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The Man

Zora Arkus-Duntov: Image

"Duntov, by definition, was a hard-core hot rodder."

--Gray Baskerville, HOT ROD Magazine, September 1978, in his article, Duntov: The Mark of Zora (Biblio #1)

Zora was born with the name Zachary Yakovlovich Arkus on Christmas Day 1909 in Brussels, Belgium to Russian revolutionaries.  His unique childhood was split between St. Petersburg, Russia, and Germany.  Zora was extremely bright.  He received his mechanical engineering degree at one of Germany’s top technical schools, The Technical University of Berlin (Biblio #2), the German equivalent of MIT, and published an impressive paper about superchargers in a prestigious German technical journal in 1934 at the mere age of 24. (Biblio #2,20)


During his lifetime, he lived through some of the most tumultuous events of the 20th century, including both WWII and the 1917 Russian Revolution (when 10-year-old Zora would take a Smith & Wesson .45 caliber revolver with him to pick up the family’s bread ration)(Biblio #2,3)  He ended up speaking four languages.


In addition to his wits, Zora was a risk taker who wasn’t afraid to bend the rules. (Biblio #4)  The National Corvette Museum Hall of Fame describes him as “A daring race driver, a brilliant engineer, and an opportunist.  Reckless, Resourceful, and Resilient” and, “Zora was a renegade who believed in himself.  He didn’t wait for things to happen, he made things happen.” (Biblio #5)

"From the beginning of his life until the very end, Zora never lost his desire to run free--and fast." (Biblio #2)

The blue-eyed Paul Newman look-a-like took up boxing, raced both motorcycles and cars, smuggled gold in a Flathead Ford, married a cabaret dancer with the French Folies Bergère, was a tail gunner in the French Air Force (Biblio #3), and escaped Nazi-occupied France, which involved hiding in a brothel and subsisting on pigeons (Biblio #4).  In 1940, he and his wife caught a creaky freighter to Ellis Island. (Biblio #3,4,6)  Zora founded his own war munitions manufacturing company with 300 employees in New York.  He became a consultant for top US defense companies in the war effort and even helped develop an atomic compressor.


After the war, he began building a racing conversion kit that gave the Ford Flathead more power.  About this time, Zora began hyphenating his surname name as Arkus-Duntov in tribute to his stepfather, Josef Duntov.  The name of his company, and later his flathead conversion kit, became ARDUN by blending his surname, thus ARkus-DUNtov.


In the early 1950’s, Arkus-Duntov worked as an automotive consultant for Porsche and Daimler-Benz and raced cars in Europe (winning his class at Le Mans in 1954 and 1955). (Biblio #7)  He also raced cars at iconic US race tracks, including Watkins Glen in New York and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


In 1953, he was impressed by the Corvette prototype at the New York GM Motorama and accepted a job at General Motors where he quickly began “rocking the boat” challenging and irritating his bosses. (Biblio #3)  He soon became Corvette's Chief Engineer and drove the car into sports car immortality. (Biblio #2,8,33)

During his long careers at ARDUN Mechanical, at General Motors (1953 - 1975), and after GM retirement, at Holley Performance Products, Zora was instrumental in designing numerous automotive innovations.  Along the way, he became one of the most innovative automotive engineering geniuses in history. (Biblio #33)   But he was first a driver, and second an automotive engineer.

Sports Illustrated Magazine noticed him in 1972 and scooped everyone else by publishing a multipage profile about his fascinating life. (Biblio #35)  Zora Arkus-Duntov died of natural causes in his sleep on April 21, 1996 at age 86.  His obituary made the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Detroit News/Free Press, Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune.  His ashes were interred at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY.

"In Zora's mind, engineering was simply a means to drive.  Combining the two brought Zora the ultimate in satisfaction.  Nothing he could imagine would give him more fulfillment than driving his own machinery (to a speed record or racing championship.)" (Biblio #2)


Zora Arkus-Duntov: Imprint
Zora Arkus-Duntov: Text

“One man can make a difference.  Zora Arkus-Duntov was that man.”

--A poster displayed by Mid-American Designs at a 1996 postmortem tribute to ZAD at the National Corvette Museum

The Smuggler's owner at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY posing with a stature of Zora Arkus-Duntov holding his famous Duntov 30-30 camshaft

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