Video: Zora Arkus-Duntov and the 1956 Chevy Conquer Pikes Peak

See Zora Arkus-Duntov himself behind the wheel in this original factory film as he smashes the production car record at Pikes Peak with a prototype 1956 Chevrolet.



To car enthusiasts, Zora Arkus-Duntov hardly requires any introduction. Rightly called “the father of the Corvette,”  the chain-smoking, Belgian-born engineer played a central part in transforming the formerly dowdy Chevrolet brand into a performance leader in the 1950s. There’s even a Chevy camshaft bearing his name, the famed Duntov 30-30 solid-lifter piece. And while he’s never named in this Jam Handy-produced Chevrolet film entitled Colorado Climax, there’s no mistaking Duntov as the man behind the wheel on this mission, an assault on the class record for production passenger cars at Pikes Peak.

Since the Colorado record run took place on September 9, 1955 but the 1956 Chevrolets would not be formally introduced until November, the hill-climb car was camouflaged with striped paint and a tacked-on set of fake front and rear fender extensions (above).  Another interesting moment of trivia: while the car shown with Arkus-Duntov at the start and finish lines is a four-door hardtop, a new body style for Chevrolet in 1956, the model shown in some of the record footage, including on the Devil’s Playground portion of the course, appears to be a four-door post sedan. Hmm, there’s no business like show business. In any case, the record book shows that the existing record of around 17 minutes was smashed by more than two minutes. Video below.


6 thoughts on “Video: Zora Arkus-Duntov and the 1956 Chevy Conquer Pikes Peak

  1. One of the officials at the finish line is ‘Big Bill’ France, the founder of NASCAR.
    I wonder if the four door post car is the hardtop with a roll bar installed.

  2. The text mentions the how the car changes from a four door hardtop in the close-ups to a four door post sedan in the action scenes. This reminds me of a driver’s education film that was show in high schools back in the 1960’s. It showed a happy family getting into their white 1960 Ford Galaxie four door hardtop and driving around. When they had their terrible wreck, the car was a much less expensive white 1960 Ford Fairlane four door post sedan. “Fake news” is nothing new. Anything that is filmed is subject to all sorts of influences, such as camera angle, lighting and even post production editing. Each step in the process is influenced by the bias and preferences of the person(s) involved in the work.

  3. From the GM Heritage Center;

    Zora Duntov Sets Pikes Peak Record

    Zora at Pikes Peak, ca. 1955
    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.

    Zora Duntov at Pikes Peak ca. 1955
    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.

    Disguise being applied 1956 pilot car

    Completed Pikes Peak disguise package
    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.

    Installing the rear axle prior to practice

    Zora & mechanics inspecting the differential

    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.

    Zora drifting a corner on his way to the top of Pikes Peak

    Crossing the finish line with a new record

    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.

    Chevy advertised Zora’s new record extensively

    Chevy’s success at Pikes Peak appeared around the country on billboards

    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


    Stated above that there was a 2dr. and 4 dr. In the film I only saw a 4 dr. hardtop and a 4dr. sedan. Apparently even the heritage get’s it wrong.

  4. Very good. I love watching these old promo films; they give us a good look into what used to be, albeit with some added sensationalism. I’d like to visit Pike’s Peak, just to see what it’s really like. I watch the films and it looks fairly wide although I see that the switchbacks can get a little treacherous. From what I’ve seen it doesn’t compare to the road that runs between Silverton and Ouray. That is one road that you just want to get through with its 5 mph swtichbacks and the hog’s back over the top of the mountain. I have my doubts that a seasoned race driver would want to do anything but creep along that road….

  5. Every video clip brings an opportunity to add to one’s personal data base of people and their accomplishments.

  6. It is my understanding that Zora made two runs –back to back–up the mountain–one with the sedan and another run with the hard top. The first run was 17 minutes 24.05 seconds. The second run was 17:41:05.

Comments are closed.