When you look back at 1981, it wasn't really that bad a time in Corvette history. The Corvette Team was designing and engineering the upcoming, all-new C4; production had shifted from the venerable St. Louis Assembly Plant to a more modern facility near Bowling Green, Kentucky; and Bloomington Gold was still being held at the old McLean County (Illinois) Fairgrounds on the east side of Bloomington.
And if you had the extra cash over what a factory Vette cost, you could get a specially styled and tuned one that benefited from the touch of none other than Zora Arkus Duntov. One of Zora's consulting deals following his retirement from GM was with American Custom Industries (ACI) in Sylvania, Ohio. ACI was-and still is-a manufacturer of Corvette parts, including fiberglass body parts, and they had an idea: Why not make the ultimate Corvette, based on the then-current-production C3 platform, with technical help from Zora?
So was born the Duntov Turbo Corvette, planned both as a coupe and a convertible. Starting with a new C3, the production body was replaced by one fitted with wider front fenders, rear quarter-panels, and doors-widening the car by 6 inches. That width was needed to house a set of modular aluminum Weld wheels wearing Goodyear's top performance tire of the time: the Wingfoot.
Duntov Turbo convertibles weren't done as a quick-and-dirty, chop-off-the-stock-roof, then-drop-in-a-used-drop-top conversion. ACI used new convertible top assemblies and took the time to fit them right onto the body, which-like the coupe-also sported the wider fenders, doors, and quarters.
Under the louvered hood came the real story: a turbocharged V-8. In an age where performance was measured by how cars of the past could beat the current year's offerings, ACI and Zora came up with a Martin turbocharger system that provided plenty of reliable additional power-as much as 70 more horsepower out of the small-block (an L48 350, or a 305 for California-only use). For reliability's sake, a water-injection system was added to prevent detonation caused by that era's low-octane gasolines. Downstream, transmissions included the choice of a Turbo 350 or a four-speed, with Posi-traction nestled inside the upgraded independent rear suspension.
The car you see here is one the earliest Duntov Turbos-the tenth one built. It's a car that you definitely don't see every day. "That's for sure," current co-owner Jeffrey Griggs says from his Emerson, New Jersey, home. "I came across that car, believe it or not, on eBay, and when I saw it, I fell in love with it. The looks, the style of it, and being an '81 convertible was just so unique."
Jeffrey has owned plenty of other Vettes over the years, and he's kept his eye out for the "distinctive" ones. "I've owned one of those Eckler Corvette station wagons over the years and one of those Corvette pickup trucks. I just go for odd Corvettes, and when I saw the Duntov, I remembered the ads for it back in 1981," he says.