was a risk taker, a daring race driver, a brilliant engineer,
and an opportunist. Reckless, Resourceful, and Resilient.
Zora Arkus-Duntov was all these things. Car enthusiasts
know Duntov as the patron saint of the Corvette. But he
was much more than that. He was a man who packed the experiences
of nine or ten lifetimes into one-a man who defines the
term "living on the edge."
Arkus-Duntov was born in Belgium, raised in Leningrad,
and educated in Berlin. He hip hopped through wars and
revolutions in Europe and along the way, married a dancer
from the Follies Bergere. After World War II
broke out, he joined the French Air Force and later arranged
for the escape of his family from the Nazis. He then came
to America to set up Ardun Mechanical, a war munitions
company that eventually employed 300 people. In the post-war
years, Zora shifted gears into the high performance arena,
designing a cylinder head conversion for the Ford Flathead
V8. It became the darling of hot-rodders everywhere.
joining GM in 1953, Zora changed the Corvette from a turntable
darling into one of the most respected sports cars in
the world. It started slowly... a suspension tweak, some
aerodynamic work, then the V8 high-performance camshaft,
and fuel injection. Later would come independent rear
suspension, pure-bred race cars and daring prototypes.
Suddenly, "The General" was more alive than
ever. Corvettes began to appear in racing paddocks at
places like Pebble Beach and Sebring alongside Mercedes,
Jaguars and Porsches. As the years passed, the Corvette
would become the best selling sports car in the world
and like, blue jeans and Marlboros, the Corvette would
become known for its brash American character.
understood what an American sports car ought to be, despite
the fact that his primary influences were European. His
pedigree was drawn from some of the greatest names in
motoring history-Ettori Bugatti, Luigi Chinetti, Dr. Ferry
Porsche, Sydney Allard, and Carroll Shelby. Duntov, in
fact, interacted with all of them and, as with these great
men and their own marques, the Corvette, at least in its
early years, became the product of Duntov's singular vision,
not of a committee or a focus group.
was a renegade who believed in himself. He didn't wait
for things to happen, he made things happen-a throwback
to a much more romantic, intuitive era. His fortunes took
him like a young lad, leaping stone to stone across the
raging river of history in the 20th Century. It was inevitable
that Duntov, like thousands before him, would file through
Ellis Island in search of a new life, a new opportunity
in the United States. But Duntov didn't just live the
American dream, he helped to invent it by immortalizing
one of the foremost expressions of fun and freedom, the
Chevrolet Corvette. Upon Zora's death in April of 1996,
columnist George Will wrote, "If you do not mourn
his passing, you are not a good American."