The DUNTOV LETTER by David Kennedy from Hot Rod Magazine

This is excerpted from and tells the story of the beginnings of Corvette!  This is a story few know very well and thank you to the work of David Kennedy of Hot Rod magazine, here are the basics!

"It seems impossible to imagine a hot rod world without Chevrolet or its small-block engine—but there was a time that neither played a part in our arena. In the 1950s Fords dominated hot rodding, and the Blue Oval’s flathead was the V8 of choice for everyone looking for cheap speed.

So how did Chevy manage to reverse all of that?

Duntov Letter Header© Provided by Hotrod Duntov Letter Header

It began with a three-page letter addressed to Maurice Olley, the Chevrolet Motor Division’s Director of Research and Development. It was written by a recently hired assistant staff engineer, a Belgian-born and German-educated man named Zora Arkus-Duntov.

Z Arkus Duntov© Provided by Hotrod Z Arkus Duntov

Duntov was new to Chevy but he certainly wasn’t new to hot rodding. Before coming to Chevrolet he’d developed an overhead-valve conversion for the Ford flathead known as the “Ardun” head. With his 1953 letter, known today simply as the “Duntov Letter” he leveraged the power of hot rodding (he referenced it nine times) in hopes to do for Chevy what the flatheads and lakebeds had done for Ford.

This is the letter Duntov wrote:

To: Mr. Maurice Olley 
From: Mr. Z. Arkus-Duntov 
Subject: Thoughts Pertaining to Youth, Hot Rodders, and Chevrolet

Date: December 16, 1953

The hot rod movement and interest in things connected with hop-up and speed is still growing. As an indication: the publications devoted to hot rodding and hop-upping, of which some half-dozen have a very large circulation and are distributed nationally, did not exist some 6 years ago. From cover to cover, they are full of Fords. This is not surprising then that the majority of hot-rodders are eating, sleeping, and dreaming modified Fords. They know Ford parts from stern to stern better than the Ford people themselves.

A young man buying a magazine for the first time immediately becomes introduced to Ford. It is reasonable to assume that when hot-rodders or hot-rod influenced persons buy transportation, they buy Fords. As they progress in age and income, they graduate from jalopies to second hand Fords, then to new Fords.

Should we consider that it would be desirable to make these youths Chevrolet-minded? I think that we are in a position to carry out a successful attempt. However, there are many factors against us:

1. Loyalty and experience with Ford.

2. Hop-up industry is geared to Ford.

3. Law of numbers thousands are and will be working on Fords for active competition.

4. Appearance of Ford’s overhead V-8, now one year ahead of us.

When a superior line of G.M. V-8s appeared, there where remarkably few attempts to develop these and none too successful. Also, the appearance of the V-8 Chrysler was met with reluctance even though the success of Ardun-Fords conditioned them to the acceptance of Firepower."


You can download a copy of the Duntov Letter HERE

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Comment by Chuck Aaron on December 17, 2014 at 6:11pm


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