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Can You Imagine What Might Have Happened…

The December 1967 issue of Hot Rod Magazine had an intriguing cover.  It displayed Zora Arkus-Duntov seated among a collection of Chevrolet “development” engines that never came to light, either in production or any form of motorsports.  Not only did this image catch many Chevrolet die-hards by surprise, so it did with an assortment of other OEM counterparts, notably Ford and Chrysler.  Ray Brock, then Publisher of the magazine had made arrangements through Walt Mackenzie, who was Chevrolet Engineering’s PR person at the time, for an in-depth look at experimental engines the Division had never put on public view.  Why, I was never certain, but it fell my lot to meet with Duntov and compile the story.  It was another benchmark memory in the making.

Although only a year or so prior, I’d had the pleasure of meeting Zora during a previous GM-related editorial exercise.  He was engaging, calculating in his comments, and pleasant in a way I would learn much more about during what turned out to be a 30-year friendship.  But at this point, I was collectively in awe of, not only a chance to work with him, but to do so in the shadows of engines that nibbled at being mind-boggling.  Not all the engines Zora revealed made the magazine’s cover.  Only four of them were featured.  But the ones that did brought a rain of reader responses in the ensuing months.

The cover’s top blurb read “Inside Chevy’s Secret Engines!” and the story was titled, “Chevy’s Mustache Curlers.”  Ray coined the blurb, I scrounged up the story title.  But regardless, the magazine literally jumped off newsstands, setting a record circulation for any previous December HRM to that date.  That, of course, was the objective of Petersen Publishing Company.  My personal objective had nothing to do with circulation numbers.  I wanted Zora’s take on an inside look at some engines no automotive enthusiast had ever seen, outside of GM, and to share all that with the magazine’s readers.  Zora was up to the task.  Just so I didn’t become a filter for his comments, he allowed me my tape recorder during our conversation, and I still have some of the tapes today.  Roughly forty years later, here are some of his comments.

“I propose that these engines show how far Chevrolet has gone to investigate possibilities for future.  We like to talk about one horsepower per cubic inch and that's a good goal, OK?  But these engines had different objectives, to explore possible new ideas and make better decisions about production engine designs.  Small-block Chevrolet is a good design, but who is to say we cannot make it better?  These engines are not dummies.  All have run and all have helped improve our ideas about future.”  (The Russian flavor to his manner of communication just added to the intrigue.)

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