Sale of the Week

At $74,000, are C4 Corvettes ZR-1 finally breaking out?

by Andrew Newton
22 October 2021 3 min read
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As the market for just about every ’90s car with two seats and a stick shift trends upwards—and the Viper market goes absolutely bananas—1990-95 Corvette ZR-1 prices are curiously quiet. In fact, the median condition #2 (Excellent) value for a C4 ZR-1 in the Hagerty Price Guide is about where it was in 2009. Seems weird, doesn’t it? A car that went toe to toe with European exotics in its day and earned a nickname like “King of the Hill” certainly sounds like it should be a hot commodity.

We’ve explored why ’90s American cars are lagging a bit before, but given its significance to the Corvette story, its brilliant Lotus-designed four-cam LT5 engine and the growth for other ’90s sports cars in general, it seems like the ZR-1 is long overdue for a moment. That’s why we were watching this red-on-red one on Bring a Trailer this week. Not only is it a slightly more valuable first-year 1990 model, it also has just 25 miles on it. Not 25,000, not 2500, but 25. If any ZR-1 was going to be a breakout sale, this seemed like the one. But at $74,025, it didn’t topple any records.

1990 was the C4 ZR-1’s best-selling year with 3049 built, and there are plenty still out there with low miles and a clean history. This red example, however, is exactly the kind of “wrapper car” for which certain collectors will pay over-the-top money. In addition to the two digits on the odometer, there is still plastic on the wide carpeted sills, it rides (or, rather, sits) on its original Goodyear Eagle tires, and the glass removable roof panel still has the white protective film on it. All the paperwork from original window sticker to clean CARFAX is in order, and the engine has been started regularly to keep things moving. In other words, all boxes are ticked.

The $74,025 final price is impressive—nearly 50 percent above condition #1 (Concours) value in the Hagerty Price Guide. It is also one of the most expensive C4-generation Corvettes ever sold via auction. But in the context of the super-hot collector car market or even Corvettes, it's still awfully quiet. Some perspective: It wasn't even the priciest Vette sold on Bring a Trailer that day, and if an early Viper had sold for the same amount this week, we wouldn't have batted an eye. It's also worth noting that this car's original purchase price 21 years ago was $67,000 (the ZR-1 option alone accounted for about $27,000 of that figure). That comes out to nearly $143,000 in today's dollars.

The most expensive ZR-1 sold this year was a 400-mile 1990 model that sold in May for $76,650. We can credit that car's rarer and more desirable colors of Polo Green over Saddle leather for giving it a slight premium over this one's Baywatch-era Bright Red on red. But that green and this red car appear to be more outliers—credit the Bring a Trailer effect—than breakouts. Most of the cleanest ZR-1s this year have only sold in the $40,000 range, and few signs in the broader market point to that drastically changing any time soon. Growth in Hagerty's insurance data for C4s this year has been mild.

Meanwhile, as this $74,000 ZR-1 is destined for a life of sitting and will probably still have fewer than 30 ticks on the odometer even 10 years from now, those $40,000 ZR-1s are cars that you could take out, stomp on the go-pedal and enjoy to your heart's content both safely and guilt-free. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but this is rarely a rational hobby.

Whether the rising numbers for its peers will lift these underappreciated Corvettes remains to be seen, but for now, unless we're talking about delivery-mile unicorns, the C4 ZR-1 remains one of the very last real bargains in 1990s high-performance.

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Comments

  • Stephen Abbate says:

    I’m the original owner of a 160,000 mile plain vanilla white c4 coupe with auto trans that looks,goes, and handles better than most of the jellybeans on the road today.

  • Art Davis says:

    I own a 1992 White with Red Interior ‘Vette with 23,000 miles, Superb Condition, Carfax, Quick as Scat! Never been in Rain. Leather soft as a baby’s butt.

    • vtwin1450 says:

      Own a 91Z since 2014. Lots of garage hours later, she dyno’ed at 430 at the wheels. The car is an absolute thrill to drive. Yes they are underappreciated. But the best thing is..when late model mustangs, mopars, BMW’s think they will have an easy time with you..they just dont understand why they cant get in front. Lotus left alot of power on the table when they produced the LT5.

  • Bob Skala says:

    I own 91 corvette ZR1 with 46,000 miles. Bought it a year and half ago before the pandemic pricing hit and the car is pristine. I for the life of me don’t understand the reasonable prices on these cars in today’s market. This thing has 400hp handles like it’s on rails and isn’t bad on gas mileage even when you run it through the gears. To me the car is a steal. Granted these cars are not perfect but they sure are fun

  • Doug L says:

    The ZR1 at 375 hp was hot stuff in it’s day but the ability to make horsepower while still meeting emissions was increasing fast. By 1992 the standard Corvette was up to 300 hp, and by 2000 you could be over 400 hp. You can get a Corvette with more performance for less money than a ZR1. I suspect that is what keeps the price down.

    • John says:

      I have a 32k mile ZR-1, 91 model. Boring bright red, black interior, wish I had bought a later Torch Red car, would’ve matched my C5Z06 I never drive. That said, the C4 was a tech marvel in its day, and despite my Z06 pushing 500 whp, it still can’t reach 180 mph. I feel like the ZR1 will never be fully appreciated, other than by the few select people who drive them. The symphony at the 7k shift, the true cockpit feel, it is a truly visceral experience! And don’t mind if I do enjoy the low prices.

  • Th says:

    Have had a 91 Zr1 for 2 years. Fantastic drivers car! Fast, powerful and super reliable. Taken care of but never babied.Completely stock 52000 miles. These cars are an absolute bargain!

  • Harold Haines says:

    My rocket is a 1991. White with blue, 10,135 miles.

  • Chris Gersman says:

    I bought a ’91 last month in black with blue leather and love it. I’m very impressed with the performance and tech(for 1991). It’s always been a bucket list car and it seems prices are creeping up. Get one while they’re still reachable!

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