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Chevy’s $100,000 Corvette

When General Motors senior executives were reviewing plans for the C6 Corvette in 2001, GM Chairman Rick Wagoner tossed out a question: What would a $100,000 Corvette look like?

When General Motors senior executives were reviewing plans for the C6 Corvette in 2001, GM Chairman Rick Wagoner tossed out a question: What would a $100,000 Corvette look like? The team pondered the question and went back to the drawing board to see what Wagoner’s puzzle would produce. Their diligence in attempting to find an answer resulted in the 2009 Corvette ZR1, which goes on sale this summer. “This $100,000 Corvette,” says GM product guru Bob Lutz “is basically equal to any ultra-high performance European car, but at least two or three times less expensive.”

The ZR1’s heart is a 6.2-liter super-charged V8 producing more than 600 horsepower. Utilizing sixth-generation Eaton supercharging technology, complete with four-lobe rotors and high-flow inlet and outlet ports, the supercharger provides improved thermodynamic efficiency over the fifth-generation unit while sapping less power from the accessory drive. (GM estimates that at peak power the sixth-generation unit draws about 80 hp, while the previous generation drew 120 hp.)

Since the revised engine and supercharger increased the overall weight of the powertrain, engineers were forced to get creative when it came to taking the additional weight out of other areas of the vehicle. They started by making the entire front clip, including the fenders, out of carbon fiber. Unable to stop there, the engineers also included the ZR1’s rocker panel extensions and roof panel. The team also decided they wanted a clearcoat finish on the roof and panel extensions to show off their carbon fiber handiwork, but quickly discovered that a conventional coating wouldn’t meet GM’s appearance performance criteria because it would degrade and yellow over time. That didn’t stop them. With the help of BASF (www.basf.com), the engineers discovered that mixing a chemical additive used to protect circuit boards from the elements into the clearcoat would give the durability they were seeking. However, it didn’t come cheap. Though GM is mum on the additive used, it says it costs $60,000 per gallon in pure form or $2,000 per gallon when added to the ZR1’s clearcoat. It’s a good thing Wagoner tossed out that $100,000 marker.—KMK