This story starts over thirty years ago when, at the age of around seven, my parents bought me an assortment of ‘Matchbox’ cars. In among the typical boxy British stalwarts such as Minis and Ford Escorts, was a shape unlike any car I had seen in my then short life.
It was smooth and curvy in appearance, with flared wheel arches and a sweeping back window. Painted in black and silver, it had a menacing – even threatening – animalistic appearance. It was simultaneously, the car from Hell and the car of my dreams.
The vehicle in question turned out to be the Mako Shark II, which was the show car used by General Motors to promote the release of the new third generation Corvette. Inspired by an actual shark caught by then head ‘vette designer Bill Mitchell, the car was a massive styling tour de force, though many features proved completely impractical.
The release of the C3 Corvette unhappily coincided with a time of trouble for car owners generally, but especially owners of high performance cars like the ‘vette. With the fictitious ‘gas crisis’ looming and increasing safety legislation, the engineers scrambled to keep pace with fuel efficiency and safety standards. This led to the ‘sharks’ being progressively detuned & increasingly heavy, both on the scales and in looks as a variety of ‘soft bumpers’ gorged the once clean lines.
In 1984 came a new animal. The C4 Corvette did away with all the legacy technology that had hampered the earlier generation, much of which was 30 years old by the time the design was finally retired. The new car was sleek, nimble and looked like a car of the future, while still retaining a supple lithe quality that said unmistakably ‘Corvette’. Though the cars had no better engines than the late ’70s/early 80s models, that was about to change.
First came the L-98 small block in ’85. This delivered an honest 230hp, an increase of of 25 and 330lbs of torque! Almost on a par with the good old days of the muscle car era.
In 1990, the world-wide motoring press exploded with the arrival of the new ZR-1 ‘option’. This gave the Corvette an all-aluminum, quad overhead cam engine delivering 375bhp and 370lbs of torque. The biggest power increase since the introduction of the big block engine in 1965.
Not only that but with a new gearbox and newly refined handling, the new ‘King of the Hill’ could take on, and beat, some of the best and most exotic of its European rivals that cost three or four times as much. A true world-class supercar at a bargain price.
I was hooked.