When Smokey Yunick passed away in 2001, his wife acted in accordance with his wishes and called some of the legendary NASCAR mechanic, inventor, all-around genius and war hero’s old friends. She told them of her husband’s passing, and mentioned that Smokey had some stuff lying around his shop and to come see if they wanted anything before it was all auctioned off. One of those old friends was Steve Tate, a long-time dedicated ‘vette aficionado. As Steve looked around Smokey’s shop down in Daytona, he found a Chevy small block V8 with a hand-written note taped to it that said “Record Run,” and he knew instantly that this old motor was an important piece of the history of race cars. It was the very first V8 engine ever installed in a Corvette.
The EX-87/5951 Mule
The first V8 powered ‘vette was not a production model, but was rather an experimental platform created from a stock 1954 car that came to be known to ‘vette enthusiasts as the “Duntov Mule.” The idea to put a V8 into the ‘vette belonged to three-time Indy 500 winner and Chevrolet Chief Engineer, Mauri Rose. It was Rose who shipped the stock 1954 car and an experimental small block V8 engine to Daytona to have Yunick install and tune.
When the car came back to Detroit for testing, it was given the factory designation “EX-87″ and put through rigorous testing and proving in anticipation of the release of the first production V8 ‘vettes in 1955. If that was the complete story of the EX-87, it would still be an important piece of car history, but the story doesn’t end after the car’s duties as a test mule were completed.
The Duntov Mule
Zora Arkus Duntov was the Corvette Program Chief Engineer, and after production testing of the EX-87 was completed, he acquired the car for further experimentation. He wanted to use the car for high-speed record runs. The car was assigned the tracking number 5951 in the winter of 1955 and handed over to Duntov.
Duntov modified the car for speed, replacing the factory windshield with a small Plexiglas windscreen and fabricated a fiberglass tonneau covering over the passenger compartment and a headrest/tailfin to improve aerodynamics. He then bored out the 283 small block Chevy V8 to 307 cubic inches and designed a special high performance camshaft for the engine that has since become known as the “Duntov Cam.” Duntov himself drove the car to a record 163 miles per hour at GM’s Arizona proving ground in late 1955, and in January of 1956 set new speed records at Daytona using the same engine installed in a different ‘vette.
History loses track of the EX-87 after the record runs at the Arizona proving grounds and the removal of the experimental V8. It lived only in memory and legend as the “first” V8 ‘vette until Steve Tate found that very engine in Smokey Yunick’s garage. Tate took possession of the engine, and after an exhaustive search managed to find the EX-87 and its original Chevrolet log book. He purchased the car and spent more than a year reinstalling the V8 and meticulously restoring the vehicle to its original configuration as Zora Duntov’s Mule.