Zora’s Post Corvette Years – Not Many Toys
Zora Duntov’s retirement party was a “who’s who” of GM management. GM president, Ed Cole said, “You could never turn him off!” VP of Styling, Bill Mitchell said, “When Zora comes into our place, everything lights up!” A long list of Zoroisms was drafted that included, “Not to worry.” “Build mid-engine car.” “Go full-throttle.” “Hundred miles per hour in second gear.” “I tell press nothing.” and many more. Duntov was given a special album from automotive journalist, racers, and friends.
It’s astonishing that for a man that was responsible for so many fast Corvettes, Zora had never actually owned a Corvette before retiring. Zora’s only Corvette was a silver and blue ‘74 coupe with a 454 engine, alloy wheels, and “Z.A.D.” lettered on the doors. In 1989 collector Les Bieri bought the car from Duntov for $100,000. Today, the car resides at the National Corvette museum.
Zora promptly went right to work for John DeLorean on his DMC-12 on a $1,000 per month retainer for engineering consulting. This was the beginning of a series of disappointing events for Duntov. It seems that DeLorean just liked having Zora around because almost none of his suggestions were ever taken. By the ‘81, DeLorean was in deep trouble, but offered Zora $30,000 a year for 10 days of Zora’s time per month. But it was really too late.
Duntov did numerous small projects for the performance aftermarket. Holley launched “The Z System” that featured a four-barrel Holley carb on a special manifold that had connecting channels that allowed opposing cylinders to solve the fuel starvation for road racers. Then in ‘79 there was the Duntov Turbo debacle. The expensive turbocharged tuner car with a great name, turned into an embarrassment for Zora. Years later he said that it was a car that should have never been made. At $37,500, only a few were made.
In the mid-’80s Duntov worked on Malcolm Bricklin’s Yugo. While the car had tons of problems, working with Triad Engineering, Duntov revised the shocks, added a sway bar, and lower the car. Zora advised some speed record runs, so Corvette Showroom Stock racer, Kim Baker, was brought in to prepare a team of Yugos for record runs at Talladega Speedway. Just before the event, war broke out in Yugoslavia and the project was canceled. The cars were never run. By the late ‘80s, Zora still felt that he was a capable race car driver. So much so, his feathers were ruffled when he wasn’t invited to be a team driver in Tommy Morrison’s 24-hour ZR-1 speed record attempt. The LAST thing Morrison wanted was an 80-year old legend driving a ZR-1 flat-out!
By the early ‘90s Duntov helped Triad Engineering’s “Grand Sport” project as an alternative to the ZR-1. With a stainless steel, tube frame, the 2,500-pound Corvette was to be powered by a fuel-injected, 475-horsepower 454, with steering and suspension upgrades. Sketches were created, but a prototype was never built.
As the ‘90s rolled on, Duntov became the patron saint of Corvette car shows, and parades. Zora loved the attention and would patiently sign autographs. His delightful wife, Elfi was always by his side. In ‘92 Zora broke ground with a bull dozer for the national Corvette museum. Then in ‘94, was on hand for the museum’s grand opening. Always the lady’s man, once while on vacation with Carroll Shelby and his new young wife, Lena (several years after Shelby’s heart transplant), the flirty Zora said to Carroll, “Maybe time for Zora to get a new heart.”
Duntov’s last quest for speed was a proposed record run at the annual Fly-In in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in the dangerous experimental DB-5 single-engine plane. No one wanted to see Zora actually try it, so his former coworker and friend, Gib Hufstader conveniently misplaced parts to slow down the planes completion.
In ‘95, the lifelong smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer, but did not undergo radiation of chemotherapy because of his age. On April 21, 1996, his wife Elfi found him unconscious in their spare room. Later that day, Zora passed.
In all of automotive history, there never was or probably will be a man like Zora Arkus-Duntov. Driven by a passion for speed and life, Zora was the perfect man for his time. With European charm, good looks, and twinkle in his eye, he bent the rules in a corporation that even back then, was stodgy blue-gray. How he didn’t get fired, no one knows. Duntov’s contribution is inseparable from the Corvette legend we all know and love.
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