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Random Car Review: The 1980 Chevrolet Corvette Duntov Turbo


Random Car Review: The 1980 Chevrolet Corvette Duntov Turbo

A large amount of Corvette folklore is centered around Zora Arkus-Duntov. The term “Father of the Corvette” might be a touch misleading…the Corvette existed before he joined Chevrolet, but what he did with the fiberglass wonder while he was employed with the company certainly was worth noting. Power, performance, safety features, records…name it, trace it to Zora. From the moment GM hired him he went for broke turning a sedate six-cylinder roadster into something the world needed to pay attention to. His hand was on every Corvette detail up until his retirement in 1975. But even at the age of sixty-six, Zora was not happy to relax. He had lived Corvette for decades, and now was bored. And, more than likely was disappointed with how things had turned out with the car. The C3 Corvette was not in a good place in 1975…it had the lines of the C3 generation more or less as they were penned, but 205 horsepower at best was a far cry from what had been going just a few years prior.

Enter American Custom Industries. ACI was in the fiberglass parts business and had just wrapped up the Greenwood Corvette project and was looking for the next thing. The man at the helm of ACI, Bob Schuller, knew of Zora courtesy of some Corvette events they both had attended, but they had only dealt with each other in passing. So Schuller came up with a plan: he would invite Zora to speak at ACI’s annual open house event, but instead of paying a speaking fee, ACI would do a visual restoration on Zora’s 1974 Corvette instead. The plan was to impress the master with the quality of parts and workmanship that ACI could provide. If this worked, there was a chance that another potential ringer was in the works.

Zora loved what ACI did to his personal car, and was on board when Schuller proposed the special edition Corvette that he would endorse. But Duntov had one sticking point: the car had to be turbocharged. For years, GM brass had said no to turbocharging…now was the time to shine, and it would happen via a Turbo International snail hooked to a 1980 L-82/automatic car. The turbocharger wasn’t complicated, but it generated heat like nothing else, requiring industrial-strength hoses to keep things from getting all melty underhood. Another heat relief was a vent directly over the turbocharger in the hood.¬†

The result wasn’t great. The Duntov Turbo Corvette looked good…it didn’t hurt that the widebody kit was a slight reworking of the Greenwood kit with fixed headlights. It didn’t hurt that the build quality of the ACI cars far exceeded what was coming out of the plant at St. Louis (Corvette production hadn’t moved to Bowling Green yet.) No, what hurt it was that it was an underwhelming failure. It was only four-tenths faster in the quarter than a basic L-82 Corvette, didn’t come with a manual trans, and was tested to have maybe a one-tenth of a second gain on an NA car in the 0-60 test. And let’s go for the price: if you maxed out a typical Corvette, you might have paid $25,000. The Duntovs¬†started at $30,000 and went from there. Ouch.

Duntov was supposed to get one of the cars that bore his name. He didn’t. In a 1991 interview, he was quick and terse about any mention of the Duntov Corvette. Obviously, he felt burned on the deal, and it’s hard to blame him. The run of cars was supposed to be limited to 200 units, but the best guess at this point is that maybe 65 existed in any form. Suddenly, an old phrase comes to mind: “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Zora and Schuller wanted to build a monster of a Corvette. Zora wanted to apply his dream science to the car he slaved over for years. But in the end, the result just wasn’t worth the effort that came into place.

Mecum Auctions Las Vegas 2018: Lot S94: 1980 Chevrolet Corvette Duntov Turbo #5


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