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As gorgeous as the 2009 Corvette ZR1 may be on the outside, it's what is under the skin that gets our blood pumping. Fortunately, GM stripped down its new supercar to the bare essentials and put it on display here at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show.

You can access our gallery of ZR1 chassis photos by clicking on the photo above. We've also got commentary on what you're looking at after the jump.

The Corvette is rather unique among volume production cars by virtue of its space-frame layout, which uses a self-supporting structure as shown above. Contrast this to the typical modern car, which largely relies on welded and bonded sheetmetal to bear the forces imparted by the suspension, passengers, cargo, powertrain, and other required components.

At the front of the car, tall tubular members help tie the suspension system into the firewall, much like the geometry that would be found at the front of a tube-frame race car chassis (although constructed rather differently).

At the very top of the picture is the large bumper beam that forms a significant part of the crash safety system.

Underneath the front end, a magnesium engine cradle (23) supports not only the powerplant, but also the aluminum lower control arms (22). The radiator is located in front of this; it looks small in this picture because of the angle. The black band running above the "22" and "23" tags is the transverse composite leaf spring, which saves weight and packaging space compared to traditional coil springs.

Just before the exhaust disappears into the frame, you can also see the close-coupled catalytic converters.

This shot clearly shows the front-engine/rear-transmission layout of the Corvette, but the exhaust system hides the large "torque tube" that ties together the two components.

A large plate normally covers the open bottom of the tunnel, which greatly improves the structural rigidity of the chassis.

Another magnesium subframe appears at the rear of the car. While its job of resisting the torque reaction from the driveshaft and differential is made somewhat easier by the aforementioned torque tube, it's still a difficult task to keep the control arms, differential and chassis in alignment when all 595 lb-ft of engine torque are multiplied by the transmission and axle gearing. When the inertia of the rotating mass is considered, the instantaneous torque transmitted to the rear tires is immense - perhaps on the order of 8,000 lb-ft or more, depending on the tires, road surface, and mood of the driver.

Although not obvious here, GM uses unequal-diameter half-shafts in the rear - 40mm on the left, and only 33mm on the right. Although the manufacturer has not explicitly stated why it does this, it's very likely that the left shaft experiences larger torque loads during hard acceleration. Making both shafts the same diameter would result in increased weight, and the Corvette team fights for every pound.

The titanium mufflers of the previous Z06 are gone, but in their place are these stainless-steel pieces with bypass valves (manufactured by Pierberg). Those who get a look at the ZR1's tail - that'd be most cars on the road - at least are treated to the sight of polished 4" tips.

The construction of the Corvette presents an interesting problem - where to store the fuel? The solution is to place twin tanks (15) ahead of the rear axle centerline, with a transfer system linking the two that allows the use of one filler neck.

The transmission (18) and rear diff (20) share a cooling system, which is a rather significant issue to address when one considers that the majority of powertrain losses - on the order of 10-15% - are dissipated in these two assemblies. For a 620-hp engine, that's up to 50 kW of power - enough to run several clothes dryers or electric ovens.

Magnesium is used once again for the roof structure. It's a material that's well-suited to this type of structural task - the strength-to-weight ratio is quite good, and better yet, modern processing technologies allow the metal to be injection-molded in its thixotropic (semi-solid) state - much like the way that plastic is processed. This results in a part with accurate details (like the honeycomb ribbing of the above part), which further improves the part's strength and stiffness.

Despite all the fancy materials used elsewhere, a balsa-wood composite is still used for the Corvette's floor. Don't be too critical, though - the material simply needs to act as a spacer between the two "skins", and balsa's mechanical characteristics and light weight make it perfect for this task.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      To all you guys whom think that the leaf spring construction is something that should go onto an old car or pickup truck, just remember that Ferrari is now also beginning to implement the leaf spring suspension on some of their models. In fact Delphi (owned by GM) supplies that suspension to Ferrari. This just proves that GM is using excellent quality and technology.

      By the way the ZR1 also uses an active suspension system, which adjusts according to the style of driving. When cruising the suspension provides a soft ride. As soon as the driver picks up speed the suspension will stiffen up accordingly.

      And for those of you whom think that an American muscle car can't corner, just remember that the ZR1 can pull about 1G around a corner.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Suprisingly balsa wood is usually the standard to beat in terms of sandwich core materials. It offers much better strength characteristics than most polyurethane foams or skinned polypropylene honeycombs, and you dont run into the low sheer strength problems usually associated with a non-skinned aluminum honeycomb. Costs less too.
      • 7 Years Ago
      the technology in this thing is crazy. it looks like a surgical instrument. btw, i can't think of a better material than balsa wood for the floor panels; can you?
        • 7 Years Ago
        bruce mclaren sure couldnt find a better material for his sandwich construction

        so he used it in his F1 cars until carbon fiber and kevlar came along
      • 7 Years Ago
      Kinda reminds me of how I felt when I went to the bodies exhibit. Very cool demo by GM makes me wonder what place in the world this going to sit maybe not a veyron but top 5 I think. Seriously and the power to weight ratio is kind of damning to any arguements.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Even the skeleton is beautiful!
        • 7 Years Ago
        work on, what is there to work on

        i cant think of a single thing any amount of time and or money could improve

        from the sandwich construction floor to the honeycomb magnesium roof, i dont see a single part that is anything but the best that can possibly be done

        that only way to improve this car would be to go to a full carbon fiber monocoque pushing the price above 300k.

        no wonder they are making the next gen corvette a mid engine, there is no other way to make it better.
      • 7 Years Ago
      It was stated before that the unequal half shafts are to reduce wheel hope by having different harmonic frequencies due to the different diameters
        • 7 Years Ago
        Ah, that makes sense!
      • 7 Years Ago
      Truth be told, Godzilla, Edmunds Inside Line tested the new GT-R and claimed it to be quicker than the Z06. The problem is at the end of the quarter mile the advantage is completely gone and from 0-150 mph the Z06 will be significantly faster. The ZR1 will be faster still.

      With a 10% power-to-weight advantage, the new ZR1 will absolutely KILL the GT-R.
        • 7 Years Ago
        in all fairness to the gtr fanboys

        lets assume that the engine is producing 500 hp and that the gtr weighs 3800 lbs = 7.6 lbs per hp

        at 650 hp and 3400 lbs the vette is 5.2

        32% less for the gtr fudging the numbers in their favor

        the gtr doesnt stand a chance against the zo6 let alone the zr1, it might be faster than a z51 (436 hp and 3200 lbs =7.34 lbs/hp) but i doubt it because it has a higher CoG, higher polar moment of inertia and more aero drag.

        i cant wait until someone tests these cars on the same day at the same track with the same driver. my money is on the z51.

        and why do gtr guys always like to talk about the corvette?
        • 7 Years Ago
        Yeah, in the straight line, but you know.. anybody can drive a car striaght... But when you come to a corner that means close to nothing. I am stunned in how Corvette can pull this off, on friggin leaf-springs and still quite quick... Well we will find out in review about how it behaves...
      • 7 Years Ago
      Where do I sign?? I want it yesterday!! Who do I endorse
      the check to?? The US allows a carmaker to build this, and
      then post a 55-65 MPH on its highways?? Oh BTW, I want
      it sent to Germany were I live so that it can be set FREE!!
      • 7 Years Ago
      If you cannot afford it you shouldn't make derogatory comments about it.
      Scott VanPala
      • 7 Years Ago
      Maverick needs to stop doing his research from brochures. The ZR1 has adjustable damps (like lots of cars-porsche,ferrari,bmw), which adjusts, obviously, the dampening, which has nothing to do with the leaf spring setup that only the Corvette has.
      BTW, the Corvette pulled 1g 20 years ago, its not a big deal, has little to do with track times, virtually nothing to do with handling, and has mostly to do with the tires and weight.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I think he meant the Coupe, Convertible, Z06 Coupe, Z06 Convertible, ZR1, and XLR.
      • 7 Years Ago
      What are the rods which look like narrow halfshafts in this pic?


      They are obviously NOT halfshafts, since they are too narrow, don't attach to the differential or the center of the wheel hubs, and the actual halfshafts are just visibly peeking out ahead of the leaf spring. The antiroll bar and rear brake lines are visible elsewhere, so it's neither of those. The Vette uses double wishbone all around, so all 8 chassis mounts are accounted for on the rear suspension.

      Still, all I can think of is this is some kind of toe control linkage. It has CV boots on the end though, which almost seems like it should be able to rotate--but maybe that's just for articulation since it terminates into the frame.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Yeah, I'd agree; it's probably the toe control.

        I think it has the CV joint looking dust boot because there's a bearing in there so it can move up and down with the suspension.
        • 7 Years Ago
        The lower is for the toe, the upper is for the camber!!
        Fantastic design to custom tailor for driving use!! That is
        if you don't mind buying tires every 4000Kms lol!! But if
        handling is what you want, and you have the cash, then
        take it off specs, and set it up to turn!! Gotta love it!!
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