Belgian engineer transformed sluggish Corvettes into rockets

Aug. 28, 2009

There are numerous automobile founders, inventors and racing drivers who have earned a place in the Pantheon of motoring. But Zora Arkus-Duntov is one of the few automobile engineers who is revered by anyone even vaguely familiar with the history of the Chevrolet Corvette.

Although Arkus-Duntov didn't actually invent Chevrolet's fiberglass two-seat sports car, he was certainly responsible for turning it into the high-performance, highly desirable car it is today.

Born in Belgium on Christmas Day 1909 Arkus-Duntov spent his early years in Russia and Germany where he graduated with a degree in engineering in 1934. At the onset of World War II, both he and his brother Yura joined the French Air Force to fight advancing German forces.

However, after the Nazi occupation of France, Arkus-Duntov, along with his wife, brother and remaining family members, emigrated to America in 1941.

Arkus-Duntov's early success as an engineer was with the Ardun Co. that he and brother Yura established in New York City. They began by supplying parts for the U.S. military, but also developed an overhead-valve, aluminum-head conversion for the Flathead Ford V-8 that became a popular item with the racing crowd. Unfortunately, the company, which at one time employed 300 workers, eventually failed.

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