Zora’s Wildest and Last Corvette Toy
When we left off, Zora was providing E-Ticket rides to the automotive press with a ZL1-powered ‘69 Corvette setup with 9-inch slicks, an automatic transmission with a high-stall torque converter, and open headers that was running solid high 10’s in the 1/4-mile! Duntov knew how to get into the hearts of the press. Actually, they loved hanging out with the man because, unlike the usual car company spokes persons, Zora spoke the language of high-performance cars. He was just “one of the guys” and the loved him for it.
Duntov turned 65 on December 25, 1974, and a month later he retired from GM. But just six months before retirement, he was thundering around the GM test track in the wildest-looking Corvette mule ever: his racer kit prototype, wide-body “silhouette racer.”
Corvettes were doing quite well in Trans-Am and IMSA racing at the time, with John Greenwood leading the charge. Working with Corvette engineer Gib Hufstader and John Greenwood, Duntov‘s team developed a body kit to cover the ever-wider racing tires being used in the mid-’70s. Chassis and suspension mods on road-racing Corvettes had progressed far beyond the Z07 off-road suspension and brake package, but racers were still tapping into easy horsepower using variations of the ZL1 and L88 big-block engines.
Duntov had a very simple formula for developing his racer kits. He would take a production or preproduction Corvette and remove everything that shouldn’t be on a race car in order to get the weight down close to what a real race car would be. Then he added a roll cage (since he would be doing most of the testing in the car), necessary bracing and safety equipment, plus every off-the-shelf high-performance part available from the Chevrolet Performance Parts catalog. When he was done, all that was missing was some sponsor decals and racing numbers.
The silhouette racer mule was based on a production ‘74 Corvette but was powered by a balanced-and-blueprinted cast-iron ZL1 variant with open-chamber heads, header side pipes, a big Holley double-pumper carb, and a “long hood” L88 cold-air-induction hood. Clear plastic headlight covers over quartz-iodine headlights were employed, and oil coolers were installed behind the mesh-covered front grille openings. The body-kit parts were riveted on and covered over with 200-mph duct tape. If you look closely at the photos, you can clearly make out the duct tape. Although that’s not how a real race car body would be finished, for R&D and testing purposes, it worked. Lowered and wearing magnesium racing wheels, this was one bad-ass-looking Corvette.
CARS Magazine editor, Marty Schorr, ran numerous features on the car in CARS, CARS Corvette Annual, and VETTE Quarterly (now called VETTE Magazine). Marty was one of the fortunate few and one day, got a ride in Zora’s beast. He reported, “Zora took me out on the high-speed oval test track. We were going full tilt, with the tail slightly out, while he had a cigarette in his mouth and was explaining suspension geometry and big-block engine development. I was holding on for dear life! He had great control of this animal car.”
The first racer to get to compete with the new wide-body kit was John Greenwood. John’s Corvettes were always flashy, but his Batmobile “Spirit of ‘76” IMSA racer is arguably the wildest-looking Corvette race car ever.
So whatever happened to Zora’s last mule Corvette? I asked his friend and coworker, Gib Hufstader what happened to the car. Gib explained that back then, in the days before the GM Heritage Collection of R&D cars, mule cars such as this were deemed a liability problem and were stripped of any good parts, then sent to the crusher. In this “Duntov’s Toys” series of articles, I have covered seven mule Corvettes that Zora had built. They included; the 163-mph 265 ‘54 Corvette, the ‘56 Daytona Beach Corvettes, the SS Corvette Racer mule that became Bill Mitchell’s ‘59 Stingray Racer, the ‘62-’63 Z06 mule, the white ‘69 ZL1 mule, the Monaco Red (orange) ZL1-powered drag car, and the silver ‘74 IMSA wide-body mule. I have often wondered how much these cars would be worth today had they not been sent to the crusher. What a cool thing it would have been to have all of the above cars on display in a special section of The National Corvette Museum dedicated to Duntov’s engineering accomplishments.
Duntov was a racer first, engineer second, and corporate animal third. In retrospect, one could make a case that Zora’s sole reason for seeking employment at GM in ‘53 was so that he could satisfy his racing desires with the backing and resources of General Motors. And what a misfit he was in GM’s corporate culture. With his Hollywood good looks (he could have passed for Paul Newman’s older brother) and thick Russian accent, he was quite a character. His European education and culture gave him that certain flair when it served his purposes. But underneath, he was happiest wearing his white racing suit and yellow helmet, performing his duties in his office – the driver’s seat behind the wheel of a wild animal Corvette.
Coming up next, we’ll take a look at Zora’s years, post GM. To give you a hint, the man didn’t stop until the very end.
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