L.A. Auto Show 2017: Corvette takes the top down on ZR1

L.A. Auto Show 2017: Corvette takes the top down on ZR1
Chevrolet will offer a convertible version of its flagship ZR1 sports car for the 2019 model year, the first time the company has made a drop top ZR1 since 1970. (Chevrolet)

For the first time in 47 years, Chevrolet’s Corvette brand will offer its flagship ZR1 sports car in a convertible format. The classic modern American roadster will be a drop top for 2019, with models available starting in spring 2018.

What is it?

The storied Corvette is Chevrolet’s answer to Mustang, Porsche, Ferrari and all other sports car contenders. Since the first one rolled off assembly lines in 1953, the Vette has been the muscle car of choice for a certain kind of American guy or gal. But the company offered a convertible version of its top-of-the-line ZR1 model only in the 1970 debut lineup. Back after 47 years, the ZR1 rag top could be a serious car-of-the-year contender.

Why it matters

Car companies are constantly reaching for the car that can do everything. Automakers from Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and America are increasingly able to offer vehicles that can function as mild-mannered daily drivers while also having the horsepower and handling to take laps at the track and enough space and comfort to do some light touring. Chevy’s Corvette line can do many of those things, but until now fans of the souped-up ZR1 haven’t been able to drive to the beach with the wind in their hair.

What's new?

Chevy has taken the top down on the ZR1, but has left all of the Corvette intact. Corvette Executive Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter said in announcing the car that while the drop top gains 60 pounds on the hard top (mostly in the hardware for the top and the motors to raise and lower it), the ZR1 convertible has all of the performance attributes of its hard-headed brother. The car also gets a new paddle-shift eight-speed manual transmission, along with the standard seven-speed manual gearbox. Zero to 60 with the automatic should be 3 seconds or better.

“The ZR1 convertible is a no-compromise super-car,” Juechter said.

The competition

The new Corvette convertible doesn’t have a vast number of competitors, as the number of drop-top offerings has slipped steadily since the 1950s and 1960s heyday. But Chevy will have to woo buyers who might have their heads turned by convertible models built by Audi, Jaguar, Porsche, Mercedes, McLaren, Ferrari, Maserati, Aston Martin and others. There are also the traditional rivals, Mustang, Charger and Challenger. But none of those nameplates offer convertibles in their high-performance models. So Chevy may have the made-in-America convertible super-car segment to itself.

The details

Under the hood is Chevy’s growling LT5 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 engine, which beneath a hard top of soft will make a gurgling 766 horsepower and 715 pound-feet of torque. The 2019 models will have a top speed of “over 200 miles per hour,” Chevy said, if not the same 212 mph the coupe version can do. The car will also have a new exhaust note and four driving modes and “sound levels.” In stealth mode, Chevy said, the ZR1 is quieter than other Corvettes, while in track mode “it is significantly louder.”

It’s also a little more expensive. The 2019 coupe will go out at $119,995. The convertible will cost $123,995.

Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer applauded the arrival of the hot new car, and the return of convertibles to the L.A. Auto Show, but wondered how much longer cars like this can even exist.

“The ZR1 is pure old-school performance philosophy, with a powerful V-8 and crazy acceleration numbers,” he said. “It’s a highly advanced performance car, and it certainly leverages technology to deliver the goods, but I wonder how much longer we’ll see big displacement V-8s in new cars, even in cars like the Corvette.”

The L.A. Auto Show runs Dec. 1-10 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Times coverage begins Nov. 25 at