"Hey, Dad, is that a Corvette with a roof?" asked a 10-year-old Ray Craig Jr. during a father-son drive that took place long ago. "It sure is, Son," answered Ray Craig Sr., spotting the hardtop in question, "but there's nothing better than a convertible Corvette like the '64 you're riding in now."
Ray Sr. still has that '64 convertible, and as it nears its 46th year with its original owner, one has to wonder if it (and the '60 'vert he purchased as his second collectible Vette) didn't make an indelible impression on his son.
"Growing up in Oklahoma, Dad always had convertible Corvettes, so whether I was born into a love of sports cars or simply picked up his weakness for them is a point of debate," says Craig the younger. "As my computer business grew, and Dad retired from being a school superintendent, he joined me in the business and our mutual Vette hobby grew."
Father and son purchased '99 and '01 convertibles and soon started modifying them for more power. While Ray Jr.'s car received a built, LS1-based 383 that put out 570 hp, Dad waited a bit longer and stabbed a 608hp variant into his drop-top. The year 2006 proved to be a pivotal one for the two, as they traveled to the Eureka Springs Corvette Weekend in their C5s and got a first glimpse of the new Z06. After spending most of the day looking over the Z, Ray Jr. turned to his father and said, "I sure would like to have one of those, but there's a problem: They aren't offered as convertibles."
Ray Craig Jr.’s Black convertible...
Ray Craig Jr.’s Black convertible got a color change to Deep Water Ocean Blue Pearl, while his father’s car went from Machine Silver Metallic to a Silver Birch Metallic. “Rather than looking completely custom, the deviations are what we envisioned Chevrolet would have done had it commissioned ZR1 convertibles for an auto-show debut,” says paint man Mike Parham.
And so, after a short time pondering the possibilities, the pair decided to build their own. Not only did they pull off that incredible feat, but when the ZR1 was released in the summer of 2008, they set out to create the ultimate Corvette head turners: convertible ZR1s.
According to Ray Sr., the first question most people ask about the cars is whether they started out as fixed-roof Vettes or convertibles. "When we first started looking into how to create a [Z06] convertible, I spoke with a chassis engineer at GM, who gave me two key pointers: Don't cut the top on a fixed-roof design such as the Z06, as the strength and chassis rigidity are in the top. Instead, integrate the unique components, such as the wider rear quarters and carbon-fiber body panels, onto a base convertible."
Working in conjunction with Parham's Body Shop in Chickasha, Oklahoma, the pair undertook a process of grafting together Z06 lower and convertible-specific upper rear quarter-panels. Incredibly, the cars retain not only the full function of the power top, but also their original fuel-filler doors.
What looks like a stock ZR1...
What looks like a stock ZR1 engine compartment hides the madness that bumps the stock LS9 from 638 to 770 horses. In addition to a 21st Century custom camshaft, an LPE 2.60-inch blower pulley, underdrive balancer, and ported blower snout raise boost to 14 pounds.
To begin the ZR1 builds, both Craigs ordered convertibles in 3LT configurations. In addition to the base LS3 engine and six-speed transmissions, they wanted to selectively equip the cars to ensure that they were as close as possible to a factory-ordered ZR1. Grady White of Knippelmier Chevrolet in Blanchard, Oklahoma, helped them navigate through the options to select the all-important Magnetic Selective Ride Control and AM/FM seven-speaker Bose sound system.
Ray Jr. chose a Black exterior (code 41U), while Ray Sr. selected Machine Silver Metallic (code 67U). Both cars were ordered with Titanium interiors and Ebony convertible tops. Ray Jr.'s car arrived first as a late-'07 model, and Ray Sr.'s car arrived shortly thereafter as one of the first delivered '08 convertibles.
Next, the Craigs focused on the daunting task of acquiring all of the ZR1-specific body panels, along with the LS9 engines and related hardware. Don Kauffman of Knippelmier Chevrolet was instrumental in tracking down the body parts, while the conversion from LS3 to LS9 was expertly handled by 21st Century Muscle Cars in Addison, Texas, with assistance from Lingenfelter Performance Engineering (LPE).