If you missed the reveal at Tustin, California, the Petersen Automotive Museum had its own for Corvette Enthusiasts while celebrating Zora Arkus-Duntov.
The Petersen Automotive Museum was celebrating the life of Zora Arkus-Duntov but were also celebrating the new, mid-engine Corvette: the C8 Stingray. I decided that I needed to check out this reveal, myself. However, we need to talk about the man.
The Corvette has a long and storied history behind it and the person responsible was Zora Arkus-Duntov. He was actually born Zachary Arkus in Belgium on December 25, 1909 and took on the Duntov name after his mother divorced and remarried. He and his brother, Yura, both took on the last name Arkus-Duntov out of respect for both fathers. Like many who aspire towards making sports cars, Arkus-Duntov yearned to be a driver. He started out with a 350cc motorcycle that he raced and drove while living in Berlin, Germany. His parents weren’t thrilled, so they insisted he trade it for something with two more wheels.
He bought a racecar. It was a Bob, a cycle-fendered car made for oval track racing. It had no front brakes and weak rears. Bet they were thrilled. Regardless, he graduated from Charlottenburg Technical University – now the Technical University of Berlin – in 1934 and wrote engineering papers for a very famous and still very active Auto Motor und Sport. At this time, he also met his wife, Elfi.
Escape from the Nazis and a New Life
Not only was she a dancer with the Folies Bergere, but apparently a decent driver herself. When France surrendered to the Nazis, she made a mad dash to Bordeaux in her MG. She drove for her life and kept just ahead of the advancing German troops. Zora, Elfi, Yura, and the rest of the Arkus-Duntov family escaped by boarding a ship in Portugal that headed to New York.
It was Manhattan where Zora would make his start in performance cars with his brother. The brothers founded Ardun, a parts supplier for the military and manufacturer of aluminum overhead valve, hemispherical heads for the flathead Ford V8. What made the Ardun heads special – besides being overhead valve, hemi’s – was the separation of the center cylinders exhaust ports.
The Father of the Corvette
While he is billed as the father of the Corvette, Zora Arkus-Duntov isn’t its true father. In fact, the Corvette was displayed during the 1953 Motorama, which was held before the New York Auto Show. He wrote to Ed Cole, Chevrolet’s chief engineer at the time, that he wanted to “work on such a beautiful car” and included a technical paper that proposed an analytical method of determining its top speed. On May 1, of that same year, Zora stared work at Chevrolet as an assistant staff engineer.
What made he and Corvette intertwined was the radical changes he made to it for the 1955 model year. From a boring, six-cylinder roadster that your grandma could drive, he created the sports car with Chevrolet’s Small Block V8 that put Porsche, Ferrari, and Mercedes-Benz on notice at the race track.
Proving the Drastic Changes to the C1
He was also still a racer and used his prowess behind the wheel to prove what the Corvette could do. He set a stock car record at Pikes Peak in 1956 and set a record speed at the Daytona Beach flying mile later that year at 150-MPH.
In 1962, he launched the Grand Sport program with a special Corvette that only weighted 1800-pounds. That program would also introduce the far future engine of the Corvette – a 377-CI, aluminum V8 small block engine just like the current LT1 and upcoming LT2.
He’s Not the Father, but Is at the Same Time
He may have not been its direct father, but just like with his own family, he is respected as the Corvette’s father. So, there is a lot of similarity between the Corvette and Zora Arkus-Duntov’s own life besides his involvement. Now we celebrate the new C8. If you want to see more of it, well check back tomorrow as I give you the full run down and exclusive photos of the new Mid-Engine Corvette Stingray.
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