Back in the early 1990s more was always better. And if 10 cylinders was good enough for Dodge’s American supercar, then Chevy would have to up the ante a bit to really push back. The Corvette team built one-off design study called the ZR-12 to see what would happen if you put 10-liters of all-American goodness into a C4-generation ‘Vette. Obviously good things happened.
Ryan Falconer Industries was—and still is—in the business of building GM-based marine engines, including the famed Falconer V12 which is based on small block Chevy engine architecture. It’s basically an SBC and a half. Much like the Viper, Chevy had to stretch out the front of the car to get this many cylinders to fit, and the C4 chassis needed eight inches of extra length to get the V12 under its clamshell.
Chevy never built any of these 12-cylinder beasts for consumers, largely because it would have been hellaciously expensive. In 1990 money a Corvette would cost you about thirty-two grand, and the amazing DOHC MerCruiser-powered ZR-1 was almost sixty Gs. If the ZR-12 had been pushed into production, it would have cost at least an additional ten grand on top of that. Considering the Viper started at around $50,000 it wouldn’t have been much of a Viper fighter.
Since 1990, inflation has gone up almost 100 percent, meaning in today money this V12 ‘Vette would be about the equivalent of $138,000. Now that I think about it, a brand new NSX starts at $157,000, so maybe there’s room for a big displacement V12 Corvette in today’s lineup. Especially now that it’s mid-engine, a V12 would sure be welcome.
This car was initially trotted out for magazine tests back in the early 1990s, but the car overheated at the track and was more than a little unruly to drive. The weight balance wasn’t changed much as the aluminum V12 weighed about as much as an iron V8, but the stretched chassis was a little wonky. The car had Viper-aping side pipes at the time, which were later pushed inboard. It had, ahem, issues.
Since that test, the car was pretty much mothballed and was given over to the National Corvette Museum several years ago. Back in 2017 I visited the museum and got to see the car up close and personal. It hadn’t been on display in all those years and was just pushed into a back room on a rack. For a recent changing of displays, NCM got the Falconer V12 fired up and drove the car around a bit, both inside and outside the museum. Thankfully YouTuber DtRockstar1 was there to capture it on video. You just haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Corvette V12.
Man, that’s a truly delightful sound. I do wish they’d gotten the thing up to higher RPMs, but it sure had the right exhaust pulses even at quick parking lot speeds.