A story of disappointment and frustration
When you find out about the 1980 Duntov Turbo Corvette excitement turns to frustration. So much promise unfulfilled. Frustration that GM couldn't get turbo-charging right till Buick did it in the early 1980s. Chrysler and Ford were no better. Think about the reputation of the 1980 Turbo Trans Am. Had the Big Three gotten the mix of V8 engines and turbos right the malaise muscle car era almost certainly would have turned out different. As in better. Hell, we probably wouldn't call it malaise muscle. Unfortunately the tuner firms didn't have much better luck. Which is all the more disappointing when you remember Duntov spent GM dollars tinkering around with turbo Corvettes for years.
That doesn't mean this Duntov Turbo Corvette is insignificant. American Custom Industries of Sylvania, OH built the over the top Greenwood Corvettes in the mid-seventies. A car that personally I'm not a big fan of. They must have sold enough of them, ACI was looking for a sequel. Having one Zora Arkus-Duntov on the payroll since his retirement from GM in 1975. It was a no-brainer to collaborate with him in building a Super-Vette. ACI chief Robert Schuller early on was content with a body kit and suspension mods. Duntov made it clear the car bearing his name would have power, turbo V8 power. The Duntov Turbo Corvette was to be the car that to his frustration GM never approved.
Customers were to have their new L82 Corvettes delivered to ACI. A turbo producing 4.0psi and a water injection system would be mounted to the 350 Chevy V8. The Corvette's tight engine compartment and the turbo caused development issues early on due to heat. Braided metallic lines, a special vented air cleaner, hood vents and wider body work providing a larger engine bay were the solutions. Documentation from the era is almost nil, multiple sources claim the turbo was good for 70bhp. That would put the turbo L82 into early modern LS1 territory. Yet, the Duntov Turbo Corvette was a failure because for all the effort the car didn't perform much better than a stock 1980 Corvette. In 2004 Corvette Fever posted a 0-60 time of 7.5 seconds with a 15.5 quarter mile time. At a cost of almost $35K the Duntov cost more than twice the price of a base Corvette. The math just doesn't add up. It wasn't all bad news.
"A stock Corvette feels like a bucket of parts bouncing around in the back of a pickup, all loose and wobbly and rattily. It must do old Zora's heart good to see his car track the straight and narrow for a change, to not get knocked askew at the very thought of the bumps, seams, and dimples that Mother Nature and heavy traffic have strewn around for us to find wherever we go." Car and Driver, November 1980.
When cars arrived at ACI they were completely stripped down. Along with the engine mods substantial suspension and steering system tweaking were done. As were quality control measures, providing a road machine better than anything coming out of GM's St. Louis plant.
"They settled on a production number of 201 cars. Zora got the first one, chassis number 000, the very one you see here". Car and Driver, November 1980.
According to multiple sources Zora never got to keep that promotional car tested by C&D. There was a clause in Duntov's contract that he would get a car only after ACI sold 100 units. The automatic transmission only, the high price and lackluster performance caused the car to flop selling only 86 cars of the 200 planed.
It doesn't appear any are available for sale at the moment. A brief search shows one sold on Craig's List for $48,975 back in 2012. Have you ever seen or driven one?
Pics from Hot Rod, Car and Driver.
John is a GenX car enthusiast who grew up driving classic muscle cars. He enjoys the new modern muscle cars that can out perform the classics in every way. In the sportscar world his banners are Viper and Corvette. John has a guilty pleasure. The disco era street machine. Those unloved, underpowered cars festooned with scoops, spoilers and stripes.