This 1990 Corvette ZR-1 Active Handling tester is a rare find. The experiment, which also included hydraulic-controlled dampers and a sophisticated-for-its-time Variable frequency drives computer system to firm up the suspension in corners using lateral g-meters to prevent body roll, was built with yet additional help from the Lotus engineering business. At the same time, it could respond very instantly to road bumps, smoothing down the C4’s notoriously brittle ride quality.
The technology caused a few issues, one of which was excessive heat. To address the problem, the car received cooling vents throughout the front end, as well as a specialized cooler for the hydraulic fluid. Durability was also a worry, due to the 3,000 pounds per square inch of pressure needed by the fluid – this was more difficult to resolve. Furthermore, the dynamic sensors were so sensitive that they detected electrical interference.
General Motors allegedly spent $27 million on the Active Suspension program before discontinuing it for a variety of reasons. For one thing, technology hadn’t quite caught up to theory, because the on-wheel accelerometers interfered with the incredibly sensitive suspension actuators – insulating transducers, which may have remedied that problem, wouldn’t be available for another decade. And the Active Suspension would have cost a significant amount of money to the ZR-1 – somewhere between $35,000 and $100,000 each car — a significant sum gave the standard Corvette costs less than $32,000 and the ZR-1 costs around $60,000.
A decade later, the Corvette C5 would be offered Magnetic Ride Control (the forerunner to today’s system), which alleviated some of the Active Suspension issues without adding nearly as much money. As the name implies, magnetorheological particles in the dampers firm or soften in response to magnetic force, making the Corvette more comfortable over rough terrain while maintaining calm on a curving route. But, rather than Lotus, Delphi designed MRC, making the system less unusual than the one found on the C4 ZR-1 — who wants a “Handling by Delphi” sticker on their car?
Fortunately, Chevrolet manufactured 25 prototypes using the kit in 1990, four of which are still in existence. One of the four was discovered on Hemmings in Miami, Florida, for $89,000 with 12,381 miles on the clock. The initial price premium extends through to the twenty-first century, with standard C4 ZR-1s selling for around $50,000 in exceptional condition, but the scarcity of any immaculate, low-mileage 1990 Corvette should make the experimental suspension all the more enticing to collectors. The advertisement even claims that the car operates and drives normally, however, future maintenance may be a ruse.
Still, if you want to enjoy the very greatest performance that 1990s GM has to offer, take out your wallet and book a ticket to Florida.