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Corvette ZR1

Happy New Year Everyone and Welcome to our ‘Vehicle of the Month’ 2021 blog post series which we are continuing since August last year to share some of the most fascinating and remarkable car and motorbike stories, restoration projects and travel adventures of our customers. 

 

Last month we shared the story of a magnificent 1934 Riley TT Racing Six 12/4 Special by Douglas. This New Year’s Day we kick off 2021 with an adventure packed tale by Alan, the owner of Fantastic Roads and the member of the Classic Corvette Club UK. 

 

It’s an absolutely brilliant read and if you aren’t a Corvette fan or a touring enthusiast yet, beware, Alan’s story is about to change that forever. 

 

 

"Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start as they say. Back in 1998 I started looking for my dream car. I had gone through lots of options and finally settled on a Corvette ZR1. Why a Corvette you might ask and why a ZR1 specifically? It’s all down to my dad, he bought me a bright red metallic Corgi Corvette when I was just a wee lad and it became one of my favourite toys. I was forever driving around the carpet and furniture and dreaming of the day when I could drive a real one. The ZR1? Well you have to read “The Heart of the Beast” by Anthony Young to understand how this incredible and very special Corvette came to be built by GM. That book and a very close friend of mine, Geoff Jeal, who worked at Lotus on the ZR1 project were instrumental in my choice, it had to be a ZR1 and it had to be the 95 model year. Two years of searching and I came across this one at a dealers in Rotterdam."

 

 

"Although it said 0 KM on the window sticker the car had delivery miles of 6.5 on the odometer. It had been bought new in the US by an American serviceman who was posted to Germany. He brought the car across with him but never registered it and never put it on the road. For 5 years it stayed in an auto museum in Germany and then turned up at the dealers. Having seen lots of ZR1’s over the past two years as soon as I heard about this one, I flew across to the dealers and when I saw it that was it. The car was reserved on a handshake and over the next 5 days money was transferred and I was back over to collect the car and drive it back to the UK. It was a wet and cold January day and the dealer couldn’t believe I wanted to take the car out and drive it (the plates you see on the car were loaned to me by the dealer so that I could drive the car to the ferry and had to be returned). This was going to be a car to be driven, not a garage queen but one that would take me on many fantastic road trips and introduce me to new friends as the years passed."

 

 

 

 

"So what’s so special about a Corvette ZR1 you ask. Well to use the previously mentioned book title it’s “The Heart of the Beast” the engine, that makes this an incredibly special and rare car. No small block iron push rod V8. This is an all-aluminium quad overhead cam 32 valve hand build V8. Designed by Lotus and pushing technology to it’s limits when designed, the original design produced 380 BHP and in 1993 this was uprated to 405 BHP. This was supercar power at the time. A Ferrari Testarossa had 385 BHP, a Porsche 928 had 320 BHP. To handle the extra power over the standard Corvette, 11inch wide wheels were fitted to the rear which meant the bodywork from the doors to the rear of the car was completely different. The ZR1 is 6 inches wider and 1 Inch longer than the standard car"

 

 

"And so the adventure begins. I had bought number 295 of 448 ZR1’s built in 1995. It was now time to get the car ready to be driven and enjoyed. Back in the UK the lights were converted to UK spec and the car given an MOT. Little was I to realise that a minor change to the wiring specs used by GM from 1993 onwards had set a trap that would catch me out a few years later and could have been catastrophic. In the meantime, the car was going to be enjoyed and driven as much as possible. The first overseas outing was to the Le Mans 24 hours. I had been a regular attendee at the race since 1987 and always envied those lucky enough to drive their cars around the track prior to the race and this time it was my turn courtesy of the Classic Corvette Club UK of which I was now a member.

 

This is a shot from the window of my car as we followed a white ZR1, a black supercharged C4 and one of the official pace cars (a Corvette C5) up towards the Dunlop bridge. What a fantastic experience. I will never forget as we exited the turn onto the Mulsanne straight at around 65 MPH in third gear I gave the car a bit of throttle and the back of the car stepped out. The track was damp and it made me realise just how different to us professional race drivers and their cars are. In the race they were exiting the same corner in torrential rain at around 140 MPH! Total respect!!"

 

 

"Back at the beginning I mentioned a change of wiring spec by GM in 1993 would trip me up. In 2006 it did. The wires to the front lights had been changed to a thinner gauge than those used in previous cars. What this meant was ever since the lights had been converted to UK spec the wires were now carrying more current than they safely should have been carrying. The first I knew of it was when I stopped at a junction to turn right onto a main road. The indicators stopped working and smoke started coming from under the dashboard. Fortunately, the car did not catch fire and I was able to get it trailered to a friend’s workshop. This guy was an automotive electrical wizard and built wiring looms for F1 teams. The car was left with him and the whole front end wiring loom stripped out and rebuilt. What a brilliant job he did and certainly not something I would ever want to tackle. The other job that was done at this time was to replace the front windscreen. It had been hit by a stone on my annual trip to Le Mans and had developed a large crack. The ZR1 windscreen is different from the standard Corvette screen. It has a solar coating inside and a cut out in the coating to allow a radar detector to be mounted onto the dashboard. Despite the best efforts of Autoglass to get me one it was not possible, and I had to have a standard windscreen fitted."

 

 

"Time moved on and I was enjoying taking the car into France more and more. With new friends found via the PistonHeads forum regular weekend trips were the order of the day. What an absolutely perfect car this was for those trips. Plenty of luggage space, superbly comfortable on the autoroutes and with its adjustable suspension just as comfortable on some of the less well-maintained minor roads. This was a car that would change opinions. Corvettes can’t go round corners, just watch me guys. American cars are old school engineering, just take a look at that jewel of a hand built engine, equal to anything in your exotic supercar. Every time I jumped in the car I had a smile on my face and listening to that engine as it revved to 6500, what an awesome sound. For me this car is all about smiles per miles."

 

 

"Jump forward to 2009 and we were back at Le Mans. This particular year has special memories for me. Since 2003 we had been staying in the Corvette Coral. An enclosure just to the side of the track at the end of the Porsche curves where Corvette owners from all over Europe and quite a few from the US gathered. It was a lovely warm summer and once again the Corvette club had been invited to take part in parade laps before the race. This year I had told my son that I had decided not to take part as I thought it best to let someone else enjoy the track time.

 

Little did he know that someone else was to be him! As everyone was forming up to head onto the track, I handed him the keys and said, “it’s your turn”. His passenger was to be a French lady journalist. My only instructions to him were to make sure she would not forget the experience. She wouldn’t, apparently for most of the two laps she had been alternating between screaming and laughing. Marc, my son told me that he had been taking it easy, talking to one of the drivers who had taken part she said she had been doing 135 MPH on the Mulsanne straight when Marc went flying past. What speed had he been doing? In truth we don’t know as he said he was too busy watching the road and the other cars and didn’t want to look down to the speedo. The car is capable of 180 and it was certainly more than 135. The main thing is the memory I have of that weekend and the huge smile on my son's face, priceless, and it will stay with Marc and me forever."

 

 

"2010 and circumstances had changed. I had met a lovely lady who shared my passion of touring through Europe in the Corvette. Once again, the ZR1 proved what a capable car it was. Previously it had been me and an overnight bag thrown together in the back for my trips. Now it swallowed up enough luggage for the two of us for two week trips without a problem."

 

 

"Ann and I had been on a few road trips with various friends and car clubs and while we had enjoyed them there was always one or two little irritations. If you were not near the front of the pack the simple fact was that you had to go like crazy to stay in touch with the leaders, even then you might get separated at traffic lights or roundabouts and junctions. Quite often the organizer had been over optimistic in the distance that could be covered, and you arrived at your hotel for the night exhausted with not enough time to relax and enjoy the facilities and company. Hotels that had been selected via the internet did not always live up to their profile pictures and could sometimes be a little less than good to say the least.

 

Our solution? organise our own tours. We would plan the routes so that driving distances and times would not be onerous. We would allow time to stop, have a coffee, take pictures, enjoy the scenery, and arrive at the hotels in plenty of time to relax and socialise. We would personally visit and check out hotels and only use those we were fully comfortable with. Here we are in the French alps planning what was to become the first major tour Fantastic Roads Ltd. would offer."

 

 

"2011 was a momentous year for us. Once again we visited the 24 hours of Le Mans and this time we took part in the drivers parade through the town centre. What an experience! The roads are closed and thousands of people line the route. The race car drivers are paraded through the streets and following them come various car clubs. I have watched the parade so many times and it truly is a carnival atmosphere and to take part in the parade was a real joy and privilege. Part way through the parade a very enthusiastic spectator managed to get over the barrier and hand me a large glass of beer with the words “great car mate”. I was a little worried as a few feet in front of me was a member of the French constabulary. However when I looked at him he just laughed, mimed drinking the beer and gave me the thumbs up. I suspect that would not be the case should it happen again today. Another unforgettable memory courtesy of this great car."

 

 

"Still in 2011 and Fantastic Roads Ltd was now a registered company. We had arranged two trips that year. The first was a long weekend in the Champagne region of France staying at a superb chateau with visits to a champagne grower, a tour of the cellars of Pommery and a chance to look around Reims with its wonderful cathedral. Here you see us parking up in Reims town centre where we had arranged secure parking within a few hundred yards of the cathedral. All part of the Fantastic Roads service.

 

Look carefully at the picture and there are a couple of things to note. First if you look at the windscreen on my car you can clearly see the difference between the standard windscreen currently fitted and the screen with the solar coating you see pictured at the beginning when I collected the car. If you look closely at the original screen you can make out the cut out for the radar detector just off to the right of the screen centre line (I now have a correct spec windscreen tucked away and ready to install at some point). The second thing you might notice is the state of the front of the car around the cut-out area for the number plate. The paint had lifted and was starting to flake off.

 

Towards the end of 2010 I had taken the car to a paint shop that had been recommended to me to have the bonnet and front resprayed as there were a lot of stone chips and scratches. Supposedly they knew how to deal with fibreglass bodied cars. To be fank they charged a fortune and did a **** job and when I went back to remonstrate with them, they had gone, shut down disappeared. Not surprised. Since then I have found a much better company that do know what they are doing and have had the front done properly. The other trip through the French, Swiss and Italian alps was also a great success. Our strategy of keeping to sensible touring speeds and distances, personally haven planned and driving each mile of the route enabled us to provide road books with every turn and junction listed and placing radios in every car meant we could keep in touch and ensure no one got lost. We had obviously got it right as those who came with us in 2011 are still friends and customers today."

 

 

"2012 was a year of ups and one down. My son, Marc had just bought himself a Nissan 370Z GT and we decided to go to Shakespeare County Raceway with both cars and have a bit of fun on the drag strip. What a great day it was, the sun was shining, lots of amazing cars running up the strip and the chance to chat with everyone in the paddock area. It’s a real shame the strip has gone and is now a housing estate. I guess that’s progress for you. We managed to get a few runs individually before facing off against each other."

 

 

"What was the final outcome? Take a look at our YouTube video shot from inside Marc’s car. We also managed to get back across to Le Mans, take a trip to Bayeux and explore the area around the D Day landing beeches and take part in the Kop Hill Hillclimb. The downside of all this was that the car had developed an annoying intermittent fault. The electronics would occasionally detect an error condition and shut down the engine if you tried to rev above 3000. Embarrassing when you are on the start line of the hill climb and as you drop the clutch and leave the line the fault occurs leaving you no option but to slowely complete the course keeping below 3000 revs. After consulting a few UK Corvette specialists and getting nowhere I decided the car needed to be looked at by someone who really understood the ZR1 and its engine management system. The decision was made, and the car was shipped off to Marc Haibeck a ZR1 specialist just outside of Chicago."

 

 

"2013 and the car was back, a connector pin on the engine ECU had been pushed back in the socket slightly causing the problem. Marc sorted that and at the same time I decided to get the plenum ported and a remapped chip to take the engine up to about 430 BHP. For some reason when the cars were built GM decided that the engine finish would not have any lacquer or whatever top coat should have been applied. Over time the silver finish fades and marks very easily. While it was at Marc’s shop, I had the plenum painted in Metallic black and the cam covers in metallic silver. The engine now ran and looked superb."

 

 

"We were back in action. This picture is from our first trip of the year to Honfleur as we head across the Pont de Normandie. One of our favourite places for a weekend break with its picturesque harbour, market and lots of great restaurants. Well worth the few hours’ drive from Calais."

 

 

"Next on the cards was a trip to Chantilly and then later in the year back through the swiss alps. This picture was taken on the Susten pass with the glacier in the background. Always a fantastic place to stop for a great photograph. This area has some superb driving roads, the Grimsel pass, the Furka pass and the Gothard pass make a magical day of driving. We always include these passes in our tour of the Northern Alps, the scenery is spectacular. Add in a visit that takes you inside the glacier and you have memories that will always stay with you."

 

 

"2014 and time for a bit of TLC. Each year the car goes up on axle stands and off comes the exhaust. A surprisingly easy job that takes around 15 minutes to remove. The whole exhaust is cleaned rubbed down and a fresh coat of paint applied. Lots of guys with ZR1’s have replaced the system with an aftermarket one. In most cases they are louder but as my car does mostly long trips I have kept the standard system. Still has that lovely V8 growl but not as loud as some others prefer. Before refitting the exhaust, the whole underside is cleaned and liberally coated with WD 40, the aluminium suspension, prop shaft and drive shafts cleaned and polished and everything else underneath cleaned, checked, and made ready for the coming year."

 

 

"I do like this picture showing 3 generations of Corvette. My 4th generation on the right, to the left a lovely black 3rd generation then we have a silver 5th generation and far left one of the last versions of the 3rd generation. This was taken at an American diner on the A420 near Buckland in Oxfordshire. It has now been taken over and completely refurbished with motel rooms added and now goes under the name of Mollies Motel and Diner, great milkshakes and American breakfasts.

 

Look closely at my car and you will notice the front number plate is missing. In my view it looks much better without the plate, unfortunately the law says we have to have one. Not too sure exactly when that happened but if you look at some of the next pictures you will see I had a completely different style of front plate for a short while."

 

 

"Another little bonus this year was the chance to visit Grease Junkies in Bracknell with the Thames Valley Region of the Corvette Club. Meet Edd China and take a tour through the workshops where some of the original series of Wheeler Dealers were shot (remember those green doors?). What a great bloke, since meeting him I have seen him quite a few times at various car shows around the country and he has always taken the time to come and say hello. Last time I chatted to him he was busy building an electric ice cream van which seems to be the ideal commercial application for an electric vehicle."

 

 

"2015 and we had a bunch of Aston Martins with us on our European tour (oh and one Porsche as well). Time permitting, we always take a detour to stop at the old Grand Prix circuit just outside Reims. The circuit buildings are well looked after and the circuit itself still exists to a large part as public roads. We have always been able to line our cars up outside the old pits complex and get some great pictures and then take a drive around the track. The last Grand Prix was held in 1966, sports cars continued until 1969 and motorcycle races until 1972.

 

If you are ever near Reims on the A4 or A26 then take an hour or so out of your trip, get onto the N31 and head out to Thillois and take a look for yourself. More wonderful memories to bring back home with you as you sit and contemplate the greats that have raced here in the past, Mike Hawthorn, Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Jack Brabham and Jackie Stewart to name just a few."

 

 

"2016 and a picture taken in front of Chateau Tilques near St Omer. This is a regular trip for us as a start to our touring season. It’s the perfect way for new clients to get to know us and how we organise our tours without committing to the expense and time of one of our longer trips. We meet at the Eurotunnel terminal on Sunday morning, head across the channel. Have a drive along the coast and then inland to the chateau where we have a superb lunch before heading back to Calais for the return shuttle back to the UK. Plus you can clearly see the big, and in my view, hideous front number plate."

 

 

"Here we are In Germany touring the Alpine Road in Bavaria. I was fortunate enough to live in Munch for just over a year and spent a lot of weekends exploring the area and used the experience to put together our Alpine Road tour. The idea of the alpine road began back in the 1920’s and is really just a collection of roads strung together to take you from Lake Constance to Berchtesgaden. The roads are great to drive, taking you past castles and lakes. Berchtesgaden National Park is where Hitler had his “tearoom” the Eagles Nest. The view from the Eagles Nest is spectacular and a guided tour of the underground bunker and tunnel complex is fascinating."

 

 

"2017 and back at the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkstone handing out the roadbooks and radios for our trip. What Ann and I love about these tours is how quickly strangers become friends as the tour progresses. The radios are a great “ice breaker”. As we are driving Ann will be calling out directions as we come to each junction and very soon we start to get a little banter going between everyone in the group. So while the radios help us to keep everyone heading in the right direction they really do help to bring the whole group together and contribute to the fun element of the trip."

 

 

"Still in 2017 and our tour through the northern alps. This picture was taken on the Grimsel pass in Switzerland. This is a stunning part of the world with so many mountain passes to drive. We have driven through this area so many times and every time we are still amazed and in awe of the scenery. The light changes, the weather changes and makes every year and every day different. We have been to the top of the mountains in sunshine, and in mist. We have had coffee sitting by the roadside in shorts and t shirts and other days wrapped up with hat and scarf on. We have had mountain passes closed by snow and had to take the cars through the mountains on the train. The experiences and memories will be with us always."

 

 

"This time stopping for coffee and cake on the Fluela Pass. Only a day or so later than when we drove the Grimsel but lots of snow around, still warm enough to sit outside in a short sleeve shirt."

 

 

"Last picture from 2017. This was taken as we started to climb the Stelvio pass. Since being mentioned on Top Gear many years ago this is the one pass all our customers want to experience. It goes from Italy into Switzerland. My personal view is that driving it from Italy into Switzerland gives the best experience. The drive up to the top is a great road with a plateau like area part way up where the road opens out and has great visibility allowing you to enjoy your car.

 

There are a lot of tunnels to negotiate and some are only single width, so care must be taken at all times. Once at the top there is plenty of parking available and lots of choice for a drink and something to eat. Once parked up there is a small restaurant a little further up that you need to walk to. From there you can look down and get some superb shots as the road cuts its way back down the other side of the mountain and zig zags from hairpin bend to hairpin bend. Our Fantastic Roads YouTube channel has lots of videos of the passes we have driven."

 

 

"2018 and Classic Cars magazine are doing an article on cars with a sub 5 second 0-60 time. I was invited along to have the ZR1 included in the article. What a great day out with a diverse range of cars on test. A Renault 5 Turbo 2, TVR 420 SEAC, Aston Martin v8 Vantage Zagato Volante, Porsche 964 Turbo 3.6 and my ZR1. Lots of time getting the car photographed and pictures taken driving around the track. What an experience as the photographer sat in the passenger seat trying to hang as far out of the window as he could and getting me to drive within inches of the Porsche. More memories and not something I will forget easily!

 

During the day Phil Bell the editor took all the cars for a test drive and what was his verdict at the end of the test day? I quote “There is one car here which doesn’t just succeed but excels on every lesson – the ZR1. Perhaps if it wore a Lotus badge on its nose people would have paid it more attention outside of its homeland. But the raw facts remain – the cheapest car here is also the fastest, best-handling and most reliable. Added to that it is as impervious to the rigours of regular use as a Volvo estate, has motor sport pedigree as formidable as any Porsche, outlandish styling inside and out, and performance on par with a Ferrari 399 GTO. Go out and buy one before anyone else notices” Just what I have been saying for the past 20 years 😁"

 

 

"2019 and we are heading back into Germany. Not really sure why but I do like this picture. I guess one of the reasons is it shows some of the variety of cars we get on our tours. It also make me smile as one of the things always thrown at American cars is the amount of fuel they consume and yet most times we stop to fill up it costs me less than most of the others. Smiles per Mile is my measure and the ZR1 has certainly given Ann and I plenty of those."

 

 

"2020 and the year of Covid. No touring to speak of but we did manage to get out for a socially distanced meet at Mollies Diner again. Unfortunately, on the way there steam started coming out of the heater vents. Back home and a quick inspection revealed a very wet passenger footwell. The leak was coming from the heater core. Not a difficult job but a major undertaking as the dash and air bag had to be completely disassembled to get at the box containing the core. At times necessitating lying in the footwell with your head under the dash and your feet in the air! Three days of work to complete and total cost of a new core shipped from the US £70. Everyone enjoys their car for different reasons. There are those who will spend thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours restoring their car to better than new. Others enjoy polishing and taking their car to display at a show.

 

For Ann and I, this car is all about driving and the memories it has helped to create. Over the past 20 years It has been instrumental in starting a business, it has taken us on some fantastic road trips and more than anything else it has introduced us to like minded people who have now become friends. It has now more than 80,000 miles on the clock. Let’s hope 2021 is the year when we can all start getting out in our cars and enjoying them in whatever way brings us pleasure and we can get that mileage up towards 100,000 miles of memories.

 

If like Ann and I you enjoy your car and enjoy touring why not come along and join us on one of our organised trips. Take a look at our website: www.FantasticRoads.com. Follow us on Facebook and Instragram. Drop us an email or give us a call.

 

Thank you for taking the time to read through our story. Alan, Ann and the ZR1."

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