The Hands-On Life and Times of a Lifelong Corvette Guy, Allan “Bunky” Garonzik
Even though Zora Arkus-Duntov was “only” the chief engineer, he felt a personal connection with Corvette customers. He used to refer to them as “his” customers. One of the young engineers that worked with Duntov once said that Zora lead with love and passion. Duntov wanted his customers to ENJOY their Corvette. He wanted them to not only drive their Corvette, but also drive them hard – go racing if they wanted, and he and his team would supply the parts to be successful.
Of course, back in the day, up to the introduction of emissions controls, Corvettes (all cars for that matter) were really simple. The cars were 100-percent mechanical. With just modest mechanical skills, a box of Craftsman tools, a tackle block pulley and a few other basic tools, an owner could swap an engine on a Saturday and be back on the road on Sunday. It was easy to learn auto mechanics on your own car.
We all start off knowing nothing about cars until the day arrives when the “car bug” bites us and for many, it becomes a life-long, positive infection. When Allan Garonzik (“Bunky” to his friends) was in school, he started out like all of us car guys, hanging on, watching an “older guy” (usually around 21) do stuff to their cars. Bunky started working on cars while in high school, helping out a little here and there, and longing for the day when he could get his own cool ride.
In 1961 Bunky was what used to be called a “Go Getter!” He was attending college at the University of Texas at Arlington, with a full course load, plus working at a supermarket, and driving back and forth from his home in the Dallas area to college in Arlington, Texas. Bunky’s daily driver was a 1955 Chevy with a swapped-out 283/220-hp engine – an “okay” car, but just “a car.”
Then one day, he saw it – a 1956 265 Corvette “For Sale”! The price; a whopping $765! That’s just $6,232 in 2017 dollars, but heck, Corvettes were WAY simpler back then. He drove the car home and swapped out the Corvette’s 265 engine for his ’55 Chevy’s 283. After all, new Corvettes in 1961 had the 283 engine, so why keep the 283 in a ’55 Chevy sedan when it belonged under the hood of his Vette? Then, to complete the first chapter of his life with his 1956 Corvette, Bunky sold the ’55 Chevy with the 265 for $500. So after a weekend’s worth of work, he was into a 1956, 283 Corvette for only $265!
In the early 1960s drag racing was arguably the hottest trend in auto racing. Although Corvettes were designed to be road-racing cars and could be excellent drag machines, many notable Corvette road racers started out drag racing. Championship driver Dave MacDonald started as a drag racer in Southern California, as did the great John Greenwood in Detroit. Drag strips were popping up all over the nation and young men (and a few ladies) were encouraged to bring their streetcar to their local strip where they could safely “test out” their car. But the really hot cars at the drags were the Dragsters, Gassers, Modifieds, and Super Stockers. Bunky immediately set out to make his daily driver Vette into a drag machine.
The cars were classed based on the kinds of modifications, weight, and cubic-inch displacement. Bunky learned from the older guys that if he dropped a 283 crank into his 327, he’d have a 301 that would rev much higher and put him into a more advantageous class. He then installed a roller cam, headers, a lightweight flywheel, and this “secret weapon”, 5.38:1 gears. Needless to say, he didn’t spend much time in first gear! A proper drag-type car had to have a 4-speed transmission, so Bunky picked up a 220 4-speed gearbox for $150. The engine would wind like a banshee up to 9,000-rpm, and with the low gears, would slightly lift the front wheels! Like a true racer, Bunky removed everything not needed for a drag car and got the weight down to around 1,800-pounds! And for all of Bunky’s effort, his Corvette ran 12.8s in the quarter-mile – pretty heady stuff back in the early 1960s.
Of course, Bunky’s Corvette wasn’t all “prettified” with cool chrome wheels and a wild paint job – it was just a down-and-dirty, quick street-strip Vette. But, as was the case with many guys back in the day that tried to make a racecar that also worked as a streetcar, Bunky learned that the combo doesn’t do well after a while. So, Bunky bought another car for transportation and kept the Vette for the track. Eventually his Vette went back to street, but fortunately, the car didn’t leave him, as is usually the case.
While enjoying his time drag racing and going to college, Bunky met another car guy, nick-named “Meatball.” (everyone had a nickname back then!) Bunky and Meatball talked cars and racing, worked on cars, raced cars, and sometimes wrenched on a Top Fuel car – learning tips and tricks – VERY heady, serious stuff back then! Meatball was so into drag racing that one day, he told Bunky, “Someday I’m going to be a professional drag racer!” To which Bunky said, “You can’t do it, Man! We don’t have the bucks for that kind of life. Forget it.” Fortunately for Meatball, he didn’t listen to his friend. We’ll tell you later just who “Meatball” was.
After college and ROTC, it was time for Bunky to join the U.S. Army. Since he had a college degree in business and was an ROTC man, after boot camp, he was commissioned and eventually made captain in the military police. As happens to many young men after they get out of the military, Bunky wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do, so he did a lot of different things. He worked for military contractor LTV, then VAD – Vought Aerodynamics Division – as a buyer for aircraft parts. Later, using his business degree, Bunky worked for the company that owned the Long John Silver restaurant chain and opened 27 restaurants all around the country.
By 1970 it was time to start his own business enterprise. He asked a friend if there was money in the printing business and his friend said, “Sure!” So Bunky opened a printing shop and learned the printing trade. To make extra money he worked nightclubs on the weekends, helping to book in rock’n roll acts. This was a very colorful time in Bunky’s life. Two young “wann’a-be” rock’n rollers that Bunky hired were Don Henley and Glenn Frey, who later became the superband, “The Eagles”.
All through Bunky’s long and interesting career, “cars” were always a big part of his life. Many vehicles came, were enjoyed, and went on to new owners, but the 1956 Corvette is the one that stayed on. With the car’s drag racing past behind it, Bunky setup his Vette as a stout streetcar. Along the way, the car has had five paint jobs, all done by Bunky himself. The paint job rundown is as follows: turquoise (during the drag racing days), blue with silver coves, gold, Camaro dark metallic green, and white with red coves – the last and current paint scheme.
According to Bunky, since the car’s current paint was laid on in 1988, it’s getting to be time for a new coat of paint. But Bunky has the same problem many car guys have – too many project cars – we’ll get to them later. Bunky has never been hesitant to change things on his Corvette if it was for the greater good. The 1956 Corvette’s current configuration is as follows.
The engine is a 350 SBC with a 1961 Rochester Fuelie unit, headers, a modern alternator, and steel radiator hoses. To modernize the suspension the ’56 Vette has fabricated a rack-and-pinion power steering and front disc brakes. The rear is raised slightly and has old-school traction bars that Bunky fabricated. The transmission is a Borg-Warner with a cast iron gearbox and aluminum tail section. The shifter is by Hurst and the shifter “ball” is an actual 9mm Argentine Bersa.
Bunky’s other car projects include a 2003 Z06 that gets 31-mpg, and a 2015 Stingray that’s his wife Sandra’s daily driver. The 1954 Corvette retro rod is still being worked on, but has a frame that Bunky built with C4 suspension and an LS engine. His rat rod is a 1928 Dodge that Bunky and Sandra obviously have a lot of fun with at car shows. Note the “bullet holes” – some are decals – others are real! And lets not forget the motorcycles. “I’ve had Harleys for the last 45 years. I love big bikes!” says Bunky.
By now you are probably wondering how Allan got the nickname, “Bunky.” Allan, aka, “Bunky” explains, “When I was a kid there was a popular comic strip series called, “Bunky” (the original name was “Parlor, Bedroom and Sink” that later became just “Bunky”) and my Mom just nicknamed be “Bunky.” The character Bunky was a pint-sized little fellow with a vocabulary on par with the adults. “The nickname just stuck with me. For people that don’t know me, they call me Allan, friends call me Bunky.”
And what of Bunky’s car friend, “Meatball” and his aspirations to be a professional drag racer? Meatball’s real name is Kenny Bernstein, the “Bud King” and “The King of Speed.” Kenny was the first driver to break the 300-mph barrier, the only driver to win championships in the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes, he fielded race cars in NASCAR and IndyCar racing, and is ranked sixth on the NHRA list of the Top 50 Drivers, 1951-2000. Kenny is also one of three Auto Racing drivers elected into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, along with Jody Scheckter (Formula One), and Mauri Rose (3-time Indy 500 winner and Corvette development engineer).
Now in his early 70s, Bunky is a very busy senior citizen. The 1956 Corvette needs a new paint job. The 1954 Corvette Resto Rod needs to be completed. Miles need to be racked up on his 2003 Z06. The Rat Rod is always a work-in-progress. Motorcycles need riding, and there’s always a new house project.
Aside from winning races and selling lots of cars, Zora Duntov wanted his customers to drive and enjoy their Corvettes. Bunky’s 1956 Corvette now has over 300,000 miles on the odometer and he’s getting ready to make a few changes. Remember, Bunky’s a “go-getter.” Rest assured, he’ll get’r done, and it’ll be fun! – Scott