In 1989, Chevrolet was busy readying its all-new Corvette ZR-1. With help from then-GM subsidiary Lotus, the C4 ‘Vette was about to be turned into a car to take on the supercar elite, making up for some of the generation’s more underpowered efforts.
Chevy had a problem, however – at the 1989 Detroit Auto Show, Dodge revealed its concept version of the Viper. Packing a monstrous 8.0-litre V10, it threatened to urinate all over the ZR1’s bonfire with a production version offering serious firepower at a still very attainable price. Something had to be done.
In response, Chevrolet’s engineers decided to go one better. Well, two, technically – the idea was to offer a pair of additional cylinders relative to the Viper. The Corvette ‘ZR12’ – detailed above in a new video from YouTube channel ‘DtRockstar1’ – was lengthened by around 200mm, making room for a whopping 9.8-litre (600 cubic inches) V12 from Falconer Racing Engines.
Intended primarily for aviation and marine use, this Goliath-spec engine is – according to Falconer’s website – still available today. Its capability is still impressive in 2020 too, with the version fitted to the ZR12 good for 686bhp and 680lb ft of torque.
The prototype ZR12 was tested by Ryan Falconer himself. Thanks to the engine’s aluminium block (the V8 normally found in its place had an iron block) it wasn’t even that heavy, tipping the scales under 1600kg – about the weight of a BMW M2 Competition. ‘Conan the Corvette’ – as it was nicknamed – was lent out to various car publications, where it made a mark. Motor Trend referred to the note of its original side-mounted exhaust pipes “Satan’s own serenade”.
When the Dodge V-10 powered Viper along and challenged Corvette’s status of being America’s only sports car, Corvette engineering teamed up with Ryan Falconer to create the ZR-12 “chassis study” car that would become known as Conan the Corvette. For this week's episode of Fully Vetted, join Museum Curator Derek Moore for a look back on a time when more was more (cylinders that is).
A production car would have been incredible, but there were issues with keeping the prototype cool. We should imagine a lengthened C4 Corvette with nearly 700bhp was more than a little wild to drive too, but there was a more fundamental stumbling block – to be financially viable, the price tag would have been huge. The whole point of the Corvette was affordable performance, and the ZR12 didn’t fit with that. As awesome as the idea was, asking people to part with supercar cash for a C4 was a tall order.
And so, the prototype spent years sat around not doing a whole lot. However, the Corvette curio – now in possession of the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky – was brought up to running condition a few years ago, meaning “Satan’s own serenade” can be heard once more.
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