1980 Duntov Turbo (Corvette) Model Guide: A Unique Partnership for Performance

The Duntov Turbo, a remarkable collaboration between American Custom Industries (ACI) and Zora Arkus-Duntov, was a groundbreaking venture in the world of sports cars. ACI, renowned for its replacement Corvette body panels, joined forces with Zora Arkus-Duntov to develop a highly-stylized convertible sports car based on the production model Corvette. It’s worth noting that General Motors (GM) had ceased production of Corvette convertibles after 1975. Notably, each Duntov Turbo boasted a turbocharged V8 engine, setting it apart from its contemporaries.

A Fortuitous Partnership

The partnership between Zora and ACI presented exceptional opportunities for both parties involved. ACI gained enhanced credibility within the Corvette community by aligning itself with Zora, a highly respected figure. Zora, on the other hand, finally achieved his dream of creating a turbocharged Corvette, despite facing opposition from GM’s top executives who deemed it “too expensive” and “too limited in market potential.”

A Stylish Evolution

The Duntov Turbo, officially known as such, was developed on a platform reminiscent of John Greenwood’s widebody race cars, albeit with a more subtle design. The vehicle’s distinctive panels increased its width by six inches compared to a standard Corvette. All Duntov Turbos were elegantly finished in white, featuring a striking red interior—an obvious homage to the original 1953 Corvette, which initiated Duntov’s lifelong love affair with the brand.

Production and Customization

Production of the Duntov Turbo commenced in late 1979, introducing the 1980 model year. Limited to a mere 200 units, each Corvette began its life as a coupe before being procured from Richard Chevrolet in Temperance, Michigan, and delivered to ACI in Sylvania, Ohio. Since Chevrolet had ceased producing Corvette convertibles since 1975, ACI utilized the same frame and cowl stiffening hardware employed by GM half a decade earlier. Moreover, every vehicle received a unique suspension and wheel package, which included Bilstein shocks and Weld Wheels adorned with Goodyear Wingfoot tires—P255/60 in the front and P265/60 in the rear. Furthermore, each car boasted several customized interior features, including digital secondary gauges.

Overcoming Challenges

During the development of the Duntov Turbo, ACI encountered a significant obstacle when attempting to fit a turbocharger into the limited engine space of the 1980 Corvette. The confined area resulted in excessive heat, causing the rubber hoses in the engine compartment to melt. However, ACI addressed this issue by replacing the rubber hoses with braided metal ones and incorporating additional air vents into the car’s front end. These modifications facilitated the necessary cooling to eliminate the overheating problem.

Unfortunately, these alterations led to increased production costs. ACI contemplated abandoning the turbocharger, arguing that it only marginally improved the car’s overall performance, despite adding nearly 70 horsepower to the stock 350 cubic inch engine (305 cubic inch engine for cars shipped to California). Furthermore, the turbocharger was exclusively available for cars equipped with an automatic transmission, which further hampered the vehicle’s reception among automotive enthusiasts of that era.

Zora’s Unwavering Conviction

Zora vehemently insisted on the retention of the turbocharging system, threatening to withdraw his name from the project otherwise. Ultimately, Zora’s unwavering conviction prevailed. ACI persevered, resolving the overheating and performance issues, eventually producing a successful car that generated 7 pounds of boost from its Turbo International chargers.

Performance and Perception

With a starting price of $30,000, double that of a base 1980 Corvette coupe, the Duntov Turbo raised expectations for superior performance. However, prospective buyers soon discovered that the vehicle lacked the anticipated “giddy-up-and-go” typically associated with a turbocharged Corvette. Additionally, the ostentatious body panels were deemed garish and unappealing.

Consequently, the Duntov Turbo suffered a resounding failure upon its release. Recognizing the dire state of their business plan, ACI began offering customers the option to convert their own Corvettes into Duntov Turbos, even extending the freedom to choose the desired color for their cars. Although a few customers availed themselves of this opportunity, the 1980 Duntov Corvette ultimately proved to be a commercial flop.

A Matter of Numbers and Regret

While it is widely believed that a total of 86 Duntov Corvettes were built in 1980, no official confirmation of this number exists. Despite lending his name and reputation to the project, Zora himself never received his own Duntov Turbo. Zora’s agreement with ACI stipulated that he would be gifted a car after the sale of the first 100 examples. Regrettably, ACI fell short of achieving this milestone.

In conclusion, the Duntov Turbo remains a unique and captivating chapter in the history of Corvette models. Its limited production and inherent challenges contribute to its allure among automotive enthusiasts, despite its commercial setbacks.

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