagine how cool it would have been if there had been a “light weight” option for the ZR-1 with the Aero body kit. Perhaps it could have even been called, “Grand Sport.”

In January 2009 Snake Skinner sold at a Barrett-Jackson auction for $176,000, while a less-developed version went for $73,700. Either way, two people now own one-of-a-kind R&D Corvettes that, in another time, would have been sent to the crusher.

Printed on high quality tan-colored parchment paper using a Xante professional grade printer.

This print comes in one size:

11” x 17”

Print is shrink wrapped on 11.5" x 17.5" cardboard so that they stay flat and clean and shipped via USPS Priority Mail. All prints are signed by the artist. They make a wonderful gift for the car lover in your life!
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