When Zora Arkus Duntov retired from General Motors in 1975, he simply wasn't ready to go silently. Zora's final years with the Corvette were consumed with emissions and fuel-economy issues. From the time when he arrived at GM in the early '50s, the world had changed dramatically. The priorities of the '70s were very different from when he began developing the Corvette.
During his final years at GM, performance was no longer a priority. At every turn GM was rejecting Zora's vision for the Corvette. Before leaving GM, Duntov had been on a quest for the mid-engined Corvette. He was rebuffed at every turn. Zora Duntov always felt the Corvette had to make a technological statement. GM's upper management certainly did not share this vision. When he retired, the Corvette was only developing 165 horsepower. If you ordered the optional L82, you got 205 horsepower. The hot new item for the '75 Corvette was the HEI ignition system. This was a system designed to reduce emissions and increase gas mileage. The old transistor ignition that produced horsepower in the L88 Corvette was gone.
It turned out that just as Duntov was searching for something to do, the owners of American Custom Industries were involved in a similar search. ACI, an aftermarket fiberglass parts manufacturer, had been heavily involved in the Greenwood Corvette during the early '70s. The relationship between ACI and John Greenwood had come to its conclusion, and now Bob Schuller, owner of Sylvania, Ohio-based ACI, was looking around for another Corvette project.
Bob Schuller had an idea for involving Zora Duntov in his next project. He invited Zora to speak at ACI's annual open house. The most creative aspect of this plan was the rather nasty-looking '74 Corvette that Duntov owned. This '74 ran great, but it was a little (okay, a lot) worse for wear. Schuller suggested that instead of paying Zora his standard speaking fee, ACI would totally refurbish the exterior of Zora's Corvette. Zora's personal Corvette would then become a showcase for ACI technology. The plan worked. Zora was very impressed with the result of the ACI work on his personal Corvette. Now it was time for Schuller to bring up the idea of a special-edition Corvette endorsed by Zora Duntov.
Duntov wanted one special thing. He felt if he was going to have his name emblazoned on a Corvette, then it must be turbocharged. The idea of a new fiberglass Corvette body was about to get just a little more complicated. GM had already turned Duntov down on the turbocharger. "Twice I asked for a turbocharger," reported Duntov in a 1980 interview. "Each time I was turned down. They said that a turbocharged L82 would only sell a thousand units. I said it would be more like 6,000. They just said it would be unprofitable, and that was the end of the turbocharger for the Corvette."
The turbo thing was starting to get very big in the late '70s and early '80s. Saab had been the first to use turbocharging, followed closely by Porsche. Turbocharging was seen as the answer to a lot of problems. As long as you stayed out of the power, you could get incredibly high fuel mileage and had a really nice car for driving around town. Let the rpms build and the increased power was stunning.
Chevrolet had done a considerable amount of work on turbocharged Corvettes. Zora had become a huge proponent of turbocharging. At one point there was a very strong indication that the future of Corvette performance was going to be a turbocharged V-6 engine. Keep in mind that in the mid '70s, the automobile industry was struggling with both emissions and fuel mileage. It was also a time when both items were controlled by mechanical devices. It would be a few years before computer technology was brought to bear on engine performance.
When ACI agreed to let Duntov have his turbocharged Corvette, it was like a dream come true. Zora could finally show his critics how wrong they had been. ACI's Bob Schuller was just as pleased to show off his new design for the very special Corvette.
This Duntov Corvette was based on the old Greenwood body, but it was smoothed out to give it a little more beauty and less beast. The large scoops that Greenwood had on the front fenders were gone, as well as the giant hood vents. The idea was to eliminate the machismo look of the Greenwood and go for a more refined and elegant look.
The initial idea was to use a stock hood panel. This simply wasn't possible because of the tremendous heat generated from the turbocharger. This led to the addition of hood vents.
When an '80 Corvette arrived at ACI, the car was totally stripped down to the steel structure. The only items that were retained were the front and rear bumpers and the hood. The interesting part was that ACI was able to assemble the new body using far fewer parts than had been used at the St. Louis plant. "Normally a Corvette is assembled in a number of panels," said Schuller in 1980. "Hood, front and rear fender, doors... Wherever these panels are bonded together, you're likely to get defects. So for this car, we tooled a complete rear end and complete doors. There are no seams, so there is no bodywork necessary for our car."
The Duntov body is 6 inches wider than a standard '80 Corvette. The front headlights were changed to a rectangular design. All in all, this new body was the most impressive part of the Duntov Corvette. However, you might feel the design and quality was far beyond anything that ever rolled off of the old St. Louis assembly line.
The engine was both the good and bad part of this project. Bob Schuller really wasn't too excited about the turbocharged engine. "I was reluctant to get into turbocharging 200 cars," Schuller told Corvette Fever in 1980. "But then I realized that Duntov is really more known for his emphasis on the performance of a Corvette than the looks of the car. As far as he's concerned, the car and body are there to keep the rain off the turbocharger."
The turbo installation gave the team at ACI more than a few anxious moments. The heat was an incredible problem. In desperation, ACI added a vent panel to the hood. It was placed directly over the turbo in an effort to remove at least some of the heat from the engine compartment. The turbo heat was so great that the hoses around the turbo would actually melt. This necessitated going to a lot of industrial-strength hoses from Aeroquip. An engineer was brought in from Aeroquip and looked at all the possible trouble spots. As a result, all the water, fuel, and oil lines were converted to Aeroquip products. While this solved the problem of melting hoses, it certainly didn't do anything for the cost of the project. What began as a simple body project was suddenly getting more and more expensive.
The engine was built to run 7 pounds of boost from a Turbo International unit, which was one of the least complex units on the market. The turbocharged engine became one of the real compromises of the project. ACI and Duntov finally just used the optional L82 engine with the turbo bolted on. There was too little time and too little money for much else. ACI simply didn't have the resources that Zora was used to having at GM.
Even the top speed of this Duntov Corvette was compromised. Keep in mind that no one ever really drives these cars flat-out, but the speed is critical for bragging rights. The Porsche peaked out at 160 miles per hour, and the Saab was good for roughly 140 mph. The best the Duntov Corvette could do was 125 mph.
Then came the price of the Duntov Corvette. It was right around $12,000 more than the Corvette at your local Chevrolet dealership. In 1980, the Corvette cost roughly $18,000. If you went wild with the little option boxes, it was still hard to get a Corvette over $25,000. The Duntov Corvette started at $30,000.
Only 86 Duntov Turbo Corvettes were built.
Thanks to Vette Online