5 Corvette secrets we can’t stop talking about

Mecum

Given the rumors that Chevrolet may spin the Corvette into a sub-brand, perhaps including an electric SUV, it’s only natural that some long for simpler times. This list, which originally ran in 2012, reminds us that nothing’s guaranteed—not even the birth of America’s sports car.  —Ed. 

The Corvette, America’s favorite sports car, has been in production since 1953. Seven decades would provide plenty of time, you’d think, to air its secrets, but there are still a few things that aren’t common knowledge about this American icon.

GM almost killed it

The 1953 model year was really just a dress rehearsal, but when production began in earnest for 1954, there were more cars than buyers, who weren’t impressed with the lack of roll-up windows and modest performance.

GM was seriously thinking about axing the car when Ford announced the Thunderbird. Not wishing to give Ford the PR win for “killing” the Corvette with the T-Bird, GM pressed on and got serious about making it into a real performance car.

1953 Corvette front three quarter
1953 Chevrolet Corvette Roadster. Mecum

The Corvette didn’t originally have a V-8

Although it would seem unthinkable today, the original Corvette wasn’t powered by a V-8. Chevy’s modern small block V-8 didn’t exist in 1953, so for the first two model years, the Corvette was powered by a somewhat anemic six-cylinder motor.

See secret number three.

Augie Pabst Roger Penske Zora Duntov
Zora Arkus-Duntov (C), with young drivers Augie Pabst (L) and Roger Penske (R). Bernard Cahier/Getty Images

The savior of the all-American sports car spent his childhood in Russia

Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, the man who transformed the Corvette from a pleasant little roadster into a serious, V-8-powered sports car, wasn’t born in America. However, as George Will stated in his 1996 obituary, “He was born to be an American.”

Duntov was born in 1909 in Belgium to Russian parents. He moved back to Leningrad with them as a child, a fact that GM rarely mentioned in the Cold War era of the 1950s. His ashes are interred at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

1984 Corvette brochure
1984 Chevrolet Corvette C4. Chevrolet

There was no 1983 Corvette

It must have killed GM, because 1983 would have been the car’s 30th anniversary, but there was actually no 1983 Corvette.

A complete re-design of the car had taken place and there were quality-control and supplier issues. By the time they were all sorted out, there were just four months to go in the 1983 model year. GM just decided to skip 1983 altogether and the first new C4 Corvettes were all early 1984 models.

In retrospect, maybe they should have skipped 1984 as well: Cars from that model year are known for a punishing ride and numerous faults, not unlike the previous generation’s first-year model from 1968.

Opel GT with Aero GT
The Opel GT and Aero GT. Opel

The Corvette had a mini-me twin

GM’s German subsidiary, Adam Opel, AG (better known simply as Opel), was suffering with a particularly staid image in the 1960s. Bob Lutz sent stylist Clare MacKichan to Opel spark a little creativity.

Not coincidentally, MacKichan was a Corvette guy and Opel’s little sports car, the 1.9-liter Opel GT, came out looking for all the world like a two-thirds size 1968 Corvette. They’re rare today, but the reaction an Opel GT inspires when parked next to a 1968–72 Corvette is priceless.

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    My first car was my grandmother’s 1961 Chevy Biscayne. Hard to believe it shared the same powertrain as the first Corvettes, minus two carburetors. At least both cars would go 90+ miles per hour in second gear! Wasn’t until 1968 the Powerglide finally disappeared from the Corvette..

    I had a 1954 Chevy Belair Sports Coupe, It had a “Blue Flame” six minus the 3 Carbs, Power Glide trans, and a Torque Tube instead of a Drive shaft.

    Right you are, Chris. I’ve seen it in person. It’s white. I believe it was originally donated to a charity for a raffle?

    One of my coworkers once tried to sell me an 84 corvette. He popped the hood and I saw those two 4-banger throttle bodies and said nope

    Crossfire injection! AKA misfire injection. I would lay waste to them with my 1975 Penske Camaro with an L-82 350 4 Speed…

    The coolest thing for me about the 1984 Corvette was that I was currently in an engineering program at my university. I established the first-ever Chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers at my University, and was able to get Dave McLellan, Chief Corvette Engineer to come to dinner meeting in Grand Rapids, MI and he actually brought the new 1984 Corvette to display inside the Amway center while we had a great presentation about the new Corvette Design! I have owned many Corvettes ever since including 69 427 Tri-Power, 67 427 Tri Power, 94 ZR1, 2007 Z-06, and a 2023 C8 Z51

    I remember looking at a new ’54 Vette in front of the local Chevrolet dealer in upstate NY. At that time in my late teenage years, I was totally into English sports cars and spent my weekends at the Thompsonville sports track in CT. I was not impressed. However, when the ’57 Vette showed up I changed my mind and had a new love of the car.

    Thompson Speedway, now Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. Oldest Paved Oval and Closed Road Course in the country

    I think the headline writer misunderstands the meaning of “secret”.

    Duntov’s Russian childhood was the only new fact to me (not a deep lore Corvette person) and I could of learned that from the 2nd paragraph of wikipedia if such details mattered…

    Lets correct a few things here.

    #1 The Corvette did die in the early 90’s as the C5 as canceled. Russ Mclean the head of the program ignored GM and continued the program and Jim Perkins help find the money to finish the car.

    In the end the car was saved as the C5 was so good it was able to make a business case.

    #2 there were a number of 1983 C4 Corvettes. They were tested and pilot cars for the new KY plant. But GM delayed the car and decided to skip the into to 84.

    So while they were not sold there was a number of 83 Corvettes. Today one was saved as it was hrrrr Lost at the plant for a number of years. It was turned over and is in the Corvette Museum today.

    #3 Long before the Opel GT Pontiac built two Banshee show cars for John Delorean. These cars help frame the styling for the C3 6 years later. The cars were hidden in the tech center and survive today. How does the Corvette Community think of them. Well they were the only non Corvette to be invited to Bloomington Gold.

    As for Zora there is much more to him vs just being raised in Russia. He and his wife were spys in WW2. He was a master of getting power from a flat head Ford with the Ardun heads. Yes he is that Ardun.

    Zora was a racer and while even working for GM he drove at LeMans for the Porsche team.

    There is a good book on his life out there and is a must read for any Corvette enthusiast.

    Duntov also is responsible for the process of spin balancing short blocks to Lower vibration at peak horsepower. It came from Porsche 4 cam production, used extensively at Tonawanda

    The last engines to be spin balanced at Tonawanda were the Gen V big block engines just before they were hot tested. Later the crank would be spin balanced and piston rod assemblies would be weighed before assembly to keep the assembly balanced.

    I remember hearing that Zora Duntov & his younger brother Yuri developed the ARDUN heads primarily for flat head powered trucks (garbage trucks were mentioned) to boost torque & reduce inherent overheating problems due to inferior exhaust port positioning. Besides that G.M. Assembly Division workers reportedly grounded the electrical system to body parts (Fiberglas) resulting in parts not functioning . True ???

    At least one of the Banshee cars is actually in private hands and has been for sale for quite some time in New England.

    That Banshee Pontiac was a spitting image of the Opel GT. It had the same oval pop-up headligts. Chevy had a fit that Pontiac would have a competitor for the Corvette, and they called GM to complain, and it was cancelled. I rode in a friend’s 84 Corvette and it was a dog. It had the Z51 suspension that Chevrolet put on the Corvette as the “standard” suspension. My firend bought the springs from the 85 Corvette and had them installed in his car. Then his wife would actually ride in it. In 85 the Z51 suspension was the option.

    One thing I find Amazing. Look at the hood support on the 53. This design was used in early cars on trunk lids at GM. Now look thought GM history and you will find that hood support in many lengths and with different mounts but still the same design. Vans even the Fiero front hood is supported with the longest one I have seen.

    That support even showed up on AMC and other non GM vehicles over the years.

    GM really got their money out of that design.

    That type of support was very common on pickup “canopies” of the day. A lot of manufacturers used them for many different purposes. And they worked well.

    For those who are too young to have owned a Corvette with the ratcheting hood support (or other GM car with the ratcheting trunk lid support), to close the hood (trunk lid), you would push the hood up to release it and then lower it to the closed position. Once, back in the day, I was working under the hood on my ’61 Corvette. For whatever reason, I had disconnected the belt tensioning strap from the generator and had pivoted it upward to get it out of the way. A gust of wind blew the hood upward, releasing the support, and it fell down on the strap, damaging the hood. Thereafter, whenever I raised the hood outdoors, I placed a short bolt through conveniently placed holes the the two part hood support.

    Thanks for that. I remember dropping the hood on my previous ’62 only to find the bolt that I left on top of the air cleaner. Very low clearances once that hood drops.

    I will use your tip though when I raise the hood on the ’62 from now on. Great tip! Thanks… “: ^ )

    The “Blue Flame” six isn’t a surprise to those of us who have actually owned one. Neither is the lack of today’s type of performance in the original Corvette. I had one briefly several years ago that I got for an unpaid bill and which I couldn’t wait to get rid of. Wish I had it now.
    And the Corvette/Opel comparison is well known among car guys.

    Had one once. Would never buy another.
    Bought a ’73 convertible in ’77. By and far the worst car I have ever owned. Needed a valve job at 54K miles. Then there was the Nylon gear on the camshaft.

    I owned an 84 Corvette I had no problems with the ride I thought it was a fantastic car Corvette became a world class car in 84

    in 1990 the vette set a speed record, that was the ZR1 model, and that was officially when the “world class” moniker had any legit impact. The 1984 car was a duck, 205hp, 8 second 0-60.

    Totally agree with Mike. Had a brand new black ’84 and I thought it was a real good car. Rode just fine. Liked it well enough to buy a new ’86 roadster 2 years later! Liked it a lot also.

    I had an 86 corvette convertible with the 4+3 transmission great car no problems could have used more HP ll but all in all a great car

    Friend of mine had a then 4 year old black 1984 Corvette with the DN 4+3 trans in high school. I know they get a lot of flack, but it was a beautiful car and pretty quick at that time. I don’t believe he had the Z51-“tooth filling remover” option.

    There was a recent article that I read that stated that the revealed Opel GT body predated the revealing of the C3. Thus, the little Opel has a maxi-me.

    You are correct. Work on the Opel started in 1961. Two working driving prototypes shown at Frankfurt Auto Show in 1965.

    As a student in 1968 and having my VW stolen, I have little time to replace to find a new car. VWs were in short supply so I ended up buying an Opel Rally. Same 1.9 liter engine as the GT. Solid lifters were so loud I could barely hear the radio even a low speeds and rear wheel seals blew out every 6 months Got rid of it in just 2 years; the shortest ownership time of any car I have ever owned. POS

    I have owned a 73 and 70 corvette but before them I had a 1971 Opel G.T. Fun car that lots of guys used to say “hey nice mini vette” !!!

    I had a great time drag racing a 1967 tri power 427-435hp that Jesel blue printed the motor. 10.09 at 135 was the best it did. Now a few years later I bought a 1985 with T-tops and a 350, nash 4+3, the first time I drove it bringing it home was amazing!

    I like the ’85, want to strip it and paint the original color – red and refresh the motor. I paid US $ 2,700 for it, and it ran.

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