This three-page internal memo, written by Russian-born engineer/race car driver Zora Arkus-Duntov, marked a turning point in the history of Corvette and performance vehicles at General Motors.
Zora had already made a name for himself racing and developing cars with Allard, Porsche, and Daimler-Benz. He had also come up with the overhead valve conversions for the Ford V8 engines, dramatically increasing horsepower. When he saw the Corvette debuted at the 1953 Motorama, he was impressed with the way the car looked but quickly realized that the Corvette lacked the performance that sports car enthusiasts expected. He wrote to Ed Cole, then Chief Engineer for Chevrolet, about ways the Corvette could be improved. Zora was hired shortly after that as an Assistant Staff Engineer for Chevrolet.
Being a race car driver himself, Zora could see that Ford was building a reputation among those who were looking for higher performance, with no real answer from General Motors. He saw Corvette as a vehicle for changing that.
He wrote this impassioned letter titled, “Thoughts Pertaining to Youth, Hot Rodders and Chevrolet” to Ed Cole and Maurice Olley, the head of R&D Engineering. In it, Zora makes the case that Corvette should get the performance upgrades it needed to compete with Ford and win over racers and “hot rodders.”
His persistence would lead to the V8 going into Corvette in 1955, and ultimately the small block Chevrolet V8 engine would become the most universally accepted racing engine in the world.
The original letter was later presented to Herb Fishel by Zora, in recognition of the work Herb was doing as the Executive Director of GM Racing. Herb would then donate this historic document to the National Corvette Museum on September 4, 2015, saying, “This is the most important document in the history of Chevrolet Performance, and it belongs in the Corvette Museum.”
Author: Bob Bubnis, Curator at the National Corvette Museum