Corvette Timeline Tales

Roger Judski Buys One of Two Official 1969 ZL-1 Corvettes

Roger Judski’s SUPER RARE 1969 ZL-1 Corvette

 

Side-pipes, L88 hood, fender vent inserts, and special strips! What'a beauty! (photo CorvetteBrazil.blogspot.com)

Side-pipes, L88 hood, fender vent inserts, and special strips! What’a beauty! (photo CorvetteBrazil.blogspot.com)

Dateline: 10.11.14 Twenty-three years ago today, October 11, 1991, at of all places, The Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Roger Judski, owner of Judski’s Corvette Center in Maitland, Florida became the owner of what is arguably the rarest of all high performance Corvettes, a 1969 ZL-1 Corvette. When this car was announced to the world in the fall of 1968 as an option on the ’69 Corvette, it became an instant legend for numerous reasons. Judski paid what was then considered a stunningly HUGE amount of money for the ZL-1, $300,000! Roger had been trying to buy the ZL-1 for 12 years.

 

The slight green tint on the spinning fan wasn't lighting, the fan was really green.

The slight green tint on the spinning fan wasn’t lighting, the fan was really green.

The stratosphericly expensive, all-aluminum 427 big-block ZL-1 option cost a whopping $3,000 back in 1969. But wait, there’s more! On top of that, there were four other “required” options that totaled up to $63 LESS that the cost of the base Corvette, tallying up to $4,719. Those other required options were; K66 – transistor ignition, F41 – special front and rear suspension, J56 – heavy duty brakes, and G81 – posi-traction rear.

 

Not until the arrival of the ’09 ZR1 did an option on a Corvette cost more that the base model. At least with the C6 ZR1, it was a complete package. The C4 ZR-1 comes in second place in the expensive Corvette options race costing $27,016 on the $31,979 ’90 Corvette and later $31,258 on the $36,185 ’94 Corvette. Continue reading

Corvette History:10-4-73 – The 4-Rotor Experimental Corvette Debuts In Paris!

The 4-Rotor Experimental Corvette Makes It’s Grand Debut 41 Years Ago In Paris!

 4-Rotor-Corvette-Photo Oui! Oui! Thanks to Zora Arkus-Duntov, Corvette fans were treated to a series of mid-engine Corvette through the ‘60s and ‘70s. But XP-882 was no “ordinary” experimental mid-engine Corvette. Behind the driver was a honk’n 390 cubic-inch Wankel rotary engine. Ed Cole was President of General Motors at the time and was hot on the smooth-running rotary engine design. So what better a hallo car to present the then-exotic engine that under a stunning Corvette.

Although VP of Design Bill Mitchell was the official “designer” of the body shape, Chuck Jordan supervised the project. The car had wrap-around glass and hidden A-pillars. The doors weren’t just gull-wing, they were bi-fold gull wings. The look was fresh, edgy, exciting, and definitely CORVETTE. Continue reading

Corvette Legends: The Great, Dave MacDonald, Part 2

Dateline: 4.14.12

Dave MacDonald: Corvette Racer… Corvette Man… Family Man

You can catch Part 1 of this story HERE.

Being hired by Shelby made the MacDonald’s life almost as fast as the cars he drove. In the 17 months between the beginning of ‘63 through to the ‘64 Indy race, MacDonald raced in 44 events. The ‘64 Indy crash was the first time the 500 had ever been stopped because of an accident. The media at the time, would regularly make big headlines over any auto racing mishap, and were all over the crash. While Indy officials quickly concluded that there was no driver error, the race was hotly debated for decades.

“After Indy, I was hurting so, I needed to change my life, so I moved a few miles away, but stayed close to  my in-laws. From Indy on, I didn’t follow racing. My interest in racing was basically ONE RACE DRIVER.” It wouldn’t be until the early ‘90s when Corvette fans started recovering and restoring old Corvette race cars that MacDonald’s all too short racing career began to get attention. “It is so gratifying and nice to meet people that raced with Dave and hear how much they admired him, not only for his skill as a driver, but for being a really nice guy.” Today Sherry MacDonald is retired and as busy as ever with volunteer projects and her large family. Continue reading

Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy 82nd Birthday Larry Shinoda

Dateline: 3.26.12

The next time you see a mid-year Sting Ray or Shark Corvette, think of Larry Shinoda.

He was born “Lawrence Kiyoshi Shinoda” but the automotive and Corvette world knew him as Larry Shinoda – Corvette designer and all-around carguy! Growing up in Southern California, Larry was steeped in the car culture and like many SoCal young men, was into the burgeoning sport of drag racing. In addition to his Corvette accomplishments, Larry also participated in an won his class at the very first NHRA national event in Great Bend, Kansas in 1955.

Larry was only 25-years old when after not completing his studies at Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles, he landed his first job with Ford in 1955. A year later, he briefly went to work at Studebaker/Packard, then went to General Motors late in 1956. Larry not only had an impressive portfolio, he had an intuitive sense of styling. If didn’t take long before his talent caught the keen eye of GM’s Bill Mitchell. But it wasn’t just Larry’s skill at wielding a pen and airbrush that helped acquaint him with Mitchell – it was drag racing.

The story goes that one day Shinoda and Mitchell had a chance encounter at a traffic light. Since both men had what Mitchell called, “gasoline in their veins,” neither man needed much goading to initiate a little stoplight grand prix. The light turned green and Larry put a whoop’n Bill, which may have been one of his best career moves. Mitchell drafted Shinoda into his special forces of car design, headquartered deep inside GM’s guarded facilities in a place called, “Studio X.” (sounds like a ‘50s sci-fi b-grade movie, doesn’t it”?) Continue reading

Corvette Timeline Tails: Happy 102nd Birthday Zora Arkus-Duntov

Dateline: 12.25.11

Where the Corvette Got Its Mojo From!

Don’t miss the Duntov video at the bottom of this post!

Corvettes are all about passion and that passion shows up in two powerful ways – visually and from performance. The two are so intrinsically connected that they seem one and the same, but a closer examination reveals that is not the case. Of course, the first thing one notices about the Corvette is its looks. The car’s appearance is totally unique, even though it did borrow a little here and there from other designs. But at the end of the day, the completed design only looks like a Corvette.

But looks will only get you so far. What completes the Corvette addiction is the visceral experience of driving one. To “get” the Corvette, you must drive the car. And if the driving experience was now much different from a mushy sedan, what’s the point? No, if the Corvette didn’t deliver responsive performance with gobs of sensory input for the driver, the car surely would have gone quietly into the night, fading into automotive obscurity, along with a long list of once interesting cars.

So who was responsible for infusing the Corvette with it’s Mojo? Zora Arkus-Duntov. Zora was, without a doubt, the ultimate automotive corporate misfit to ever work in Detroit. By the time he saw the very first Corvette at the 1953 Motorama, he was 44 years old, a seasoned mechanical engineer, race car driver and builder. he was quoted as saying, “When I saw the Corvette at the Motorama, I thought it was the most beautiful car I’d ever seen.” And Duntov appreciated beauty. Just look at his stunning blond beauty wife and former Bluebell Girls dancer, Elfie Duntov. yes, Zora new a good-looking dame when he saw one and one look at the Corvette and he knew where he wanted to be – in the engineering department of Chevrolet, working on the Corvette. Continue reading

Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy 113th Birthday to GM’s First VP of Design, Harley Earl

Dateline: 11.22.11

It was Harley Earl that decided that General Motors needed to make a sports car.

Harley Earl is arguably the greatest designer in American automobile history. And not just because of the Corvette. Some of Earl’s classic designs include the Buick Y-Job, the 1928 LaSalle Phantom, the Firebird Series, the Cadillac Cyclone, and others. He was also credited for inventing concepts that are today, simply taken for granted. From the website, www.CarOfTheCentury.com, here’s a list of 13 concepts that Harley Earl invented:

1. Founder of the Automobile Design Profession in America

2. Inventor of the Concept car, also know as the Dream Car

3. The introduction of the Annual Styling Model Change

4. The Father of Modern Design Change in Mass production

5. The Dean of America’s Auto Design Protégés

6. The Motorama Show (where the Corvette had it’s first outing)

7. First to introduce the concept of clad modeling to Detroit

8. The Father of the Corvette

9. Opened “Harley Earl Corporation” outside of General Motors in 1945

10. Father of the Modern Car & Creator of America’s Small Car Trend

11. Harley Earl was a Giant “Advocate of Women’s Rights in the Auto Industry”

12. Invented the “Graphic Engineering” profession

13. First to introduce “Color Revolution” to Detroit’s auto world

I’m sure that the above list of 13 accomplishments should be considered a “starter list.” For fans of the olden days of automobile design, this site is a delight… http://www.carofthecentury.com Without a doubt, Harley Earl cast an enormous shadow upon General Motors.

A close second was Earl’s successor, Bill Mitchell. When Mitchell resigned in 1977, GM’s top management decided that NEVER AGAIN would “Design” have as much power as Mitchell and Earl wielded. When Mitchell left, the “focus group” model took over. Continue reading

Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy 72nd Birthday to Dick Smothers

Dateline: 11.20.11

Dick Smothers – The 200-MPH Comedian

(Check out the fun videos at the bottom of this post!)
How many comedians can claim that they drove a 427 Corvette over 200-MPH at Le Mans?
Probably none, except for Dick Smothers. If you are a baby boomer and were watching TV in the ‘60s, hardly a week went by when you didn’t see Tom and Dick Smothers on the tube. In the early ‘60s with the advent of 33-1/3 LP records (long-play vinyl records with five or six tracks on each side) nearly all comedians had comedy records. Some people (myself included) had collections of comedy albums that were fun to play at parties.

But the Smothers Brothers were a little different. While the comedy team format was common (Hope & Crosby, Burns & Allen, Martin & Lewis, Burns & Carlin (George), what made The Smothers Brothers different was that they were also folk singers, aka ‘Folkies.” Tom played guitar, Dick played a full-size bass, and they were dressed in matching suits with skinny ties. And when they weren’t jabbing at one another and just sang, that were quite nice and covered the standard folkie songs of the day. Their 1962 album “The Two Sides of the Smothers brothers” featured sweet songs, such as “Stella’s Got a New Dress Today” (see below video) on one side and comedy bits including as “I Fell In A Vat of Chocolate.” (see below video)

But it was their late ‘60s TV show, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” that polarized them to mainstream Americans because of their jabs and pokes at President Nixon and the Vietnam War. Their comedy program is available on NetFlix and in retrospect, compared to modern comics, such as Jon Steward and Bill Maher, Tommy and Dicky were VERY tame.

Continue reading

Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy 84th Birthday to Corvette Designer, Chuck Jordan

Dateline: 10.21.11

Chuck Jordan – the last of the old guard GM designers.

When car designer Chuck Jordan passed on December 9, 2010, it was the end of an era in automotive design. Jordan started working for GM in 1949 as a junior engineer and retired in 1992. During that time, he worked with all of the greats of GM design; Harley Earl, Bill Mitchell, Ed Cole, Zora Arkus-Duntov, Larry Shinoda, and more.

Jordan’s nickname was “the Chrome Cobra.” He was steeped in a time of very strong personalities. Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell had strong personalities  with flash-like tempers – quick to anger, quick to let it go. When Mitchell retired in ‘77, his replacement, Irv Rybicki, was specifically chosen because upper management said, “No more strong opinionated design chiefs!” They were glad to see old Bill go. Irv was an excellent designer, but to Jordan, Rybicki seemed to play it safe too much. The automotive press noticed too and began to wonder what happened to GM’s sense of style.

But Jordan got his shot in ‘86 when Rybicki retired and was promoted to vice president of design, serving from ‘86 to ‘92. Below is a brief slide show of some of the cars Jordan styled, designed, and managed through the development process. Design styling is one thing and designing for mass production is another. Some designs translate into production better than others. What’s obvious is that over his 40-plus year career as a car designer, he consistently followed the advanced trends of the day. Chuck loved design so much that after he retired, he taught design at ??? He could have stayed home and enjoyed his many Ferrari sports cars. But Jordan loved the high school art design in Southern California. Continue reading

Corvette Timeline Tails: Happy 99th Birthday Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen

Dateline: 10.2.11

One of the Unsung Heros of Corvettes & High Performance Chevrolets

Within the machinations of a big corporation, to get things done, it’s good to have an angel. Zora Arkus-Duntov had several angels. We’ve talked about Duntov’s relationship with Chevrolet honcho Ed Cole. But one angel that doesn’t get much attention was Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen.

Semon’s father was former GM president, William S. Knudsen. While this was helpful for the younger Kneudsen’s career, things weren’t handed to Bunkie – he had to work for what he accomplished. Like many teenage boys of his generation, Semon was interested in mechanical things. When he asked for a car, his Dad gave him one… in pieces for the young man to out back together. During his college years, Summer break meant a stint working at GM… on the assembly line. Upon graduation, Knudsen got a job at Pontiac in 1939 and quickly rose up through the management ranks. By 1956 he was the general manager at Pontiac.

The main job of every general manager is to increase sales. Like Chevrolet, Pontiac had a stogy public image. Bunkie assembled a team to jazz up the line and brought in Pete Estes from Oldsmobile, and John Z. DeLorean from Packard to create high performance version of his best -selling Pontiacs. Thus began the era of the “Wide Track Pontiac.” (Remember the ‘60s jingle, “Break away, to a wide track’n, Pon-tee-ack…”?) Within a few years, Pontiacs were a force to be contended with in NASCAR racing. Bunkie’s makeover of Pontiac put the division in third place in the industry and his reward was a promotion to head of the Chevrolet Division in 1961. Continue reading

Corvettes Timeline Tales: Happy 52nd Birthday Ron Fellows!

Dateline: 9.28.11
Ron Fellows – From Carts to Corvettes!

Happy 52nd birthday, Ron Fellows!

Good guys shine and Ron Fellows has become one of the most popular race car drivers of our time. Ron’s a great example of starting our small – kart racing small, in fact. Kart racing lead to Formula Ford 1600 and Formula Ford 2000 cars. But this was strictly entry level racing that only last as long as there’s money in your pocket. After the cash ran dry, Ron took a nine year break from racing. But when you have gasoline in your veins, the itch to race never goes away. Fellows was back on the track, launching his professional driving career in the 1986 Player’s GM Challenge, racing a showroom stock Camaro.

Trans-Am racing followed and by ‘89 Ron was one of the most successful drivers in Trans-Am history, winning 19 of 95 starts. When the C5-R Corvette Racing Team was being assembled in ‘98, Fellows was one of “the” drivers to hire. When looking back on a successful long term career, it often appears easy, but this was far from the case. It was a long, hard battle for the Corvette Racing Team from ‘98 to the 2001 GTS Le Mans win. But even after you win the big prize, the next race can be just as hard. In racing, there are no laurels to rest upon. Fellows went on to win Le Mans again in ‘02 and ‘04, as well as GTS Champion in ‘02, and was co-champion in ‘03 and ‘04 with Johnny O’Connell. In ‘05 Ron was runner-up in the GT1 championship and was the ALMS Most Popular Driver in ‘04, ‘05, ‘06, ‘and ‘07.

To celebrate Ron’s success, Chevrolet released the hugely popular 2007 Ron Fellows Z06 Special Edition Z06. Only 399 units were built, 300 for the US market, 33 for the Canadian market, and the remaining 66 cars for other world markets. This would be the first in a series of very popular special edition C6 Corvettes.

And on the heels of the ‘07 Special Edition Z06, Corvette Racing sponsor, PRS Guitars (Paul Reed Smith), produced a limited edition, $4,700 Z06 Corvette branded electric guitar based on their PRS Corvette Standard 22 model guitar. Continue reading

Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy 102nd Birthday, Ed Cole

Dateline: 9.17.11
“Kick the hell out of the status quo!” – Ed Cole


Ed Cole was one of what I call, “The Four Fathers of the Corvette.” The first Father of the Corvette was Harley Earl, the designer and creator of the Corvette. Earl was the “Idea Guy.” Ed Cole was the “Go-to” guy. Ed was already the chief of engineering of Chevrolet in ‘53 and was working on what would become the Small-Block Chevy engine. He was also the man that hired Zora Arkus-Duntov. The third Father of the Corvette was Zora Arkus-Duntov. Were it not for his at times, unbridled passion and insistence that Corvettes were successful at the race track, the car wouldn’t have survived the ‘60s. And the fourth Father of the Corvette was Bill Mitchell. His Sting Ray and Mako Shark II designs forever defined the Corvette “look.”

While Cole was one of the top engineers of his day, he did not start out wanting to be in the car business. When he first started attending Grand Rapids Community College as a lad, he wanted to become a lawyer! But a part-time job in an auto parts supply store hooked him into cars. He enrolled in General Motors Institute and got his engineering degree and a job at GM. Cole and Harry Barr co-headed a team to design and develop the revolutionary 1949 Cadillac V8 engine. It was the Cadillac engine project that set Cole up to be the lead man on the Chevrolet small-block engine project. Just stop and reflect on what an enormous contribution to Chevrolets and racing the all-time classic Small-Block Chevy engine is.

I called Ed Cole the “go-to” guy because of his relationship with Duntov. Zora was quite an anomaly inside of General Motors. The prevailing attitude towards Duntov and Cole was likely, “You hired him, he’s yours!” It turned out that Cole was Duntov’s corporate angel and he always had Ed’s ear.

The book, “Zora Arkus-Duntov – The Legend Behind Corvette” by Jerry Burton is filled with wonderful stories about Cole and Duntov. One amusing story happened in early 1956 just after Cole and Duntov took a modified ‘56 Chevy Belair to Pike’s Peek and broke several records. After the event, while the guys were celebrating over drinks, Zora told Ed, “We should show the world that the Corvette is no longer an underdog. Let’s show how fast the car will really go.” Cole asked, “How fast is that?” To which Duntov just pulled a number out of the air and said, “Oh… maybe… 150 miles per hour.” Cole was interested, but reminded Zora that his main responsibility was the development of the fuel-injected engine. Zora took Cole’s interest as a go-ahead and started working on body modifications that would eventually lead to the speed record run on the sands of Daytona Beach with John Fitch, Betty Skelton, and himself driving modified ‘56 Corvettes. Duntov was a loose cannon, and he was Ed Cole’s loose cannon.

After Cole was made general manager of Chevrolet in ‘56, he embarked on an over-the-top project called the “Q-Chevrolets.” Cole was fascinated with the idea of using a transaxle on all Chevrolet cars (Corvette included) by 1960, with a marketing angle of Continue reading

Corvette Timeline Tales: Happy 94th Birthday, John Fitch!

Dateline: 8.4.11
A Birthday Salute to One of the First Corvette Hot Shoe Drivers, John Fitch

Fitch behind the wheel of one of the three specially prepared Corvettes built for speed runs on the sands of Daytona Beach in January 1956.

Racing and Corvettes are completely inseparable. John Fitch was already a hot shoe when Zora Arkus-Duntov hired him to drive one of the three specially prepared ‘56 265-CID Corvettes for a speed record run on the sands of Daytona Beach, Florida in January 1956. Were it not for those exciting early racing experiences, the tone and attitude of the Corvette would have been closer to a passenger car rather than a scrapper race car. And John Fitch was part of the first wave of Corvette drivers.

After serving in WW II as a fighter pilot, Fitch got his degree in engineering and went to postwar Europe to race sports cars. Fitch was one of the first American engineer/drivers that set the template for future engineer/drivers, such as Mark Donohue and others. A thorough understanding of how things mechanically function has proven to be an incalculable asset to a successful racing enterprise.

The SS Corvette was a beauty, but the light weight magnesium body transfered enormous amounts of heat into the cockpit, making driving conditions near unbearable!

Before driving for Chevrolet, Fitch won the very first SCCA national championship and was the only American to drive for the Mercedes-Benz factory team. In 1957 Fitch was hired by Chevrolet to prepare and manage a team of stock and semi-modified Corvettes for competition. That same year, Duntov literally put Fitch’s feet to the fire driving the obscenely hot (temperature wise) SS Corvette.

Besides racing Corvettes, John won the 1951 Argentine Grand Prix, the 1955 Mille Miglia production class, and John competed at Le Mans six times, finishing as high as 3rd place. He was the first general manager at Lime Rock Park race track, developed the yellow “Fitch Barriers” crash barrels, and started the first advanced driving school. Being an innovator must have been in Fitch’s DNA, as his ancestor, also named John Fitch, was a clock maker, silversmith, and built the first functioning steamboat in 1787. Continue reading

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