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 “Corvette Timeline Tails: Happy 99th Birthday Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen”
Illustrated Corvette Series looks back at the Last of the C3 Corvettes
For the last three months I’ve been having fun with my VETTE Magazine monthly column, “The Illustrated Corvette Series” looking back at what I believe are the “best” of every generation Corvette. So far, we have looked at the ‘62 Fuelie Corvettes and the ‘67 427/435 L89 Big-Block. This month we’re looking at the last of the C3 Corvettes, the ‘82 Collector Edition Hatchback. While it wasn’t the stump-puller from the late ‘60s and early ‘70, the ‘82 Collector Edition was a very sweet machine. So, let’s get straight to it! – Scott
The ‘70s had been a challenging and strange time for America’s sports car. Performance had been on a decline since ‘70 but because of little to-no-competition, Corvettes sold like hot cakes, hitting an all-time high of 53,807 units in ‘79. Between increasing federal demands for emissions and safety improvements, there was little time for performance. In fact, what should have been a performance improvement through the use of lighter materials – aluminum differential, tube headers, etc – was offset by reduced horsepower due to more stringent emissions controls.
When Dave McLellan inherited the Corvette from Zora Arkus-Duntov in ‘75, it was not a pretty picture. Poor quality was rooted in the seriously outdated 1920s St. Louis plant. Rumors of a new assembly plant began in ‘73. Another challenge was the Corvette’s very old chassis and drivetrain. Designed in ‘61, most components were not shared with any other GM car. John DeLorean tried to address this issue with his plan to build Corvettes on the Camaro/Firebird chassis pan. While this might have made GM’s bean counters happy, it would have been a bad move. McLellan was charged with the responsibility of tighter government controls, keeping the Corvette fresh, improving existing hardware, transitioning the car’s assembly plant, and designing and implementing the new C4. A real peach of a job, right? Continue reading “1982 Collector Edition Corvette – The Polished Shark”
This could have been the beginning of a grand adventure for Corvette racing!
This is how we tend to think of the ’63 Grand Sport Corvette, with its aggressive fender flares, scoops, vents, and fat racing wheels and tires. Initial production was supposed to be 100, but Duntov envisioned at least 1,000 Grand Sports!
For those of us who are fans of the early days of the Corvette, the name, “Zora Arkus-Duntov” casts a very long shadow. GM’s chief of styling, Bill Mitchell once referred to Zora as, “Just a lowly engineer on a low-volume production Chevy.” While that may well have been correct, thanks to friends in very high places inside Chevrolet, Duntov got away with some astonishing things. And the Grand Sport wasn’t the first or last bodacious stunt he pulled.
There wasn’t much under the thin fiberglass body. The car had magnesium Hallibrand knock-off wheels, an aluminum bell housing, transmission case, and rear differential, plus a 36-gallon fuel tank. Note how the side pipes came off the stock cast iron exhaust manifolds. FIA rules mandated that the cars carry a spare tire. (GM photo from the book “Corvette Grand Sport” by Lowell C. Paddock)
For this adventure, Duntov’s GM “angel” was Simon “Bunkie” Knudsen. While Bunkie personally never raced cars, he did work on the GM assembly line as a college student in the ‘40s and was passionate about race cars. While general manager at Pontiac from 1956 to 1961, Knudsen was responsible for Continue reading “Corvette Timeline Tales: July 1962 – Production of the “Lightweight” aka Grand Sport Begins”