Friday 1st May 1953
Ed Cole hired Zora Arkus-Duntov as the Corvette’s first chief engineer. Shortly after going to work for Chevrolet, Zora set the tone for what he was about to accomplish in a memo to his bosses. The document, entitled, “Thoughts Pertaining to Youth, Hot Rodders and Chevrolet”, laid the foundation for the strategy that Chevrolet has used ever since to create one of the most successful performance parts programs in the industry. Chevrolet quickly became one of the most successful manufacturers ever in the history of motor racing. Soon, Zora became director of high performance at Chevrolet and helped to transform GM’s largest division from a conservative company into a youthful, exciting one. In the process, he would change the Corvette from a docile roadster into a formidable sports car that challenged Porsche, Ferrari, Maserati, and Mercedes-Benz. As was his way, Zora led by example. After helping to introduce the small-block V8 engine to the Corvette in 1955, providing the car with much-needed power, he set about showcasing the engine by ascending Pikes Peak in 1956 in a pre-production prototype, setting a stock car record. Not satisfied, he took a Corvette to Daytona Beach the same year and hit a record-setting 150 mph over the flying mile. In his spare time, the brilliant and vocal GM driver/engineer also developed the famous Duntov high-lift camshaft and helped bring fuel injection to the Corvette in 1957. He is credited for introducing four-wheel disc brakes on a mass-produced American car for the first time.
In 1962, Zora launched the Grand Sport program. The original idea captured the interest and imagination of Corvette fans all over the world. The idea was to create a special lightweight Corvette weighing only 1,800 pounds and race it on an international circuit against not only Cobras and other GT-Class cars, but also racing-only prototypes from Ferrari, Ford and Porsche. It also served to keep non-racing GM’s Corvette image somewhat in play in the face of Ford’s “Total Performance” publicity onslaught, which included Carroll Shelby’s Cobras. Power for the Grand Sport was to come from an aluminum version of the small block V8, equipped with special twin spark plug cylinder heads. At 377ci, output was a projected 550 hp at 6,400 rpm. But as it had so often, GM policy prohibited Zora from going racing, but not before five Grand Sports were built. The five Grand Sports eventually fell into the hands of private owners, and Zora was able to support them in spite of the official ban.