The Father of the Corvette was a Belgian-born Russian Jew who lived and died an American citizen. The most ‘Yank’ car of all time is of a rather cosmopolitan breed. And Zora Arkus-Duntov saw it in the Corvette, and guided the all-American sportscar down its own path of myth and legend, from the very beginning when he joined General Motors in 1953 to his death on April 21, 1996. Zora was always there, even though he retired in 1975, every time a new model surfaced and at every launch of a next-generation Corvette ready to take its place on millions of teenage boys’ bedroom walls.
Duntov’s ashes are kept at the National Corvette Museum right amongst the iconic cars he created and those most prized examples of the 1.6 million Corvettes in total sold since 1953. He rests in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where the very cars are made, too. Here we look back at the Corvette’s history, the American sportscar built to represent Detroit on an international scale, vying for prime valet space and racing grid spots with Porsches, Ferraris, Aston Martins and the best the world could throw at it.
Today, Corvette is the longest-running nameplate in the world still battling with European exotics at half the price after 63 years, all thanks to Duntov who immortalised the car, a man who came to America on a boat as a Second World War refugee. In fact, there are only two nameplates in the car world that have been around longer than the Corvette and neither of them are even cars — Ford F-Series trucks (since 1948), and the Chevrolet Suburban (1935).
Right, now, top 10 production Corvettes ever, as we like to imagine Zora would’ve picked them…
10. 1953 Corvette
The original 1953-1962 Corvette was slaughtered on the market by Ford’s Thunderbird, outselling the Chevy 28 to one when it was introduced. But the Corvette was still a step in the right direction for Chevrolet because it was the first mass-produced car with a glass-fibre body.
9. 1962 Corvette 327
The first fuel-injected Corvette was also the quad-lamp facelifted first-generation C1 model, which looked completely different to the early cars and their single headlamps — in the last year of C1 manufacture production, 1962, the fuel-injected small block made over 350 horsepower, when a V12 Ferrari 250 GTO with six Weber carbs only got you 300bhp.
8. 1963 ‘Split-window’
This gorgeous Sting Ray (when it was written as two words) came with a split rear window design that was only made for the 1963 model year — afterwards, GM’s designers made it a large one-piece window to improve rearward visibility making the ’63 ’Vette extremely desirable and expensive.
7. 1965 Big-block
After 12 years of production, Chevrolet turned it up a notch with the Corvette in 1965 offering a big-block V8 engine as an option for the first time. The 396 cubic inch V8, or 6.5-litre, put 425 horsepower to the rear wheels. It was insane value for money considering that dealers were asking today’s equivalent of $2,200 (Dh8,000) for the big-block option.
6. 1969 ZL1
The third-generation Corvette brought about way more changes than just a badge now reading Stingray, one word. Initially unleashed on to the market with perhaps over 500bhp in the legendary ZL1, the car also inspired GM’s stunning Mako Shark II concept. But the Seventies’ global oil crisis almost spelled the Corvette’s doom — emissions regulations strangled engines to as little as 160 horsepower…
5. 1990 ZR-1
Developed to commemorate 25 years of the ZR-1 name, for 1990, Chevrolet’s ZR-1 Corvette also aimed to do serious battle with Porsche 911 Turbos and Ferrari 348s. The hand-built all-aluminium engine featured quad-cams and four-valves per cylinder.
4. 1996 Grand Sport
In 1963, to beat Carroll Shelby’s potent Cobras, Duntov homologated the Corvette for racing by building 125 special Grand Sport lightweight models — the name was resurrected with the 1996 C4 Corvette Grand Sport, which marked the end of the fourth-generation model.
3. 2001 ZR-1
In 2011, General Motors ran a test at the Nurburgring Nordschleife with the ’Ring-honed ZR-1 with a supercharged 640 horsepower 6.2-litre V8 — with optional Michelin tyres available to any customer the car lapped the 20km track in 7:19, which was five seconds quicker than a 2011 Nissan GT-R.
2. 1988 Sledgehammer
This might not be an official Bowling Green-built Corvette, but there’s no way we’re not including the Sledgehammer. And anyway, Callaway has been so closely associated with Corvette tuning over the years he may as well be an official ‘performance arm’ of the ’Vette. The incredible 900bhp twin-turbo ’88 Sledgehammer could crest 400kph.
OK, so we’re straying a little here by now… The best Corvette ever isn’t even a road-going Corvette. But how can we ignore the C6.R? It’s arguably the greatest American road racing car ever made, winning everything in ALMS, and taking three Le Mans 24 Hours victories in the GT1 class, too. In the last two years of its racing career the C6.R won half of all races it ran in the ALMS series and won both drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships before retirement.