On December 19, 1962, Chevrolet General Manager Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen submitted his request to the GM Executive Committee that consisted of Fred Donner, Jack Gordon, Ed Cole, and others, asking for an exemption for the Corvette from the 1957 ban on racing. Donner said he’d think about it. He indeed did, and told Knudsen, “No!” Imagine how Corvette history would have changed had Donner said, “Yes!” Duntov wanted to build 125 Grand Sports and then as many as 1,000, to be made available through Chevrolet dealers. The Grand Sport would have had continuous running changes worked into each new build. Well, it’s fun to daydream, but the lesson here is “development.”
Grand Sport Coupes #003, #004 and #005 were loaned to various teams for a few years. Remaining Coupes #001 and #002 were made into roadsters. Eventually, all five cars were sold to privateers. Amazingly, all were wrecked, except #002, but none beyond repair. Today, all five have been lovingly restored and are untouchable, unless you’ve got at least $5 million, maybe more.
Replica cars have been around for a long time and most are actually kit cars that use a donor car as a foundation. Companies such as Superformance have been building Ford GT40 and Cobra replica cars since 1996. These are custom, handmade-to-order, replicas that are professionally built turnkey cars that can be almost identical to the originals. Before Duntov Motors was formed in 2007, there had been a few companies offering Grand Sport replicas, but these cars were based on C4 Corvette components, and were too often not so good. Enter Alan Sevadjian.
Alan has a unique background that made him want to build track-ready Grand Sport race cars. You see, Alan Sevadjian once owned one of the five original Grand Sport Corvettes, car #003. He owned the car from 1965 to 1968 and while he definitely “drove the car,” he never “raced the car” because he was only 19 years old and you had to be 21 to get your SCCA license. But Alan kept the driving in the family. His dad, Ed Sevadjian, co-drove the Grand Sport with some of the best drivers of the day, until 1968 when he sold off the car.
Alan Sevadjian went on to be a successful driver, winning four SCCA championships, and started a successful business building race cars and restoring Corvettes. Given the astonishing value of the five surviving Grand Sport Corvettes, I’m sure that most of the early owners have had the thought, “DRAT! Why did I sell my Grand Sport?!” “Seller’s regret” can run high in the Corvette community, but Alan decided to do something about it. By the early 2000s, he decided that since he already knows how to build race cars, why not build a duplicate of the Grand Sport he entered at Sebring in 1965? He knew that there was no way he could get away with using “Grand Sport Corvette” in his business name, so he went for something better: the “Duntov Motor Company.”
Zora Arkus-Duntov passed on April 21, 1996, at the age of 86, so Alan approached Zora’s widow, Elfi Arkus-Duntov asking for the exclusive right to use the name “Duntov” for his lightweight race car business. Elfi knew from Alan’s background as a former Grand Sport owner, racer, race car builder and Corvette restoration expert that he would do well by her family name. Mrs. Duntov wanted to introduce the Grand Sport and Zora to a younger generation of Corvette enthusiasts. Duntov Motor Company is based in Dallas, and their shop is just a touch north in Farmers Branch. The company officially builds Corvette Grand Sport race cars, as well as prepares and maintains race cars, full Corvette restoration services and trackside services. They also manufacture racing parts, including brakes, chassis and suspension for 1963-’82 Corvettes.
The first Duntov Motors Lightweight made its debut at the HRS Sebring Historic Race in March 2005. Those with a keen eye for mid-year Corvettes immediately noticed the slightly altered front and rear of the car. The leading edges of the front and rear were indeed lower. What happened was when they made a two-part mold from a D&D Grand Sport customer car. The mold was fine, but drooped a little, which no one objected to. Many thought it was a deliberate enhancement to better manage the airflow over and under the car. After Alan made the licensing deal with GM, he acquired a set of molds and original full-size Grand Sport blueprints. The molds were made directly from original Grand Sport #002 while the car was being restored. Grand Sport #002 was the only one of the five cars that had never been wrecked. The body is now a spot-on replica of the original.
The tube chassis of the car is built exactly as the originals, including the Swiss cheese treatment on the frame’s side rails. While the suspension looks vintage, it is completely worked out. The side tube cage offers driver protection and greatly increases the overall stiffness of the car. This allows for better control over suspension settings because the frame isn’t twisting while the suspension is trying to work. Duntov Motors Continuation Grand Sport race cars start at around $120,000.
The official legal blessing from Mrs. Duntov helped lay the groundwork for becoming an official GM licensed product by 2009. Having the GM license allowed Duntov Motors to be able to partner with Superformance to give them the exclusive right to build and sell street versions of the Duntov Motors Grand Sports. Superformance was already successfully building Cobra and GT40 replica cars that are built to look like the originals. The workmanship and attention to detail, as well as being able to custom tailor a car to the owner’s preferences, is well known. Duntov Motors has designed the chassis so that any of GM’s crate engines can be easily used—anything from a 350hp ZZ4 iron crate engine to an all-aluminum LS9 with 638 horsepower. While we all love big power numbers, 350 hp in a 2,500-pound car yields a power-to-weigh ratio of 7.14:1. Using an LS9 lowers the ratio to just over 3.9:1. With one of the Duntov 850hp aluminum big-blocks, the ratio is pounded down to an insane 2.94:1!
The Duntov Motors race cars are essentially period correct, with all the bugs worked out—as if Chevrolet and Duntov had been able to hone and develop the Grand Sport. But even all fixed-up, the car still delivers a 1960s race car experience. Those power-to-weight ratios read sexy, but the car is riding on tires that are only around 9 inches wide. Controlled drifting is the proper driving style for a race car such as this, if the driver has the nerve. It’s totally different from racing a modern car with very wide, very sticky tires.
Alan Sevadjian shared an insight into the original Grand Sports. Most stories about the original cars make mention of the dreaded front-end lift that some drivers claimed made the front wheels come off the ground, or at least made the steering feel “floaty” at speed. However, Zora was okay with that because it provided more weight transfer and helped with traction on the over-powered car with not enough tire. Well, easy for Zora to say, he wasn’t driving in race car traffic. The other common complaint about the original cars was instability under braking. Remember, the original Grand Sports never got the development they needed and some of the suspension parts were inadequate. When drivers hit the big Girling disc brakes, the A-arms flexed, and the car literally leaped sideways! Those same components are now built with thicker chrome-moly steel, eliminating the problem.
What’s next for the Duntov Motor Company? Before Zora’s Grand Sport project came to a screeching halt thanks to Mr. Donner’s decision to reject Knudsen’s request for the Corvette to be exempt from the “No Racing” ban, Duntov was planning to take a team of Grand Sports to race at Le Mans. So, the Duntov Motor Company has built two Grand Sports intended for Le Mans. The first is already at the Callaway operation in Germany, with a team working to get homologation certification. Hopefully, we’ll see the first ever appearance of a Grand Sport Corvette at the 2016 Le Mans race. Zora and Elfi would be thrilled!