As we learned in our flathead Ford V8 story here: www.torqtalk.com/home/ford-flathead-the-first-performance-v-8, the Ford V8 was not initially a performer. Out of the crate in 1932 the 221 ci produced only 65 bhp and even by the end of its life in 1953 the 239 ci ‘flattie’ only produced 110. Note: The ’53 255 ci Mercury did make 125 bhp—still no big deal.
To make the Model A/B four bangers go faster several outfits had produced overhead valve (ohv) conversions it seemed obvious therefore to build something similar for the V-8. Enter brothers Zora and Yura Arkus-Duntov and the Ardun Mechanical Corp., New York. By 1945, their mainstay military contracts were dwindling and Zora approached Ford about an ohv conversion for the V-8 that over heated and was under powered. Ford showed no interest and so Zora went ahead anyway buying a couple of V-8s and designing his own heads with the help of engineer George Kudasch.
Rather than have the middle pair of exhaust ports asthmatically ‘siamesed’ into one, the Ardun, a contraction of ARkus-DUNtov, breathed better through four equally spaced ports. It was also compatible with the Ford block and valvetrain, used the stock cam, and had hemispherical combustion chambers and large intake valves for improved performance. Interestingly, the Ardun had short intake rockers and long exhaust rockers and was similar to the 1951 Chrysler Hemi but preceded it by four years when it was introduced in 1947.
The downside was trifold: The assembly was 12-inches wider than stock, it weighed an additional 60 lb and it wasn’t cheap being cast from heat-treated, 355-T6 Alcoa aluminum alloy. However, the heads produced between 25- and 60-percent more power depending on tuning—the original had but a single carb. According to Zora, “I had about 230 hp on gasoline by 1949.”
Zora might have been a tad optimistic with his figures. After almost two years and more than 1,000 hours of testing on his own GE dyno, the Ardun-headed engine put out only 160 bhp. ‘Build it and they will come’ was Zora’s philosophy and he attempted to market complete engines and conversions. A ‘racing’ version was said to produce 200 bhp at 5,500 rpm. The conversion sold for a hefty $500 and installation took six skilled hours. Two thousand inquiries resulted from a feature in Popular Mechanics but few sales materialized.
Conjuring up a special edition vehicle to trigger interest and promote higher sales within its model line is a well-established marketing tool that proves most successful when the result offers exclusivity in a captivating package. To those ends, Chevrolet ushered out the C4 Corvette era by offering the daringly hued, striped, and hashmarked Grand Sport coupe and convertible in 1996. Listed under RPO Z16, production was capped at 1,000 cars (ultimately 810 coupes and 190 convertibles) and its powertrain featured the new LT4 5.7-liter V-8 with the familiar ZF six-speed transmission
Borrowing its name from the five legendary 1963 lightweight Corvette race cars developed by Zora Arkus-Duntov, the 1996 Grand Sport wore Admiral Blue metallic paint that wasn’t offered on other Corvettes and a wide white stripe, both reminiscent of one of the ’63s that A.J. Foyt had raced. Red hashmarks on the left front fender of the C4 also paid homage to identifiers used on three of its C2 namesakes.
The coupe was also fitted with rear wheel-opening flares to contain its P315/35ZR-17 Goodyear Eagle GS-C tires, which were last seen on the then recently departed ZR-1, as were the P275/40ZR-17s up front. The five-spoke ZR-1 style aluminum wheels were painted black but maintained a bright outer lip, and they measured 17 x 9.5 in front and 17 x 11 out back. Convertibles retained the standard Corvette’s 255/45ZR-17s fore and 285/40ZR-17s aft on 17 x 8 and 17 x 9.5 wheels respectively (also with ZR-1 styling), thus no rear flares were needed. The brake calipers were painted black, and those in front sported “Corvette” callouts.
Embroidered “Grand Sport” lettering adorned the perforated-leather-upholstered power-operated Sport seats with lumbar support in the black or red/black interior. Floor mats and carpeting were also black.
Known as the Godfather, Father or Immortalizer of the Corvette, (take your pick) Zora Arkus-Duntov was born in Belgium in 1909 to Russian-Jewish parents and then moved with them first to Berlin, Germany, and then Leningrad, Russia. When World War II broke out and after serving in the French Air Force, Zora found his way to the United States where he and his brother, Yura, established the Ardun Mechanical Company in Manhattan, New York. (Ardun is from ARkus DUNtov while Zora’s hyphenated last name combines both Arkus (his father) and Duntov (his stepfather after his mother remarried). Zora was also a successful race driver himself, winning many important events from Pikes Peak to first in class at LeMans. Ardun was famous for its hemispherical Flathead Ford V8 aluminum cylinder heads that pushed horsepower to an astounding 300-plus. Ardun was also one of the very first major eastern seaboard aftermarket performance parts companies as most operated out west ala Isky, Offenhauser and Edelbrock to name a few.