Zora Arkus-Duntov’s legendary L88 Corvette Sting Ray Mule – Vin 58053 – is alive, well and the subject of Kenneth W. Kayser’s fascinating new book – ZORA’S #58053.
Ken Kayser had spent his entire engineering career at General Motors, starting in 1968 as a student at GMI (General Motors Institute) and his first (co-op) job at GM’s Chevrolet Motor Plant, Tonawanda, NY. He retired in 2008 and, for approximately two years before retiring, worked on the mid-engined Corvette project. He also worked with GM Powertrain on a wide range of engine assignments including the Gen V small-block and next-gen twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve Corvette V-8. He assisted Powertrain and the Secret Service sorting out the Cadillac Presidential limo’s big-block engine.
During his tenure at Tonawanda, Kayser interfaced with Zora Duntov, right, on special-build L88 and ZL1 engines, and worked his way up to Business Case Manager for the Mark IV engine. He is considered one of the most knowledgeable L88/ZL1 Corvette engine guys. His other specialty is 1957-1965 Corvette fuel injection systems. His books on big-blocks and FI are required-reading for enthusiasts, restorers and historians.
We don’t have the space here to really dive into this iconic 1965-’66 Corvette Mule that Duntov used to develop the L88 engine and special HD suspension systems, brakes, etc. Although it should have been crushed by the time the first of twenty production L88 Corvette surfaced in 1967, it thankfully survived. And, a few years ago it was discovered and recently restored per original documentation by Kayser, one of the trio of owners of this landmark vehicle.
During the restoration process, Kayser dug up enough information, internal memos, technical paperwork and photos on Duntov’s L88 Mule to fill a book. Back in the day it was often referred to as “The Pilot Car” and” Lightweight Sebring Corvette.” His extensive research actually does fill up a beautifully produced, 160-page coffee table book with a padded leather binding. A 5×7-inch metal plaque on the cover showcases #58053, photographed during testing at GM’s Mesa, AZ Proving Ground.
My first sighting of Zora’s #58053 Corvette Mule was at the Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals (MCACN) in Chicago last November. Even though I had a relationship with Duntov, starting in the 1960s when I was editor of Hi-Performance CARS, published books about Corvettes and founded VETTE magazine, I knew very little about this car, had never seen most of the photos in Kayser’s book and never actually saw the Sting Ray until last year. I was so impressed I gave it my “Pick Award” as an MCACN Celebrity Judge.
Here are some fast facts about Zora’s # 58053 Corvette.
The one and only ‘65 Corvette Development L88 Test car, April 1965 through July 1965.
First St. Louis Corvette assembled with Mark IV L88 COPO engine and Muncie RPO-M22 HD Four-Speed.
First St. Louis Corvette assembled with RPO-J56 HD Brakes & Kelsey-Hayes Proportioning Valve.
First Corvette fitted with Zora’s prototype L88 Cowl Induction #0-268231 Hood.
A.O. Smith’s perfect “0” Base Dimensioned ‘65 Corvette frame.
#58053 became the 19665 “Lightened Sebring” Corvette Development L88 Test Car from August 1965 through March 1966. Also the first Sebring 12-Hour “Strengthened- Reinforced” Frame.
First Corvette fitted with 1966 production (#0-295426) Mark IV L88 engine, Split-Plane Intake Manifold (#3878299) and Holley (#3896091) 850-cfm Model 3418 four-barrel.
One and only Corvette with prototype Fish-Mouthed headers and side pipes.
One and only mid-series Corvette with Duntov’s favorite six-shooter taillights with Glo-Brite lenses and blacked-out barrels.
The Development Mule for J-56 Sebring Race Brakes.
First Corvette fitted with Duntov’s CERV II front sway bar and tricked-out A-arm suspension.
First Corvette fitted with Duntov’s L88 cowl-induction Stinger Hood.
First Corvette fitted with Duntov’s #0-269904 Super 42 ½-gallon fuel tank, used for testing at GM Desert Proving Ground.
Zora’s #58053 Mule served as the prototype for his ‘66 L88 “Four Kings” Corvettes built for Roger Penske, Don Yenko, Pedro Rodriguez and the L88 aluminum head Sports Illustrated Corvette sold to Steve McQueen.
It was the one and only ’67 Corvette L88 Development Mule from April 1966 through December 1966.
Duntov used this Corvette exclusively to develop 1967 L88 engines and the RPO-M22 “Rock Crusher” four-speed.
Ken Kayser’s photo and fact-filled limited-edition book – ZORA’S #58053 – should be in every Corvette enthusiast and historian’s library. For more information about Ken Kayser, ZORA’S #58053 and his other Corvette related books, please visit http://www.tachometerpublishing.com/