Zora Duntov Sets Pikes Peak Record
In the few years that had elapsed since his arrival at General Motors in 1953, Zora Duntov had established himself as one of the few engineers who had experience designing and driving high performance sports cars. Among other accomplishments, Zora had driven for Allard and Porsche in the famous 24 hour endurance race at Le Mans, France.
In early 1955, Chevrolet public relations began developing ideas aimed at publicizing the performance of their new small-block V-8 engine. Entering a 1956 Chevrolet in the annual Pikes Peak Hill Climb was near the top of the list of possibilities. Their goal was to set a sedan class record. One of the PR managers realized that Duntov would be an ideal person to drive in the event. He had international racing credentials and he was a genuine Chevrolet engineer. When Duntov heard the idea, he agreed on the spot. Quickly transferred from his work on fuel injection to the Pikes Peak project, he immediately began the necessary preparations.
Two 1956 Chevrolet 210s – a two-door and four-door-- were selected for the event. Since the Pikes Peak event would take place prior to the introduction of the 1956 Chevrolets, a elaborate disguise scheme was developed to prevent the premature exposure of the new design. They were both equipped with the 265 cubic inch small-block V-8, 3 speed manual transmissions and 4.55 rear ends. The suspensions were beefed-up, but there was no roll-cage installed.
Duntov recruited several experienced Pikes Peak veterans to assist in the preparations. GM had been using Pikes Peak for high altitude testing so there was an established GM engineering facility ready for Duntov’s team to use in nearby in Manitou Springs.
Duntov was a hands-on engineer. His wife Elfi accompanied him to Pikes Peak and took these snapshots of Zora working on the rear suspension with the mechanics in the Engineering Garage.
Several weeks of practice lead up to the official September 9th event. Ed Cole and other Chevrolet executives flew out to Pikes Peak to watch Duntov attempt to set the sedan class record. Duntov did a masterful job of keeping an essentially stock 1956 Chevrolet on the road as he roared up the course. Reaching the top in 17 minutes, 24.05 seconds, Duntov had set a new sedan class record by more than 2 minutes.
Chevrolet immediately launched an extensive advertising campaign around the Pikes Peak success. They used the opportunity to tout everything from Chevrolet’s superior handling to vehicle safety. Billboard ads and printed newspaper supplements appeared all over the U.S. in short order.
Duntov’s record setting run up Pikes Peak brought him to the attention of others in GM and throughout the world of motor sports. He leveraged this success to create opportunities for him to make important contributions to many of GM’s motor sports programs and the Corvette in particular.