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Corvette turns 60

Let's go back 60 years to 1953 -- and the Waldorf Astoria in New York.  In main auditorium is a wondrous display of General Motors production cars and dream cars. For this is the 1953 Motorama.

The centre of the crowd's attention is a smallish, white, fibreglass bodied sports car showing off a red interior. Its designer is Harley Earl and its engineer is Ed Cole. Both know the car by its code name, EX122. You and I know it as the Corvette.

The Corvette is only a concept car, but the strong, visceral reaction of Motorama visitors causes GM Chairman Harlow "Red" Curtice, to order it into production. Within seven months the six cylinder speedster is in dealer showrooms.

Also in the auditorium, is another engineer. He's Russian, born in 1909. He's seen the Tsar toppled and the communists come to power in 1917. He's worked in Berlin during the rise of Hitler and because of his Jewish faith, had to make a fast escape through Paris and Spain, where he boarded a ship that landed him in New York in 1939.

His name is Zora Arkus Duntov, and 33 years later at the opening ceremony of the National Corvette Museum 120,000 Corvette devotes will give him a standing ovation for all that he has done to make the car one of the most iconic marques of the automobile world.

A brilliant engineer, in 1953 Duntov was already well known in hot rodding circles for his development of cylinder heads for flat head V8 Ford motors which increased power by a stunning 60%. What he sees in front of him at the Waldorf is his future. He writes to GM asking for a job on the Corvette program and is hired to help with engineering issues.

Then as sales slow, less than 4000 sold in two years, and GM top brass get cold feet about the car's potential. Duntov puts his corporate neck on the line and writes a memo to the key decision makers.

It is a passionate call for the need to have a car in the Chevrolet line up that speaks to the youth of America and to provide the whole Chevy range some much needed pizzazz. He prevails, and the Corvette gets a reprieve.

Duntov then sets about making some changes. He rips out the six and powerglide transmission and inserts the new Ed Cole designed, small block V8. He adds a four speed gearbox and fuel injection, tweaks the suspension and within three years his magic has transformed the Corvette from a stylish cruiser into a object of primal desire for generations of Americans. And the rest of the story you know.

When he died in 1996 American columnist George Will wrote of Duntov: "If you do not mourn his passing, you are not a good American".

David Burrell is the editor of