Duntov’s Toys – Pt.2

When we left off, Duntov, the wild Russian, smoked GM’s Phoenix test track with a 163-mph blast with his ‘54 mule Corvette outfitted with a enhanced prototype 265-CID small-block Chevy engine, fitted with what would become his famous “Duntov Cam.” The greenlight for Daytona was on!

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How’s you like to do 163-mph in this buggy?

A month before the big event, in January ‘56, Duntov took his mule car fitted with ’56 body panels and blasted the Daytona beach with a 150.583-mph run. In February, he arrived with three race-prepared Corvettes, the mule car and two slightly modified cars, all painted white with blue stripes and side coves. The former mule car had cone fairings over the headlights, taping over almost the entire front grill opening, and fender vents, and a short wind screen. The other two cars were equipped with short wind screens, a tonneau cover, and taping over the fender vents. Each car was powered by the new 265 small-block Chevy engine with the experimental Duntov Cam, special 10.3:1 heads, and produced 255-horsepower.

But here’s the kicker. Because they were running on packed beach sand, the cars ran on snow tires! Zora’s fearlessness was forged in his childhood in Russia when one winter day when he fell through river ice that he thought was completely solid. From then on, the man was always willing to go out on the skinny branches… GUTS!

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Duntov’s Daytona Assault: From left to right - Betty Skelton, Zora Arkus-Duntov, & John Fitch (photo from Ludvigsen Library)

Duntov drove the former mule car while former Mercedes team driver John Fitch and airplane racer, Betty Skelton drove the two other cars. There were two parts to the event – the standing mile acceleration run and the top speed run. Ford and Chevy were in the midst of a speed war. The Ford entry was Chuck Dalgh’s modified Thunderbird. In the standing mile event, Fitch’s Corvette came in 3rd behind Dalgh’s 86.872-mph T-Bird with a not-that-far-off 86.872-mph run. Duntov was the fastest in the modified class with a 89.753-mph run. But remember, this was all about top speed. The Dalgh T-Bird didn’t compete in the top speed runs and the Corvettes romped. Fitch won the production sports car class with a top speed of 145.543-mph, and Betty Skelton came in second with a 137.773-mph run. Duntov had the fastest time in the modified class with a 147.300-mph run. It should be noted that there were strong head  winds that kept the Corvettes from passing the 150-mph mark.

Zora’s ride. This is the ‘54 mule Corvette wearing ‘56 Corvette cloths.

Zora’s ride. This is the ‘54 mule Corvette wearing ‘56 Corvette cloths.

The event was so successful that GM gave Duntov the go-ahead to build three more cars for the 12-hour Sebring race, just six-weeks after the Daytona event. John Fitch was assigned the unrealistic task of preparing the cars. While the cars performed well under their potential, they finished their first sports car competition, enough for bragging rights. A print ad showed one of the Sebring cars in the pits, all dirty and races worn, with a driver leaving the car. The headline read, “The Real McCoy.”

The following year, beginning with the 57 Corvette, all the way through to the early ‘70s Zora made sure that Corvette customers had access to well-engineered parts for racing. “Racer kits” he used to call them. Combined with the new 283 Fuelie, suspension and braking packages, such as the famous RPO 684 helped Corvettes dominate SCCA racing through to ‘62.

And that’s how the Corvette racing legend began.

(Coming up next: Duntov’s 1957 SS Corvette – The Le Mans Racer)

This article was written by K. Scott Teeters, an editor for Alex Schult of www.SmokinVette.com and a freelance columnist and artist with VETTE Magazine. His monthly column, “The Illustrated Corvette Series” has been running consecutively in VETTE since 1997 and can be found on the very last page of every issue. You can find reproductions of his Corvette art at: www.IllustratedCorvetteSeries.com

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