Zora Arkus-Duntov (December 25, 1909 – April 21, 1996) was a Belgian-born American engineer whose work on the Chevrolet Corvette earned him the nickname "Father of the Corvette." He is sometimes erroneously referred to as the inventor of the Corvette, whereas that title belongs to Harley Earl. He was also a successful racing driver, taking class victories in 1954 and 1955 24 Heures du Mans.
"Father of the Corvette"
December 25, 1909
|Died||April 21, 1996 (aged 86)|
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Duntov was born Zachary Arkus in Belgium on December 25, 1909. His parents were both Russian-born Jews; his father was a mining engineer and his mother was a medical student in Brussels. After the family returned to their hometown of Leningrad, Duntov's parents divorced. His mother's new partner, Josef Duntov, another mining engineer, had moved into the household. Even after the divorce, Duntov's father continued to live with the family, and out of respect for both men, he and brother Yura took on the last name of Arkus-Duntov.
In 1927, his family moved to Berlin. While his early boyhood ambition was to become a streetcar driver, streetcars later gave way to motorcycles and automobiles. His first motorized vehicle was a 350 cc motorcycle, which he rode at nearby racetracks as well as through the streets of Berlin. When his parents, fearing for his safety, insisted he trade the cycle in for an automobile, Duntov bought a racecar. The car was a cycle fendered contraption called a "Bob", from a short-lived manufacturer of the same name. The Bob was set up for oval track racing. It had no front brakes and weak rear brakes. In 1934, Duntov graduated from the Charlottenburg Technological University (known today as the Technical University of Berlin). He also began writing engineering papers in the German motor publication Auto Motor und Sport. Later in Paris, he would meet Elfi Wolff, a German native who danced with the Folies Bergère.
When World War II began in 1939, Zora and Elfi were married, just as Duntov and his brother joined the French Air Force. When France surrendered, Duntov obtained exit visas from the Spanish consulate in Marseilles, not only for Elfi and himself, but for his brother and parents as well. Elfi, who was still living in Paris at the time, made a dramatic dash to Bordeaux in her MG just ahead of the advancing Nazi troops. In the meantime, Duntov and Yura hid in a bordello. Five days later, Elfi met up with Duntov and his family and later they boarded a ship in Portugal bound for New York.
Ardun and AllradEdit
Settled in Manhattan, the two brothers set up Ardun (derived from Arkus and Duntov) which supplied parts to the military and manufactured aluminum overhead valve, hemispherical combustion chamber heads for the flathead Ford V8 engine. The purpose of the overhead valve design (already common with in-line 6 cylinder engines of that era), was to cure the persistent overheating of the valve-in-block design. The flathead 'siamesed' the two center exhaust ports into a single tube, passing the hot gasses between those two cylinders (a massive heat transfer to coolant which was not present in overhead valve designs). The Ardun heads (designed with overhead valves, presenting no over-heating problems) allowed dramatic increases in power output from the Ford V8, to over 300 hp (220 kW; 300 PS). Ardun grew into a 300 employee engineering company with a name as revered as Offenhauser, but the company later went out of business after some questionable financial decisions by a partner the Arkus-Duntov brothers had taken on. Arkus-Duntov attempted to qualify a Talbot-Lago for the Indianapolis 500 in 1946 and 1947. He failed to make the race both years. At that time Zora Arkus-Duntov got an invitation from British company, while his brother decided to go to stock market. Soon he left America for England to do development work on the Allard sports car, co-driving it at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1952 and in 1953. His goal was to improve and prepare the company's cars for the race "24 hours of Le Mans." It is noteworthy that some of them were Ford V8, on which Duntov applied, among other things, his old achievements. The owners and at the same time Allrad racers Sidney and Eleanor Olardy noticed the achievements of the engineer. In 1952-53, Zakhary Duntov acted as a Le Mans racer on the Allard J2X Le Mans and Allard JR models. In the same years, Carol Shelby performed on Allrad machines. Soon, Duntov was offered to join the Porsche team. Driving an 1100 cc Porsche 550 RS Spyder, he also won class victories in 1954 Le Mans and 1955 Le Mans.
Arkus-Duntov joined General Motors in 1953 after seeing the Motorama Corvette on display in New York City. He found the car visually superb, but was disappointed with what was underneath. He wrote Chevrolet chief engineer Ed Cole that it would be a pleasure to work on such a beautiful car; he also included a technical paper which proposed an analytical method of determining a car's top speed. Chevrolet was so impressed, engineer Maurice Olley invited him to come to Detroit. On May 1, 1953, Arkus-Duntov started at Chevrolet as an assistant staff engineer.
Shortly after going to work for Chevrolet, Arkus-Duntov set the tone for what he was about to accomplish in a memo to his bosses. The document, "Thoughts Pertaining to Youth, Hot Rodders and Chevrolet", laid the foundation for the strategy 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, Arkus-Duntov 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. Arkus-Duntov 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 Pike's Peak in 1956 in a pre-production car (a 1956 Bel Air 4-door hardtop), setting a stock car record. Not satisfied, he took a Corvette to Daytona Beach the same year and hit a record-setting 150 mph (240 km/h) over the flying mile. In his spare time, he 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.
There is a legend about Duntov’s relationship with Chevrolet chief designer Bill Mitchell. Often, Mitchell himself financed his sports projects. Being an ardent fishing enthusiast, Bill strove to embody marine motifs in Corvette cars: a pointed “shark nose” and “stingray tail” etc. According to rumors, he even had a staffed mako shark model in his office, the color of which he hoped to implement in all Corvette models . The conflict between the chief designer and engineer arose against the backdrop of a “ramp tail” on the new C2 “Sting Ray” model, which, according to Zakhary Duntov, was in the way of the rear view. Also, the elongated hood, according to the assurances of the engineer, interfered with the review of the road. The buyers judged the dispute, removing the decorative part, and installing monoglass in its place. As a result, cars with a tail were discontinued (as announced, for safety reasons), accounting for less than a third of all sales.
Project Super Sport and "Gentelman's agreement"Edit
1956 was the year of birth of the first sports Corvette. Designed and constructed by Duntov in the amount of about 3 copies, the SR1 and SR2 projects pleasantly surprised Harley Earle, which is why the next 1957, Duntov’s proposal to establish the Corvette racing team was accepted with his promotion to the post of director of the high-performance car department. Duntov’s new project was the Corvette Super Sport (SS) with a magnesium body for the 24-hour Le Mans race. For preliminary testing of the car, the American counterpart, "12 hours of Sebring" was chosen. The difficulty was in the timing, since before the annual Sebring there were only 6 months left. According to rumors, in order to be in time, Duntov copied the frame for the new Corvette from the Mercedes 300SLR. To test the joint work of all the components, Duntov developed a test car SS Mul (mule). The results shown were positive, the team gained confidence in the victory. Later, “Mule” more than once proved its usefulness during the development and testing of new, improved versions. However, there was not enough time to fully test the racing Corvette. Therefore, having arrived in Sebring and joining the Corvette core team, SS pilot John Fitch still could not figure out the brake lock problem. The start of the race looked positive for the SS, but the problem with the brakes only intensified. By the end of the third circle, the pilot could no longer control the front axle of his car. After a short tire change, Fitch continued to race, but already on the 23rd lap, the Corvette SS was forced to leave the track due to the suspension and other mechanical problems. Despite the fact that it was not possible to defeat SS, the new development of the Corvette attracted a lot of public attention, including setting a new circle record. But Chevrolet, it became clear that with Le Mans will have to wait. Shortly after the race in Sebring, the situation for Duntov and his entire unit became more complicated. After the accident at the race at Le Mans in 1955, which claimed the lives of 83 people, the attitude to motor racing has changed dramatically. Numerous protests forced many companies to withdraw from the race, the organizers to review the safety rules, and Mercedes, who was accused of an accident and did decide to refuse to participate in car racing until the 70s. Dissatisfaction gradually increased in America, which is why the American Automobile Manufacturers Association (AAMA)) issued a recommendation to refuse to participate in races. However, several accidents over the next couple of years and, according to unconfirmed reports, the intervention of the US government led to the signing of the "Gentleman's Agreement" in 1957. By joining AAMA, GM, Ford and Chrysler, they refused organized car racing and motorsport of any kind, which led to the cessation of all explicit support for racing in Chevrolet. At the same time, almost none of the automakers stopped the development of sports cars. Many found loopholes: from the establishment of third-party engineering companies (SEDCO Co.), which issued instructions for improving production cars with detailed indication of the part numbers of the automaker and step-by-step instructions up to the support of “individual enthusiasts” of individual racers, as well as the production of “especially durable / long-life parts” Ideal for turning production cars into sports cars (Pontiac). Arkus Duntov could not stop the new agreement. At his insistence, the driver Briggs Cunningham changed the three main Corvettes within 24 hours of Le Mans, each of which was equipped with an innovative 283-horsepower V8 injection engine. Despite the 10th place, it is important to note that the winners were the invincible Ferrari (6 places), Aston Martin (2 places) and Porsche (1 place), which did not have official development restrictions.
In 1962, GM Corporate, under serious pressure from the US government, decided to discontinue support for motorsport. It was exactly the same contract as the AMA, concluded in 1957, but now GM has made policies mandatory for its brands. The reason was that by 1961, about 53% of the entire US car market belonged to General Motors, which greatly interested the Department of Justice. In the event the company’s market grows to 60%, the antimonopoly department has promised to close General Motors. Fearing this, management hoped to reduce auto racing revenues. These circumstances discarded the launch of the Corvette with an average engine position for 60 years. But the most famous achievement of Arkus Duntov was yet to come.
Foundation of Grand SportEdit
In 1962, Ford officially withdrew from the “Gentlemen's Agreement” by running the “Total Performance” advertising program with the new Carol Shelby Cobra. Presented in the same year to the first US cosmonaut Corvette and a year later the release of C2 Stingrey with independent suspension could no longer cancel the fact that Corvette was no longer a leader in motorsport. So right after Ford’s declaration of war, Arkus Duntov’s new Grand Sport program was approved. The idea was to create a special lightweight Corvette weighing just 1,800 pounds and race on international tracks not only with Shelby Cobra and other GT cars, but also with racing prototypes Ferrari, Ford and Porsche. The winning strategy was based on firstly making aluminum version of the "small block" V8, equipped with special spark plugs (At 377 ° C, its power was 550 hp. at 6400 rpm.) and the unprecedented car weight decrease, secondly.
The new tubular chassis was made shorter, all body panels were made of a thin layer of carbon fiber, and the aluminum door handles were taken from an old Chevrolet pickup truck. Attention was paid to aerodynamics. The door handles were lightened and recessed into the body, the headlights were hidden behind transparent plastic. However, the “wing” effect arose, due to which the Corvette front axle began to come off the ground at high speeds. To get rid of windage, ventilation holes were added throughout the body: “gills” on the hood, openings behind the front and rear wheels, and even multiple openings at the headlights. According to the terms of the FIA GT races of those years, the wheels had to be “in the body”, because of which the wheel arches were expanded, but barely passed according to the standards, since they also included in their function to remove air from under the belly of the car, which gave im special shape. In order to use the oncoming flow even more efficiently, near the rear window there were two air intakes (one from each side) that cooled the brakes. Also behind the rear window was an air intake. Glasses were facilitated by the use of aviation organic glass. The wheels also became lighter thanks to the magnesium alloy. The result of all the work was a reduction in weight from 1,451 kg of the standard model to 862 kg of the new version of the Grand Sport.
The subsequent trials at Sebring yielded amazing results that achieved the reign of General Motors. Duntov was ordered to close the project and destroy all the cars, the board feared that the antimonopoly department would require the company to be disaggregated. Duntov agreed to stop work, but handed over the three cars to Texas tycoon John Mecom, and hid the remaining two in a Chevrolet research garage. Before sending the cars with chassis numbers # 003 and # 004 to Texas, he handed them over for testing to two private racers: Chicago Chevrolet dealer Dick Doane and Grady Davis from Goldoil. mpete in the ACC series, that is, not production cars, due to the fact that only 5 copies were produced. The car showed controversial results, but after some adjustments and improvements it won first place in the ACC championship in 1963. Driving chassis # 004 was Dick Thompson, who earned the nickname “Flying Dentist,” because of his original work. The victory in ACC became known to the GM bosses, who asked Duntov to return all the cars and not participate in races. Having received the cars back, Duntov improved the cars with chassis # 003, # 004 and # 005, adding air vents and installing wider 9.5 inch wheels. Due to these changes, traction has increased, and lateral acceleration has decreased from 1.9G to the optimal 1.1G. After all the changes, Arkus Duntov decided to send the Grand Sport to compete with Shelby Cobra at the Nassau Trophy race (1954-1966) in the Bahamas. Officially, all three of the improved Grand Sports were on behalf of tycoon John Mickom. They beat all competitors by 10 seconds. Cobra Shelby and even the Ferrari GTO are left behind. However, this was not the end. Taking the previously unimproved chassis # 001 and # 002, Duntov demolished the roofs, making them roadsters to improve aerodynamics, and was preparing to send them to the race in Daytona. But General Motors entered into an agreement with Duntov on the termination of any races, since the risks of the division of the company reached a maximum level. All 5 cars were handed out to private individuals and could no longer continue the competition due to the stop of design work. In 2009, the last surviving # 002 chassis was auctioned off for $ 4.9M.
The sad end of Grand Sport did not stop Duntov, and already in 1964 he began work on the new CERV II (Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle II) project, which was supposed to wrest Chevrolet championship for many years to come. Nevertheless, the idea of a rear-engine Corvette was not approved by the leadership, despite many subsequent attempts, until the announcement in 2019 of the release of the first rear-engine Corvette under the number C8. On the pre-production camouflaged version, observers noticed portraits of supposedly Zora Arkus Duntov.
Arkus-Duntov retired in 1975, relinquishing command to Dave McLellan. At 81 years of age, Arkus-Duntov was still passionate and opinionated about the Corvette. During the time between his retirement and death, his legend grew. Whenever anything Corvette-related happened, Arkus-Duntov was there. A member of the Drag Racing Hall of Fame, the Chevrolet Legends of Performance, and the Automotive Hall of Fame, he took part in the rollout of the one millionth Corvette at Bowling Green in 1992. He also drove the bulldozer at the ground breaking ceremonies for the National Corvette Museum in 1994. Six weeks before his death, Arkus-Duntov was guest speaker at "Corvette: A Celebration of an American Dream", an evening held at the showrooms of Jack Cauley Chevrolet Detroit. On hand that night were Dave McLellan and his successor as Corvette chief engineer, Dave Hill, but no one could argue Arkus-Duntov stole the show.
Arkus-Duntov died in Detroit on April 21, 1996, and his ashes were entombed at the National Corvette Museum. Pulitzer Prize winning columnist George Will wrote in his obituary that "if... you do not mourn his passing, you are not a good American."
Honors and awardsEdit
- Pikes Peak hill climb record, 1955
- Daytona flying mile record, 1956
- SEMA Hall of Fame, 1972
- Automotive Hall of Fame, 1991
- International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, 1994
- National Corvette Museum Hall of Fame, 1998
- Zora Arkus-Duntov Exhibition, Alexander Solzhenitsyn Center for Russian Émigrés, Moscow, May–June 2012,
- Burton, Jerry (2002). Zora Arkus-Duntov: The Legend Behind Corvette (Chevrolet). New York: Bentley Publishers. p. 6. ISBN 0-8376-0858-9.
- "Harley Earl, Father of the Corvette". corvetteactioncenter. The Torque Network, LLC. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
- Zora Arkus-Duntov, Champ Car Stats, Retrieved 2010-12-24
- Keith Bradsher (April 24, 1996), Zora Arkus-Duntov, 86, Who Made Corvette a Classic, Dies, The New York Times, retrieved 2012-02-21
- Daniel Strohl (March 2007), "Zora Arkus-Duntov", Hemmings Muscle Machines, retrieved 2012-02-21
- Will, George (April 29, 1996), A Tribute to 1950s and Man Who Revved Up Corvettes, Washington Post Writers Group, retrieved 2012-02-21
- Arkus-Duntov, Zora, GM Heritage Center, retrieved 2012-02-21
- Hall of Fame – 1972 inductee Zora Arkus-Duntov, SEMA, archived from the original on 2012-12-27, retrieved 2012-02-21
- Burton, Jerry. Zora Arkus-Duntov: The Legend Behind Corvette. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Bentley Publishers. ISBN 978-0-8376-0858-7. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
- "Inductee biography – Zora Arkus-Duntov". Archived from the original on 2007-08-11.
- "Zora Arkus-Duntov". Hall of Fame Inductees. Automotive Hall of Fame. 1991. Archived from the original on March 8, 2016. Retrieved March 8, 2016.
- International Drag Racing Hall of Fame alphabetical list of inductees, Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, archived from the original on 2012-02-19, retrieved 2012-02-21
- Zora Duntov inductee page, National Corvette Museum, retrieved 2012-02-21
- Burton, Jerry (22 June 2012). "Champion of the Corvette, Feted in the Land He Left". New York Times. Retrieved 22 December 2012.