Zora Arkus-Duntov: The Legend Behind Corvette
by Jerry Burton
Detroit Free Press May 31, 2002
Book goes under Duntov's hood
Russian émigré breather fire into Chevy's Corvette
By Dave Brudenell
In 1917 as a young boy, he witnessed the Russian Revolution. He later joined the French air force, escaping Nazi-occupied France and coming to America, where he lived until his death in 1996 at age 86.
Few people lived life like Zora Arkus-Duntov, flyer, race car driver and the first chief engineer of the Corvette sports car.
On the eve of Corvette's 50th birthday comes ?Zora Arkus-Duntov; The Legend Behind Corvette? (Bentley Publishers $39.95). It's a 400-page celebration of one of the most influential automotive figures of the 20th Century.
Written by Jerry Burton, editorial director of Corvette Quarterly magazine, the publiscation is illustrated with 200 black and white photographs, many previously unpublished.
Burton, 52, an amateur racer and Chevrolet historian, spent five years compiling the book with the help of Duntov's widow, Elfi, who lives in Grosse Point and once danced with the Folies Gergere in Paris and at the Copacabana in Miami. ?I was lucky to get to know Zora,? Burton said. ?I becamse a semi-regular lunch partner of his. We would often sit in his study. He'd tell the most fascinating stories about his racing days when he drove at Daytona Beach and Pikes Peak.?
Duntov, who loved a martini and a cigarette, always considered himself a racer first.
?He saw himself as a potentially great race car driver,? Burton said. ?In fact, he was very good, finally claiming a couple of class wins at the 24 hours of Le Mans in a Porsche. Remember, he was working for General Motors at the time.?
But his engineering skills interested GM most when Duntov joined the automakes in 1953.
?Zora came to GM with no real title but with a lot of great ideas,? Burton said.
?He did it the hard way, making friends with some of the suits, but also rubbing other people the wrong way.
?At the time, Chevrolet was about volume sails. Duntov had a vision of building a world-class sports car. He faced a lot of opposition in mahogany row.?
But that didn't stop Duntov, who found a supporter in Ed Cole, then chief engineer at Chevrolet. Cole, who later became president of GM, was killed in a plane crash in 1977. ?Cole was a race fanatic who really bonded with Zora,? Burton said. ?I guess the only thing Zora didn't convince GM to market was a mid-engine Corvette that could have raced at Le Mans.?
Burton, along with Elfi Duntov, will sign copies of the book at 11 a.m.-3p.m. Saturday at Les Stanford Chevrolet on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn.
?Zora took an American sporst car with little performance and turned it into a fire-breathing machine,? Burton said. ?He wasn't concerned with creature comforts. It was all about racing for him.?
Dave McLellan, who succeeded Duntov as Corvette chief engineer, also has written a new Corvette book. Called ?Corvette From the Inside,? it will be released soon by Bentley Publishers.