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”