A Stolen Corvette: And the Bandit
There is an old story floating around the boating world that involves one of the most iconic cars that GM has ever produced, the original Corvette ZR-1. This Corvette, was partnered with a unique promotional boat, Baja’s popular 223 Bandit, powered by the incredible LT-5 engine found in the ZR-1. That engine, to this day, is probably one of the most unique engines GM has ever commissioned and was the reason why the ZR-1 was more than just a tuned Vette. What makes this story interesting is the forward thinking marketing concept, partnering with brands and showcasing new technology, the buzz it created, and how it ended.
Designed by Lotus Engineering, and built by MerCruiser, the LT-5 was an all aluminum 32 valve, dual overhead cam design that was a feat because back then a multi-valve, overhead cam design was kind of exotic for an american V8. The pushrod 5.7L was a staple in GM’s lineup in multiple configurations, so it took serious re-engineering to build it. GM actually owned Lotus Engineering at the time, after Lotus founder Colin Chapman died, the ownership became a mix of investors, with Toyota eventually and briefly holding most shares, then selling to GM around 1986. Lotus has perpetually been on the verge of bankruptcy from day one it seems. Despite that, Lotus is renowned for its race car chassis designs, and attached to some incredibly iconic cars from various companies; including Delorean, Toyota, and Aston Martin. Lotus was responsible for designing the first advanced monocoque chassis in Formula One, as well as many other engineering feats. An incredible design company for sure.
Mercruiser was selected to build the engine, which no doubt was a tip of the cap to Mercury’s production capabilities. The engine was produced to incredible quality standards and went on to win multiple awards in racing and setting a multitude of records. LT-5 engines are light, powerful and incredibly durable. Mercruiser initially produced the engine to produce 375 HP, but in the later ZR-1 models, it was tweaked to 405 HP. In this day and age that doesn’t sound earth shattering, but keep in mind, a V12 Ferrari Testarossa in 1988 made 380 HP, that’s pretty good company; good enough for Don Johnson, good enough for me.
Back to the boat. The 1991 223 Bandit is a shallow V, sleek boat from Baja. In the late 80s and 90s, Baja was pumping out boats and whatever anybody wants to say, the styling was bang on. The Bandit looks good, and with the right power was really fast, a lake boat, but fast nonetheless. With the LT-5, the Bandit did a reported 76 MPH. While the LT-5 was mostly stock, save for the headers and some tuning, it performed very well. The sleek Baja was an almost a perfect marriage with a Corvette, gold chains and fake Rolex optional. Once the boat was finished, it donned every boat magazine cover, was featured in car magazines, Popular Mechanics, and went on tour with the Corvette to all sorts of boat shows and events for a whole year. With the red Corvette ZR-1 towing the loud red and white “Wette Vette” Baja Bandit, it was the perfect photo opportunity. And just when everything was going great with the tour, it sank, figuratively.
Without getting the full police report, the story, from a few different sources is that the boat and car were in a small town in Ontario, Canada, and after an event, when the package was away from the limelight, somebody stole them. Literally got in and drove them away, just like that. I imagine the thief somehow got the keys, and opportunistically drove off, never to be caught. Two different endings have been reported, one being the Baja was found but not the Corvette; the other being neither were found and remain missing. Surely, they must be somewhere and somebody knows something, these vehicles are priceless in a way and obviously can not be hidden in plain site. Whatever happened remains a mystery. A true case of a Corvette, a Baja and a Bandit.
*Feature photo credit to Mercury Racing.