The fourth-generation Chevrolet Corvette – or simply C4 to fans – was in production from 1984 to 1996 model years. This video from Retro Cars Forever compares two of the more potent variants of this model: the ZR-1 and the ’96 example with the LT4 engine.
The ZR-1 – note there’s a dash in the name, unlike the modern iterations – was a high-tech machine for its era. General Motors controlled Lotus at the time and contracted the British team to create a V8 for this range-topping model. The result was a 5.7-liter V8 with dual camshafts for each bank of cylinders – a significant change from the pushrod-equipped, overhead-valve layout available from other ‘Vette engines.
The Lotus-tuned V8 made 375 horsepower at introduction and 405 hp after the 1993 model. Plus, the mill had a redline at 7,200 rpm. To put that spec into perspective, the 3.4-liter V8 in the Ferrari 348, available around the same as the ZR1, made 320 hp at 7,200 revs.
The road-going C4 always used a 5.7-liter V8, but Chevy improved it several times during the production run. The 1996 model was the finale for the fourth-gen ‘Vette, but the Bowtie decided to introduce the new LT4 engine as an option. It made 330 hp, according to the factory specs. In the video, host Brad Hansen notes this output is possibly lower than the actual figure, with dynos putting the number between 350 and 360 hp.
Retro Cars Forever does real-world 0-60-mph acceleration runs in both cars with two passengers inside. The LT4-equipped C4 tallies a best time of 6.78 seconds. The ZR-1’s top sprint takes 6.46 seconds.
The LT4 comes out on top as a car you would drive regularly. This engine is an evolution of the venerable Chevy small-black V8, making repairs easier than the ZR-1’s more exotic engine.
Plus, the ZR-1 features unique bodywork, like doors that flare outward to the wider fenders. In the event of damage, it will be more complicated to find replacement parts than for a C4, which has a more common exterior.
So, which one should you get? The video leaves that up to the individual. In their current condition, both of these Corvettes are worth around $25,000. However, the later, more powerful ZR-1s command more, and the LT4-equipped Grand Sport also goes for a premium. Meanwhile, folks with more modest budgets can check out the earlier, lower-output examples that are less expensive, judging by a report from Hagerty Insurance.