by John Gilbert as republished from Super Chevy
1955 Duntov Corvette
Dateline 11.24.15: There were only 700 Corvettes built in 1955, so that places 1953’s production run of 300 units at number one in rarity and bumps 1955 to second place. For a 21st Century Corvette collector buying a rare vintage Corvette can cost a bunch of money, but if one had a time machine that would make it a completely different story. With a time machine a fellow could go back to the April 1965 issue of Hot Rod magazine and snag Zora Arkus-Duntov’s 1955 Corvette test mule for $3,500 or best offer.
The guy advertising Duntov’s 1955 Corvette in the back pages of Hot Rod was named Chuck Schank and was Zora Duntov’s neighbor living at 1411 Cossitt Avenue in La Grange, Illinois. It’s been recounted, Chuck had admired Duntov’s ’55 for some time, so in 1962 when Duntov offered Chuck the Vette he bought it. Guessing by the wording in Chuck’s 1965 Hot Rod ad, he’d invested an additional $3,500 into the car restoring it.
Perhaps at this point it should be mentioned I stumbled onto Chuck Schank’s 1965 Hot Rod ad early this morning while researching for another story. Curiosity got the best of me, so I switched to researching this car. One thing leads to another when one starts to dig up historical facts and oftentimes a piece of the puzzle comes from out of nowhere. Researching this story as I wrote, I remembered a Harvest Gold ’55 Corvette I photographed while at the 2014 Mecum Anaheim auction.
Then my mind really started racing and I began to wonder if it wasn’t the same car. Lot S130 the Mecum ’55 Vette VIN reads VE55S001500. The search ended when I couldn’t find records of the VIN on Duntov’s ’55. Further research said Duntov’s car never had a VIN number assigned to it because it was a factory experimental. Interesting to note the Mecum ’55 is one of approximately 75 V-8 Corvettes that were built at the end of the ’55 production run with a 3-speed manual transmission. The chassis on the Duntov ’55 is a pre-production 1956. A description of this car goes something like the lyrics to Johnny Cash’s song “One Piece at a Time.” The body was a ’55, the frame a ’56 and the engine was a pre-production fuel-injected 1957 283 getting R&D miles well ahead of the year 1957.
The information RM Auctions presented in December 2007 when the Duntov ’55 crossed the block at $134,750 said Chuck kept the car until 1968. If factual, that means at $3,500 or best offer the car didn’t move.
Fascinatingly the ’55 Duntov experimental Corvette was registered in Zora’s wife Elfi Duntov’s name, and by all accounts Elfi drove the car far more often than Zora. Notice in the photos of Elfi with the ’55, the car is Harvest Gold and also shown in silver with a black competition stripe – the custom paint job was done at Chevrolet.
A letter written on June 5, 1973 by Zora Duntov confirmed Chuck didn’t sell the ’55 until 1968. That was to Mike Casey who repainted it pearl white and drag raced it until 1972. In ’72 the car went to James Dalesandro who contacted Duntov to establish the car’s provenance. In a letter Duntov wrote, “Yes, I was the original owner of your car. At the time it had a 283ci FI engine equipped with ram-horn exhaust manifold. The car had a 4-speed transmission, and the rear axle was 3.7 or 4.11. The exterior color was silver, but the interior color, I don’t remember. It may have been yellow. It was a pretty car. Your car is not the 1955 Corvette used at the Arizona Proving Grounds that went slightly over 160 mph. The car I used in Arizona had a 3-speed transmission. The above is the extent of the information I have on your car.” Shortly after Dalesandro restored the car back to its original Harvest Gold paint with a metallic green interior.
Barnaby Brokaw of Omaha, Nebraska, bought the car around 1978. It only had 39,795 miles on it at the time, and it was featured in the pioneer Corvette magazine, Keepin’ Track of Vettes. After two more owners, Al Wiseman added it to his huge collection in the late 1990s. It was displayed at Bloomington Gold in 1999 in “The Roar to Zora—Field of Dreams” display and also at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2005.”
After the 2007 RM auction the trail goes cold on the whereabouts of the Duntov experimental 1955 Corvette with no further information to be found.