Thursday 2nd July 1992
The one-millionth Corvette, a white LT1 roadster with a red interior and a black roof – the same colours as the original 1953 model – was driven off the production line by original Corvette engineer Zora Arkus Duntov in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The event was monumental to both America’s first sports car and the man that made the car possible. Duntov was born in Belgium, the son of Russian immigrants. He pursued an interest in motorcycle racing and engineering until the outbreak of World War II, at which point he joined the French Air Force. After the French surrender, Duntov managed to secure exit visas to Spain for his entire family. He later resettled in Manhattan, and started a performance engineering firm, called Ardun, with his brother. The firm enjoyed a reputation for quality, but eventually went out of business as the result of questionable financial practices on the part of a third partner that Duntov and his brother had taken on. Duntov moved to England to work on the Allard sports car, which he co-drove at Le Mans in 1952 and 1953. Duntov earned a reputation as an exacting driver and engineer in the European tradition of performance car racing. After witnessing the prototype Corvette on display at the 1953 Motorama in New York City, he decided to join Chevrolet. While Duntov was visually taken by the car, he expressed dismay at what lay under the hood. He wrote Chevrolet Chief Engineer Ed Cole and offered his services to improve the Corvette, including with his note a technical paper outlining his plan to increase the Corvette’s performance capabilities. Chevrolet was so impressed that engineer Maurice Olley, then in charge of the Corvette, offered Duntov a position as a staff engineer. Soon after arriving at Chevrolet, Duntov set the tone for his career at the company by distributing a paper to his superiors entitled “Thoughts Pertaining to Youth, Hot Rodders, and Chevrolet.” The paper laid the foundation for a strategy to create both racing and performance parts programs for Chevy. It was his desire that the Corvette measure itself against the best sports cars in the world: Porsche, Ferrari, and Mercedes. He helped develop the small-block V-8 engine to increase the little Corvette’s power; he introduced the Duntov high-lift cam-shaft; and he introduced fuel injection, seeing the Corvette through from its inauspicious beginnings to its triumphant end. He created the Corvette Grand Sport Program in 1963, making the Corvette competitive on all levels of international performance competition. Duntov also helped to build the Corvette culture, appearing at Corvette shows, clubs, and rallies all over the U.S. He retired from Chevrolet in 1975, but Duntov’s legacy will stay alive as long as Corvettes roam the open road.