61 years ago, Chevrolet was hardly a player in the world of hot-rodding, and Belgian-born Assistant Staff Engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov was anything but a household name. The bowtie brand was overlooked by the vast majority of participants in the recent hot-rodding boom, who favored Ford’s flathead V8 to quench their thirst for speed.
But if Jerry Maguire taught us anything, it’s the power of a well-written manifesto.
That is exactly what young Zora Arkus-Duntov employed to convince Chevy Motors Director of R&D Maurice Olley to greenlight the sale of Regular Production Option (RPO) parts to hot-rodders and racers. Predictably, he had a particular fascination with the Corvette: “If it is desirable or not to associate the Corvette with speed, I am not qualified to say,” he wrote, “but I do know that in 1954, sports car enthusiasts will get hold of Corvettes and whether we like it or not, will race it.”
“Since we cannot prevent the people from racing Corvettes maybe it is better to help them to do a good job at it,” he continued. His letter advocates offering not only RPO parts for Chevrolet’s less-popular V8, but for chassis and suspension, as well. It could be argued that the Chevrolet Performance brand – established 14 years after Zora’s letter – drew upon this ideal when it was created.
“The Duntov Letter,” as it’s called, is an historically significant document for what it meant to the creation of a Chevrolet-tweaking group of hot-rodders and racers. You can – and should – read the letter in its entirety at the Hotrod website.