The development of the ZR1 started when General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner looked at the $60,000 Corvette Z06 and wondered what the Corvette team could develop if it was shooting for a $100,000 'Vette. The result was a secret GM project labeled "Blue Devil" (after Wagoner's college mascot at Duke University) that took four years to become the most expensive Chevrolet ever built.
Along the way, the development team tested the bounds of automotive technology. An experiment with a turbocharged engine showed promise -- until the test car burned to the ground at GM's test track. Still, the team pushed on and created a car that is expected to appeal to the kind of buyers who normally shop at high-end Italian car dealerships. Corvette Vehicle Line Executive Tom Wallace got more specific, telling Motor Trend magazine that he expected the ZR1 to compete with the Ferrari 599, Lamborghini Murciélago and "any Porsche" [source: Motor Trend]. Keep reading to learn what the ZR1 has that allows it to compete with the best cars in the world.
What puts the ZR1 on the same playing field as other supercars is the engine's power. When the turbocharging experiments failed, the Corvette team turned to supercharging. A supercharger, also called a blower, is a device that shoots compressed air into an engine by forcing it through rotating chambers. The more air an engine has, the more power it creates. A belt on the engine turns the supercharger, allowing it to suck outside air into the engine. The ZR1 uses a Roots-type supercharger, which has four lobes that lock together like gears. Most superchargers have only three lobes. The lobes on the ZR1's supercharger also rotate 160 degrees -- lobes in most superchargers rotate only 60 degrees. The four-lobe design and extra rotation increases thermal efficiency and has nearly the same power efficiency as a turbocharger. With every rotation, the ZR1's blower forces 2.3 liters of pressurized air into the engine. To avoid the massive bulge on the hood that's usually associated with superchargers, the ZR1's blower is mounted low in the V of the V8 engine and uses side-mounted intercoolers and heat exchangers.