Washington Post
Sunday, April 28, 1996
By: George Will

Washington- It is a truism that Journalism often involves reporting the death of a person to a public that has never heard of that person. So: Zora Arkus-Duntov died the other day in Detroit at 86. And if, 700 words from now, you do not mourn his passing, you are not a good American.
The headline on the The New York Times obituary said Arkus-Duntov “made the Corvette classis.” The test of the obituary said he turned that car “into a symbol of power and ostentation in the late 1950s.”
Is there a trace of disapproval in those words? Wouldn’t be surprised. The Times is the keeper of liberalism’s conscience, and liberalism, as is well-known, is not fond of fun, or at least of many forms of fun that many people like (such as cheeseburgers, talk radio, guns, fur coats, Las Vegas.) Least of all does liberalism look kindly on the Fifties, when the wrong kind of fun was busting out all over.
McDonald’s franchises were springing up like dandelions, the yahoos (aka the electorate) preferred Dwight Eisenhower’s smile to Adlai Stevenson’s syntax, and irresponsible consumers liked cars that were larger than roller skates, did not sip gas the way Aunt Minnie sips tea, and expressed the exuberance of a nation not yet susceptible to liberalism’s favorite emotion – guilt.
The Corvette was born, wouldn’t you know it, June 30, 1953, year one of the Eisenhower era. Its body was made of fiberglass, a cousin of plastic, which caused the intelligentsia to curl its collective lip. (Remember the scene early in the 1967 movie “The Graduate,” when Benjamin, played by Dustin Hoffman, was fresh from college and in need of a career? Someone doubly repulsive-an adult and, even worse, a businessman – told Benjamin to remember one word, “plastics.” Audiences of advanced thinkers adored that summation of American vulgarity.)
But the Corvette was born with a piddling little 150-horsepower engine. Enter Arkus-Duntov, who was born in Belgium but was born to be an American.
He became after retiring as a gold smuggler at age 16 and then earning an engineering degree in Berlin and fighting with the French air force early in the Second World War. (This information was in Keith Bradsher’s Times obituary, which actually was splendid.) As soon as he saw the Corvette, he sought and got a job with General Motors, where before he retired in 1975 he designed four-wheel disc brakes for mass production cars and the fuel injection system now standard in many cars.
However, his signal contribution to American civilization was to rev up the Corvette to 195-horsepower in 1955, 240 in 1956 and 283 in 1957. Americas first muscle car. You got a problem with that? Go to court.
But not the Supreme Court. Justice Clarence Thomas drives a Corvette. A 1990 ZR1 with 420-horsepower. It’s license plates read “Res Ipsa.” From a Latin phrase meaning, “It speaks for itself.”
Arkus-Duntov had colorful company at GM in the Fifties. There was Harley Earl, “the Cellini of Chrome” who designed cars that looked, said a disapproving critic, like jukeboxes on wheels.
David Halberstam, in his history of the Fifties, writes that whereas Henry Ford (who said people could have cars of any color they wanted, as long as they were black) represented America’s Calvinist past, Earl was perhaps the most influential shaper of American style and taste in the Fifties years of abundance and indulgence. He loved airplanes (other GM executives drove Cadillacs, he drove a Buick Le Sabre, based on the F-86 Sabre jet) and sharks (hence tailfins). Earl sometimes dressed like a negative of a photograph of a GM executive, in a cream-colored linen suit and dark blue shirt, and it was said that if Earl could have put chrome on his clothes, he would have. And Earl was a great patriot. When his son said he was going to get a Ferrari, Earl said otherwise. Instead, the son drove a Corvette.
The first Corvette rolled off the assembly line 10 months after the first Holiday Inn was opened, on the highway between Memphis and Nashville, and 22 months before the first McDonalds was opened in Des Plaines, Ill. America was on the move and in no mood to linger over lunch. A lunch of Cheeseburgers. Today’s food fascists must really hate the Fifties.
If you seek Arkus-Duntov’s monuments, look around, at the ‘vette coming on in the passing lane. Or look in Bowling Green, KY., where, at Arkus-Duntov’s request, his ashes will be entombed in a display at the National Corvette Museum.