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The Guy Who Made the Corvette an American Icon

DuntovMany of us around the shop here at Wilson Auto have a real love for Corvettes, especially those from the 1950s and 1960s.

We also have a real fondness for Zora Arkus-Duntov, the man at GM that made the Corvette an American icon.

Zora was born in 1909 to wealthy Russian parents studying in Belgium. As a young man he did some lower-level road racing while studying mechanical engineering at the University of Charlottenburg in Berlin, Germany.

After watching conditions deteriorate for Jews in Germany during the 1930s, Zora and his wife migrated to America. They quickly found wealth, she as a professional dancer and Zora as a consultant and war-munitions manufacturer.

In 1953, Zora saw Harley Earl’s Corvette prototype at the New York Motorama. Captivated by what he had seen, yet convinced he could make it better, Zora persuaded Chevrolet boss Ed Cole and engineer Maurice Olley that a production Corvette would be a big thing and that he could play a huge role in shaping any high performance automobile.

Shortly after beginning work at Chevrolet, Zora wrote a memo entitled, “Youth, Hot Rodders and Chevrolet”, which laid the foundation for Chevy’s performance parts programs. Once Zora became director of high performance at Chevrolet, he began transforming the company from a conservative one into a youthful, exciting one. His vision turned the Corvette into a sports car capable of challenging Maserati, Ferrari, Porsche, and Mercedes Benz.

Zora helped introduce the small-block V8 engine to the Corvette in 1955, which began his quest to showcase the power of the car. In 1956 his Corvette hit a land speed record of 150 mph at Daytona Beach. Zora devised a variety of other promotional activities to showcase the Corvette.

Zora is also noted for introducing fuel injection to the Corvette as well as being the first to introduce 4-wheel disc brakes on a mass-produced American car.

Zora retired from Chevrolet in 1975 but remained passionate about the Corvette. He’s a member of the Drag Racing Hall of Fame, the Chevrolet Legends of Performance and the Automotive Hall of Fame. Zora was so instrumental in the history of the Corvette that he was invited to drive the bulldozer at the ground-breaking ceremonies for the National Corvette Museum.

Zora died in 1996 and his ashes are entombed at the National Corvette Museum. Zora was truly a pioneer in the automotive industry and all of us at Wilson Auto Repair honor his legacy.

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