Duntov Turbo Chevrolet Corvette
From the November 1980 Issue of Car and Driver
Bigger is better: the Duntov Creed. Of all its possible forms, none captures the spirit of the thing as well. Masters and Johnson notwithstanding, Zora Arkus-Duntov has cleaved to that belief with the righteous tenacity of a true zealot. While old Zora was in charge of Corvette engineering for Chevrolet, cubic inches grew in Corvettes like leaves on trees; and as far as a captivated Corvette audience was concerned, Corvettes stood taller tan trees. Duntov retired in 1975, a year after the first big petroleum squeeze–and retirement cam just in time for the man who loves go-power more than gas-saving.
Today’s Corvette, like almost everything else these days, slinks around with its tail between its legs, finding plenty of room for it there after the horsepower castration. When Duntov looks around, glad to be out from under the pressures of overall efficiency, his eyes fade to a distant focus.
He must have been in such a mood when Robert Schuller caught him. Schuller wanted to roll today’s best Corvettes out of his Sylvania, Ohio, shop with Zora Arkus-Duntov’s name fixed on them where everybody could see it. He also wanted them to offer more than Duntov’s name and a few cosmetic primpings. Schuller had set his sights on a Corvette with some chassis improvements underneath, a slick new body on top, and a turbocharger inside; and Zora’s frame of mind being what it is, it was probably the turbo that hooked him. They settled on a production number of 201 cars. Zora got the first one, chassis number 000, the very one you see here.
What happens is that brand-new Corvettes with 350-cubic-inch V-8s and automatics are ordered by Bob Schuller’s customers through normal dealers for drop-shipping to Schuller’s place (or Schuller can do the ordering himself). His business is American Custom Industries, Inc.—and for those of you with a minimum of $37,500 to spend on a Duntov Corvette, you’ll find it at 5035 Alexis Road, Sylvania, Ohio 43560; 419-882-2091. Once the workmen grubby their fingernails, it’s hardly any time at all before the original body has been stripped off and the wheels, tires, and shock absorbers cast aside.
Then the fun begins. Bilstein shocks, tailored with Bilstein’s help, are bolted in for improved handling and bump control. The power-steering gear is torn apart and reworked, the aim being greatly increased steering returnability-to-center. Burrs are cleaned up, bearings are set properly, and the worm gear is snugged up to make the steering tighter over center.
The engine and its accessories are, for all practical purposes, left alone—except for a thorough check-over and the installation of the turbocharger system. Schuller uses a 4.0-psi boost-producer provided by Turbo International. Most of the emissions equipment remains intact, and American Custom Industries claims the cars meet all emissions standards, though we are skeptical. Aeroquip fittings and braided metallic lines are used in the intensely hot area around the turbo for plumbing the radiator, oil return, air conditioner, and fuel system. A special air cleaner with vents on its upper side tops off the engine.
The new body is a magnificent piece of work, far superior in smoothness, gloss, consistency, and fit to anything that Chevrolet has ever mounted astride a Corvette chassis. With the help of several divisions of PPG Industries, Schuller’s own fiberglass experts have done remarkable things in designing, molding, and finishing an entirely new body skin. It is six inches wider than stock, and every inch in every direction, except the hood and the bumper covers, creates an all-new contour. The fenders bulge and flow and the doors fit with the perfect seams of a tailor-made tux. Dual pop-up headlights have been replaced with exposed rectangular units. All Duntov Turbos will be convertibles, and all will be white with red interiors; and although the body is changed in virtually every detail, there is no doubt that this is a Corvette.
The last components fitted are wheels and tires: striking 10.0-by-15-inch modular wheels from Weldwheel, Inc. (just now coming back from Chapter 11), and gummy Goodyear Wingfoots, sized P255/60 in the front and P265/60 at the far end.
The Duntov Turbo is two steps forward and a step backward from over-the-road competence. A stock Corvette feels like a bucket of parts bouncing around in the back of a pickup, all loose and wobbly and rattly, and it must do old Zora’s heart good to see his car track the straight and narrow for a change, to not get knocked askew at the very thought of the bumps, seams, and dimples that Mother Nature and heavy traffic have strewn around for us to find wherever we go. True, there is cowl shake aplenty over bumps, but both the steering and the stability of the Duntov Turbo are sterling improvements. The cornering limits are lower than stock, but feel is much better, a more than fair trade-off. The seats, however, do little for this situation. Although they’ve been reupholstered in nice, grippy, luxoplush material, they still have stock contouring and rake, and they put you at a leverage disadvantage. At least the digital engine-condition gauges are easy to read, even with the top down, and the stock tachometer and speedometer are bathed in red lighting for your untiring perusal at night.
But what about the turbo? you cry. We’d say it’s worth less of the $37,500 than the rest of the work. The L48 engine still doesn’t like revs over 5000, and it shows no great interest in tearing loose any one part of your body from another. It certainly runs stronger than the stock automatic L48, but then that’s not saying much anymore. All the turbo does is make up what the automatic gives away to a stock four-speed. The list of changes in the Duntov Turbo Corvette makes for a car of reorganized virtues and failings, not all good, not all bad, but few small enough to be overlooked. Is it enough? If you want to make those Wingfoots earn their keep, what you might try is taking a Duntov car home and shoveling in a real, live 454 and everything necessary for properly bracing the chassis and upgrading the running gear to that level. On the other hand, this could prove more of a nuisance than it’d be worth, because old Zora would be hanging around all the time badgering you for the keys. But then, if he’d buy the gas…
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