By Jake Drennon, Email:


I JUST DIDN’T GET IT! I admit it, I just didn’t get it.

When I learned late last year that ZR1 was the name chosen to represent Corvette’s new “Super Car”, my initial reaction was disappointment.

Based on my readings on the World Wide Web, I wasn’t the only one wondering what the concept behind the ZR1 name choice was. Long-time Corvette enthusiasts everywhere were just as confused with the ZR1 name choice as I was! You see, over the last year and a half, as the ZR1 was finally coming to fruition, I envisioned a truly unique Super Car, and I believe others had too… one that was going to be a totally different design, a real “Show Stopper” with a new way cool name; you know, the type of automobile that when you saw it across a parking lot you would scream, “That’s one!” and run over to check it out, not believing that you were actually in the presence of the greatest Corvette ever built!

CORVETTE ZR1  Photo by Steve Robertson

I have been around Corvettes since I was 14 years old when my mother begged the General Sales Manager of Tropical Chevrolet in Miami, Florida to please give this kid of hers a job around cars. As she often told others, I was driving her crazy talking about cars every minute of every day! Her persistence paid off, and in the summer of 1969 I was hired as a “lot boy”. My duties included washing new Chevrolets, as well as having the privilege of arranging the New Car lot, which included my share of driving high horsepower 427s and later, 454 Corvettes, Camaros and Chevelle SS around our lot… and I loved it! I assure you that I will never forget the feeling of firing up a big block vette with its high lobed cam and the unmistakable throaty rumble from the side pipes. I have it on good authority that these high performance vettes did not leave the lot with the same amount of rubber that their Red Striped nylon tires came off the transport with!

From that time on, Corvettes have been a major part of my life. Miami’s year-round perfect weather kept vette sales HOT, and this permitted Tropical Chevrolet to sell a large number of Corvettes, and they excelled in sales of hi-performance specialized models.

My ten years at the dealership allowed me to have some wonderful memories. I spent a great deal of time interacting with customers who purchased Corvettes and also learning from the technicians who had such high regard for the Corvettes they worked on. Needless to say, I’ve been an avid fan of the Corvette and have followed its evolution into the World Class Sports Car leader that it is today.
As I boarded the flight to Detroit to join 200+ Registry and NCM members to witness firsthand the unveiling of the 2009 Blue Devil, Bad Boy, Super Car Corvette, ZR1 at Cobo Hall on January 19, 2008, it seemed like I had already received and read every major automobile magazine, highlighting the ZR1 with their cover shots, all claiming to be bringing us the “FIRST LOOK” at the ZR1. Of course, they all had different subtitles to go along with their identical Jetstream Blue Metallic Tintcoat ZR1 cover shots…. Return of the King, Uncovering America’s New Super Car, Most Potent Corvette Ever and It’s the Devil’s Own Vette! But I was still excited about seeing and witnessing this Corvette history making event firsthand.

“Power Brokers” Jim Danahy, Tom Wallace, Harlan Charles, Kirk Bennion and Tom Peters (just off stage) are ALL on deck to enlighten us with their knowledge of the most powerful and fastest Corvette ever built!  Photo by Steve Robertson

This was my fourth trip to Detroit in January. I must say, for a Florida guy, it’s always freezing cold when I arrive there! I don’t believe there are any thermometers that work in this type of weather. It always seems that when I arrive in Detroit, the thermometers all say 7 DEGREES and they just never seem to move! I’m convinced that even mercury freezes in Detroit!
My hat’s off to our good friend Roc Linkov, Events Manager for the National Corvette Museum, who, along with Tom Wallace, Vehicle Line Executive and the Corvette Brand Team, put together this fantastic event for all of us Registry Members to enjoy! Roc is a master of organization and he had every detail checked and double checked for our early Saturday morning affair.

The busses left the Somerset Hotel right on time for our appointed rendezvous with our “ZR1 destiny” in downtown Detroit at Cobo Hall. When we arrived, we were greeted by GM’s Exhibit Manager, Scott Settlemire, who was doing his very best to keep us all under control, as the excitement grew, before the doors were opened. While we waited, everyone ventured a guess… would we be seeing the Jetstream Blue Metallic Tintcoat that was on the cover of every car magazine or the Cyber Gray Metallic color?

Drum roll please… the doors opened and we darted in! It was really cool to be the only ones walking through the numerous automobile displays in route to Chevrolet’s mega exhibit. Our excitement was building and our pace quickened; everyone wanted to be the first to see the ZR1 on display! Harlan Charles, Corvette Product Manager and Gary Claudio, Corvette’s Marketing Manager sure know how to keep everyone in suspense. When we anxiously arrived at the ZR1 display, it was completely covered up! Bummer!!!
The “Power Brokers” (as we refer to the ZR1 team) for this Super Car were all there: Tom Wallace, Vehicle Line Executive; Jim Danahy, C6 Vehicle Chief Engineer; Tom Peters, C6 Designer; Harlan Charles, Corvette Product Manager; Kirk Bennion, Exterior Design Manager and Art Spong, Corvette Brand Quality Performance. They were all there to enlighten us with their knowledge of the most powerful and fastest production Corvette ever produced… its unbridled performance enabled by the most powerful production engine GM has ever made!

Tom Wallace kicked off the event by choosing long-time Registry member and 2005 Le Mans traveler Gus Puryear [C5R# Z5243] of Sautee, Georgia to help unveil the ZR1 before our wildly cheering members. The cover came off and that BLUE ZR1 Emblem smacked you right in the face! After regaining control, Tom took it from there and invited each of the “Power Brokers” up on stage to regale us with their expertise regarding the 2009 ZR1 and their personal involvement with it. As the passion from each team member was conveyed, it was during these moments that I BEGAN TO GET IT.
You see, I had missed the whole idea. I had this preconceived dream that this new Super Car was going to be so revolutionary, so unique, so spectacular and so “out there” with a way cool new name, that everyone would wish they were rich enough to be able to afford a vehicle “built for a King”; easily recognized for its uniqueness and endowed with an unbelievable powerhouse at the same time! It wasn’t that Chevrolet didn’t have the same type of dream, but theirs was realistic. With today’s environment, you have to be smart about building unique vehicles, especially very low production ones. The limited production Super Car they had in mind was following the same engineering path they did in 1990, when they built what was referred to at that time as “King of the Hill.” It had a revolutionary Dual Over Head Cam motor configuration that was referred to in its day as an intoxicating breath of high-octane excitement.

Tom Wallace, Vehicle Line Executive and Roc Linkov, Event Manager for the NCM pose for photos after a job well done!  Photo by Steve Robertson

Corvette’s rich history shows that the ZR-1 moniker was first used during 1970 through 1972 as a Special Purpose Engine Package. The 1990 through 1995 ZR-1’s continued this advanced engine idea. Of course, as we all know, the 90-95 ZR-1’s raised the bar by having a unique widened rear body profile encasing the enhanced performance package within. The 2009 and future ZR1’s will certainly write new performance history as their 6.2 Liter LS9 Four-Lobed Supercharged engine breaks new ground. Corvette’s visionary designer Harley Earl stated in 1953 that the Corvette was designed to be “one that would rival those in Europe”. If he had known about the ZR1, I’m sure he would have changed his quote to say “one that would dominate those in Europe”!
Tadge Juechter, Chief Engineer of Future Product probably summed up the Corvette ZR1 position best in the December 24, 2007 AutoWeek article when he stated, “This is not ‘Z06-plus’; it’s a different kind of car. Z06 is kind of a lean track machine; this offers all the performance, but also everything else. It’s very sophisticated and not purely for track use. It will post faster times at any track than the Z06 will, but it’s also a lot more comfortable.
It’s for the guy who wants it all.”

Tadge, how right you are!

As the presentation concluded, my mind drifted back to my “lot boy” days and the memories of what I thought was the greatest era of hi-performance Corvettes. Will people talk about the introduction of the ZR1 with the same excitement that they felt during the heyday of the “big block” vettes?

C6 Vehicle Chief Engineer, Jim Danahy and his wife, Julie, are all smiles after a fantastic reception to the new ZR1!   Photo by Steve Robertson

I knew I had made the right decision to personally experience this momentous occasion of the unveiling of the ZR1. As I was standing there, I realized I was witnessing the beginning of a new Super Car performance engineering era! I found myself soaking up every word that the “Power Brokers” said, and suddenly it was clear… I FINALLY GOT IT! This ZR1 was never designed to be what I thought it should be, but rather to extend the heritage of those great big block Corvettes of the past, and to set a new standard for American performance.

GM’s Exhibit Manager, Scott Settlemire and Director Jake have a chance to catch up on all the future events planned for the ZR1 and the upcoming Camaro launch in February of 2009.
Photo by Steve Robertson

Indeed, the high bar which had been set by those previous classics had finally and irrevocably been raised! Fast and refined, state of the art technology, and yet all around every day drivability – what a great combination!
Tom Wallace said it best when asked, “Why do a ZR1?”
His response…


Editors Note: Please see our web site for a very detailed review of the 2009 ZR1. 


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