Friday, March 09, 2018

I just learned that Zora Duntov set a Pikes Peak record for sedans in 1956, breaking the old record by 2 minutes, as a method of getting sales back on track and saving the Corvette by perfecting a new fuel injection

Duntov used his persuasive powers to convince Chevrolet boss Ed Cole and GM R and D director Maurice Olley that a production Corvette would be a “turning point” for GM and that his contributions could be instrumental in advancing any high-performance automobile’s cause.

Olley was less convinced that racing relationships with other carmakers were a wise idea. For punishment, he dispatched the Russian to the proving grounds to work on trucks.

Cole had other ideas. After reading Arkus-Duntov’s memo pointing out how the hot-rod movement might help Chevrolet reach younger buyers, he gave his rabble rouser a challenging project: developing the fuel injection scheduled for introduction on the 1957 model year Chevrolet V-8 because Corvette sales were faltering and GM was pondering the early retirement of its sports car.

Arkus-Duntov stepped in at the last moment to save the Corvette and to recast it as Chevrolet’s halo vehicle. His views won broad internal respect and the job of evolving the Corvette from a fashionable, gutless two-seater into a world-class sports car. His new authority only encouraged Arkus-Duntov’s speed exploits.

Entering a 1956 Chevrolet in the annual Pikes Peak Hill Climb was near the top of the list of possibilities. Their goal was to set a sedan class record. One of the PR managers realized that Duntov would be an ideal person to drive in the event. He had international racing credentials and he was a genuine Chevrolet engineer.

Since the Pikes Peak event would take place prior to the introduction of the 1956 Chevrolets, a elaborate disguise scheme was developed to prevent the premature exposure of the new design.

He broke a couple of Pikes Peak records in disguised Chevy sedans, a 2 dr and a 4 dr in early 1955, when Chevrolet public relations began developing ideas aimed at publicizing the performance of their new small-block V-8 engine.

They were both equipped with the 265 cubic inch small-block V-8, 3 speed manual transmissions and 4.55 rear ends. The suspensions were beefed-up, but there were no roll-cages installed.

GM had been using Pikes Peak for high altitude testing so there was an established GM Engineering Test Facility ready for Duntov’s team to use in nearby in Manitou Springs.

And GM had the juice to get Bill France and his crew to time the private event that was held without the Pike's Peak Hill Climb Associations sanctioning, and so they didn't change the official record books.

1 comment:

  1. I had to laugh, they show Zora shaking hands and starting off(3:40), then being greeted at the top(7:02), both in a 4 dr hardtop. But the race film(4:11,4:36,5:05,5:28) clearly show a 4dr sedan.