Chevrolet’s Corvette has filled a lot of roles in its eight generations. GM first pitched it as a homegrown competitor for British sports cars like MG and Triumph. It became more of a boulevard cruiser in the “malaise” era of the '70s, and with the mid-engine C8 is poised to take on the world’s best supercars.
Along the way, Chevrolet has come up with a number of different “special” editions to keep buyers interested in its plastic-fantastic sports car between model cycles. Some were more special than others, but all added something to an American original.
10 1982 Collectors Edition
This was the last gasp for the venerable C3 ‘Vette that first went on sale in 1968. Every Collectors Edition model went out the door with unique alloy wheels, a very '80s champagne silver and bronze paint scheme and leather interior, and the new-for-’82 “CrossFire Injection” 5.7L V8 mated to a four-speed automatic.
Were they fast? No. Testers at the time clocked it through the quarter-mile in 16 seconds, which today would be beaten by (checks numbers) a Nissan Leaf. But like all Corvettes, they were handsome as heck, as long as you ignore the (likely) smell of Hai Karate around the owner.
9 2008-09 ZHZ
Few people would ever use the word “fun” to describe a rental-car experience, but executives at Hertz decided about a decade ago that they wanted to change that. So for two years, they commissioned a special edition of the C6 ‘Vette for its “Fun Collection” of sporty and exotic cars.
Every Corvette ZHZ was yellow with a black racing stripe (matching the longtime Hertz color scheme) and featured the standard 6.2L V8 with a minor exhaust tweak and specific seven-spoke chrome wheels. Only 500 coupes and convertibles were built... and based on a quick Internet image search, a lot of them wound up wrecked by overzealous renters.
8 1996 Grand Sport
After its star-crossed debut in 1984, Chevrolet managed to turn the Corvette C4 into a decent sports car by the mid-90s. With the all-new C5 on deck, Chevy delivered an homage to the race-built Grand Sport of the early-‘60s.
Its exclusive Admiral Blue paint set off with white center stripe and dual red “hash marks” on the fender made for a striking appearance, and Chevy even found 30 more horsepower for the 5.7L V8. Offered as a coupe and convertible, the Grand Sport was a strong sendoff for the platform.
7 1978 Silver Anniversary
Chevy refreshed the C3 in ’78 with a new fastback glass backlight that helped open up the interior (sadly, no hatchback yet). It also marked the 25th anniversary of the Corvette’s debut with an available (and handsome) silver-over-gray paint scheme and a leather interior available in “oyster.”
Equipped with the higher-output L82 5.7L V8 and a manual transmission, the ‘Vette could still lay down some decent performance numbers. Chevy would make a lot more “anniversary” edition Corvettes to mark milestone years, but this was the first one ... and possibly the best-looking.
6 2001 Z06
Early in the C5’s run, Chevy introduced a “basic” Corvette hardtop with no rear hatch and no lift-off roof panel. It was originally imagined as a “value leader,” but Team Vette took advantage of the hardtop’s lower weight and greater chassis rigidity to create the ultimate performance Corvette.
What resulted was the Z06, with a 385-hp V8, stiffer suspension, signature brake ducts in the rear fenders, and front fender call-outs, all for almost the same price as the convertible. The success of the Z06 helped inspired the legion of “special” editions in the ‘Vette’s “modern” era.
5 2017 Grand Sport
At times, Chevrolet’s penchant for mixing and matching Corvette features over different model years makes it feel like the automotive equivalent of Taco Bell, endlessly remixing the same six basic ingredients into new dishes.
But this C7 was especially tasty, offering up much of the componentry of the Z06 with the signature visual flair of past Grand Sports. Stealthy drivers could also order their Grand Sports without the fender hashmarks now seen copied on every third car in the parking lot at Pep Boys.
4 1978 Indy Pace Car
The first-ever Corvette to pace the Indianapolis 500 was a controversy even before it was introduced. Chevrolet’s initial plan to produce only a limited number of replicas brought howling from dealers. GM eventually built enough so that each of the more than 6,000 dealers in the U.S. could have one.
The distinctive black-over-silver sports coupes — with or without Pace Car graphics — quickly became hot collector’s items. Even now, Pace Car edition C3s with delivery miles sell at collector auctions for upwards of $30,000.
3 1990 ZR1
The “King Of The Hill” Corvette (as it was nicknamed at the time) was a partnership between GM, its then-corporate sibling Lotus, and Mercury Marine. At a time when a base C4’s V8 put out 245 horsepower, the ZR1’s Lotus-designed, Mercury-built double-overhead-cam 5.7L V8 pumped out 385 horses. It was considered so powerful that each ZR1 was shipped with a second key, to allow the owner to de-power the car for use by valet attendants and teenagers.
As the standard-issue ‘Vettes got faster, the ZR1 followed suit. To this day, the ZR1 designation is reserved for the top-performing Corvette.
2 1969 ZL1
The sleek C3 was barely a year old when Chevrolet announced what would become its most rare option: an all-aluminum replacement for the L88 big-block V8. GM officially rated the 7.0L engine at 430 horsepower, but tests suggest it actually put out more than 560 hp.
Originally designed for racing, only a few dozen engines were built for installation in Corvettes, and GM documentation suggests just two Corvette ZL1s were ever sold in its only year of availability. That may be because the package nearly doubled the price of a ‘Vette. Whatever the reason, it’s practically a unicorn among collectible Corvettes.
1 1963 Z06
This is the granddad of all special-edition Corvettes, and was the closest thing at the time to a showroom-ready race car. Checking the box for the “Special Equipment Package” bought the buyer the all-new C2 ‘Vette with its striking “split-window” design, the best available engine (a fuel-injected 5.4L V8), upgraded suspension, special oversized brakes and (at first) a 36.5-gallon fuel tank.
Chevrolet produced fewer than 200 Z06-equipped Corvettes in its first and only year of production, but GM’s engineers used it as inspiration for the Z06-package ‘Vettes that returned in 2001. And collectors today place high value on the OG Z06s.