Zora Arkus-Duntov

Zora Arkus-Duntov

Infobox actor
bgcolour =
name = Zora Arkus-Duntov

imagesize = 220px
caption = "Father of the Corvette"
birthname = Zachary Arkus
birthdate = birth date |1909|12|25
location = Belgium
deathdate = death date|1995|4|21|mf=y (aged age|1909|12|25|1995|4|21)
othername =
website =
notable role = Father of the Corvette
academyawards =
spouse = Elfi Arkus-Duntov

Zora Arkus-Duntov (December 25, 1909 – April 21, 1996), was a Belgian-born U.S. engineer. His work on the Chevrolet Corvette earned him the nickname "Father of the Corvette."cite book |last= Burton|first= Jerry|authorlink= Jerry Burton |title= "Zora Arkus-Duntov: The Legend Behind Corvette (Chevrolet)" |publisher= Bentley Publishers |location=New York |date= 2002|pages=P. 6 |isbn= 0837608589]

Early life

Zora was born Zachary Arkus in Belgium on Christmas Day, 1909. His father was a Russian-born Jewish mining engineer, and his mother, also Russian Jewish, was a medical student in Brussels.

After the family returned to their hometown of Leningrad, Zora's parents divorced. His mother's new partner, Josef Duntov, another mining engineer, had moved into the household. Even after the divorce, Zora's father continued to live with the family, and out of respect for both men, Zora 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 350cc 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, Zora 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 the rear brakes were weak.

In 1934, Zora 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 Zora and his brother joined the French Air Force. When France surrendered, Zora 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, Zora and Yura hid inside a bordello. Five days later, Elfi met up with Zora and his family and later they boarded a ship out of Portugal bound for New York.


Settled in Manhattan, the two brothers set up Ardun (derived from Arkus and Duntov) which supplied parts to the military and also manufactured aluminum overhead valve heads for the Flathead Ford V8 engine. Although the original purpose of the design was to cure the overheating tendencies of flathead designs under heavy load in truck use (due to the long exhaust travel through the block), the new heads enabled the Ford V8 to produce over 300 horsepower. 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 that Zora and Yura had taken on.

Later, Zora 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.

Driving an 1100cc Porsche 550 RS Spyder, he also won class victories in 1954 Le Mans and 1955 Le Mans.

General Motors

Zora joined General Motors in 1953 after seeing the Motorama Corvette on display in New York. Perhaps it was just fate that Zora happened to be among the thousands of people who attended the GM event. Zora found the car to be visually superb, but was disappointed with what was underneath. He wrote Chevrolet chief engineer Ed Cole that it would be his complement 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 that engineer Maurice Olley invited him to come to Detroit. On May 1, 1953, Zora Arkus-Duntov started at Chevrolet as an assistant staff 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 full-blown sports car that measured up on and off the racetrack against the likes of 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 the much needed grunt, he set about showcasing the engine by charging up treacherous Pikes Peak in 1956 in a pre-production prototype Chevy and 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.

In 1963, 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. Power for the Grand Sport was to come from an aluminum version of the small block V8, equipped with special twin-plug cylinder heads. At 377ci, output was a projected 550hp 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 somehow found a way to support them in spite of the official ban.

Zora retired in 1975, turning the reins over to Dave McLellan. At 81 years of age, Zora Arkus-Duntov was still passionate and opinionated about his car, the Corvette. It was during the time between Zora's retirement and his death that his legend grew. Whenever anything Corvette happened, Zora was there. A member of the Drag Racing Hall of Fame, the Chevrolet Legends of Performance, and the Automotive Hall of Fame, Zora took part in the rollout of the 1 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, Zora 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 that Zora stole the show.


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