Sports Car Innovators: Alexander Winton, Zora Arkus-Duntov, and John DeLorean

 by James Young

1965 Corvette Coupe

1965 Corvette Coupe

The history of American sports cars is the story not only of machines, but also of the men who made and drove them. There have been many key players in the development of the modern sports car, but some stand out as truly significant figures.

Among those innovators to remember are Alexander Winton, Zora Arkus-Duntov, and John DeLorean. Each made a lasting impression on the sports car scene.

Alexander Winton

Alexander Winton was the first truly successful automotive magnate in the United States. His cars participated and excelled in virtually every major racing and touring event of the late 1890s and early 1900s. Winton cars were perceived as the model of American automotive engineering.

Winton's success and belief in his vehicles led him to accept a challenge from an upstart from Detroit named Henry Ford. In a much-ballyhooed 1901 contest, Ford and Winton squared off in one-on-one race.

Winton's Sweepstakes racecar suffered from mechanical problems during the contest and his two-cylinder, 28 horsepower racer finished a distant second to Ford, who found his career revitalized after the publicized victory.

Despite often being remembered as the man who lost to Ford, Alexander Winton was a true American sports car pioneer and laid the groundwork for many manufacturers who followed in his footsteps.

Zora Arkus-Duntov

After World War II, American manufacturers began to produce readily available sports cars, in contrast to the limited production, high-dollar versions from earlier in history. After Ford made a splash with the Thunderbird sports car, Chevrolet sought to capture its share of the growing market with the 1955 introduction of the Corvette.

The Corvette, whose distinctive appearance was brought to light be famous designer Harley Earl, was a beautiful package containing a ho-hum gift. The car had a two-speed automatic transmission and a standard Chevy 6 cylinder engine. Sales stagnated.

A Russian immigrant and Chevrolet designer named Zora Arkus-Duntov took the reigns of the Corvette project after its second lackluster year. He redesigned the new Chevy V8 to fit in the Corvette and replaced the automatic transmission with a sportier 3-speed manual tranny. His design changes vaulted the Corvette to fame and admiration.

Arkus-Duntov continued his affiliation with Corvette, ushering it into its heyday as the most respected and admired American sports car.

John DeLorean

A brash young auto executive at Pontiac named John DeLorean had an idea. He could take the under performing Pontiac Tempest, make a few minor exterior alterations, outfit it with a big and powerful V8 engine and upgrade some of the other components. His revitalization effort turned the lowly Tempest into the Pontiac GTO the car that sparked the muscle car era in America.

DeLorean's efforts to build better and more interesting sports cars continued as he opened his own auto company. He introduced the stainless steel DMC-12 sports car later popularized in the Back to the Future movies. The innovative vehicle was never a hot-seller but was an inspiration for countless future designs from other automakers.

The controversial DeLorean was plotting an economy-priced plastic sports car that was never released. He passed away while the vehicle idea was still in its infancy.

Sports car enthusiasts remember cars. They can tell you the specs of many significant sports cars and can trace the history of many sports car lines. It's important to remember these cars did not materialize from thin air. There were men behind the cars who brought them to the limelight. Three of the great innovators Winton, Arkus-Duntov, and DeLorean deserve to be as remembered as any sports car to ever hit the road.

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Article Source: Jan. 28, 2007

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