Last month, a reader submitted a vehicle for our Holy Grails series that’s been stuck in my head ever since. In the 1980s, a company called CCC Engineering decided to build the biggest possible middle finger to the performance declines of the Malaise Era. This company took a Cadillac Brougham, dumped a souped-up 370 HP Corvette engine in it, then called it the Duntov GT after the man who helped make the Corvette an icon. What happened to this car?
One of the glorious parts about our Holy Grails series is that I’m getting emails for cars that I’ve never heard of before. And some of those cars are holy grails in the strict sense. I’m talking crazy one-offs that were built before seeming to vaporize into the ether. Some readers have debated our use of “Holy Grail” but I think even the most pedantic among you will agree that the Duntov GT is a true grail.
In the summer of 2009, America was deep in the Great Recession and nearly three quarter million cars were removed from our roads. The Car Allowance Rebate System—also known as Cash For Clunkers—sought to remove gas guzzlers from American roads, to be replaced with new, fuel-efficient rides. People overwhelmingly sent Ford Explorers to their deaths, many of those people likely running to the program’s top seller, the Toyota Corolla. An incredible 677,081 cars met a grim fate in the program, and not all of them were rusty Fords and Acura Legends. One vehicle stuck out on the list to reader Jonathan: A 1987 CCC Engineering Duntov GT.
Thankfully, the addition of the car was an error. According to our Matt Hardigree from all of the way back in 2010, the Duntov GT on the list was actually a Chevrolet pickup. But what the heck is a Duntov GT? Matt used a picture of a Corvette in his article, but this is far weirder than that.
A Hot Rod Lost To Time
Jonathan, who sent in the tip, did some looking around and happened upon a Flickr album showing a “1987 Duntov GT” found on Craigslist. This was clearly a Cadillac Brougham, but under the hood resided Corvette firepower. No other information was provided. Some more digging reveals a thread on Cadillac Forums, where an anonymous person claimed to have worked on the project. I’ve corrected the spelling errors for clarity:
I’m not sure what you all know about the Duntov GT, but I was there as one of the builders. The Duntov GT was a one-of-a-kind car built to be marketed to diplomats, secret service or whoever needed the extra HP in a Cadillac to handle the extra weight of bulletproof glass. My boss was an eccentric millionaire who loved and drove Cadillacs, and also held a Bonneville land speed record. He made his money inventing, marketing, and franchising unique concrete cutting machinery than ran on 400Hz. We could get 20HP out of a custom-made, aluminum, water-cooled electric moter the size of a standard 1/2 HP 120v electric motor.
One day he told me to go to the local Chevy dealer and buy 2 Corvette engines, new in the crate. He had me take one of the engines to nearby Traco Engineering to have it built up to 450HP. Then sent me over to the Cadillac dealer to pick up a new Brougham. When I got back we (me and another guy) pulled the engine out of the caddy and started to fit in the Vette engine. We had to fabricate the motor mounts, have a driveshaft and radiator and custom dual exhaust made. He hired a guy who worked for Buick in Michigan that was an electrical engineer to make a hybrid wiring harness to match up the Vette engine to the caddy chassis and we had to make a chip to fool the Vette computer/anti-theft before we could start it.
It was the ultimate sleeper. When you left the light it spun the tires and left everyone looking. After we put the 450HP Traco engine in it, we modified the suspension with sway bars, shocks, positraction, and wider tires/mag wheels. Then I could light up the tires at will and hold a burnout until I lifted off the throttle.
No one ever ordered one and so he drove it as his daily driver. Bad idea, but a VERY expensive and bitchin car.
Now, I’ll reiterate that this was written by a random person on an internet forum. I’ve tried reaching out to this person, but it’s been a solid decade since they even last logged in. Outside of this forum post, there’s nothing out there about this car.
Yet, people seem to know that it exists. I decided to see if I could confirm this story by reaching out to others involved in the project.
The Man Behind The Car
The “eccentric millionaire” talked about in the forum post was Edward Dempsey. As Professional Demolition International (PDi)—a magazine about demolition done professionally and internationally—reports, Dempsey was famous in the construction industry for pioneering work on high-frequency, high-revving 400 Hz motors used in concrete cutting. In 1961, Dempsey started the Concrete Coring Company in California, and he created the high-cycle concrete cutting system for it. The magazine goes on to note that hydraulic cutting systems eventually gained popularity over high-cycle equipment, but high-cycle equipment saw a resurgence in the modern day. Dempsey owned Concrete Coring Company until 1986.
When that article was written in 2008, Dempsey had moved his concrete cutting venture to a new company called 400 Hertz Engineering. This company had an expansive catalog which included motors with up to 24,000 RPM and 200 HP, vacuums, switchboxes, various saws, and large generators. I tried to reach out to Dempsey, and thus far have not been successful. So far as I can tell, 400 Hertz Engineering hasn’t been in business for at least four years, and Dempsey hasn’t been online since around 2015.
Dempsey wasn’t just about construction work, either. As that PDi story notes, Dempsey was solidly a gearhead. He raced everything from AHRA dragsters and stock cars to Formula One Outboard boats. Off of the track and water, Dempsey had a knack for experimenting with hybrid and electric cars. A promotional document from the Fluke Corporation—a manufacturer of industrial test equipment—notes that in 1999, Dempsey’s White Lightning electric-powered streamliner ran 245 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats with driver Pat Rummerfield behind the wheel. That set a record for EVs on the flats.
In a Los Angeles Times story, Dempsey is quoted saying “I’d like to show people that electric cars aren’t golf carts—they can be fast and fun.” Also, “Someday, there will be a lot of electric cars.” He was ahead of the curve.
That land speed car was powered by two 200 HP motors fed from 6040 rechargeable C-size batteries. According to that document, the concrete-cutting businesses funded his racing efforts. In a statement, Dempsey said: “Well, we used the concrete cutting to earn money so we could race!”
Before Dempsey’s electric land speed record and before the hybrids, he had an idea to build a seriously fast American land yacht. As we all know, cars in the 1980s Malaise Era suffered for power. This was a time when the Corvette made just 205 HP from a 5.7-liter V8 and if you wanted a V8 wrapped up in a luxurious Cadillac Brougham body, you were working with a 5.0-liter that made a lethargic 140 ponies.
For Dempsey, that just wasn’t going to work.
The Duntov GT
The forum post near the top mentions that the engine of Dempsey’s creation was built by Traco Engineering, a California tuning house. Traco was founded in 1957 by Jim Travers and Frank Coon. Together, the pair spent three decades building all sorts of racing engines. The company says that some of its notable projects include Roger Penske’s 1968 Trans-Am Camaro, Roy Woods’ Trans-Am AMC Javelin, and the Carl Haas “Aircraft Carrier” Lola Can-Am racer. Traco’s site includes a huge list of all kinds of epic engines, including a 1,200 HP twin-turbo engine built for Dempsey for another project.
In 1986, the head engine builder for Traco Engineering, Jim Jones, bought the company. He renamed it to Tra-Co, meaning “Total Racing Automotive Co.” I reached out to Jones, the owner of Tra-Co and one of those involved in this project, and he told me the story of how this car came to be.
As Jones informed me, Dempsey approached Tra-Co to have a 5.7-liter V8 from a Corvette built for a Brougham. Jones and his team managed to get that engine to produce numbers that would be good even for today. The forum poster claims that the end result was 450 horses, but Jones told me that it was actually 370 HP. Still, that’s more than double the power that the Brougham left the factory with.
Dempsey’s plan was to sell his super Brougham to wealthy buyers through Cadillac itself. To help give the vehicle some credibility, Dempsey, Jones, and Coon had dinner with the man often credited as being the father of the Corvette, famed engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov. As the National Corvette Museum notes, Duntov’s claim to fame with the Corvette is evolving it from a gorgeous convertible into a legit sports car:
After joining GM in 1953, Zora changed the Corvette from a turntable darling into one of the most respected sports cars in the world. It started slowly… a suspension tweak, some aerodynamic work, then the V8 high-performance camshaft, and fuel injection. Later would come independent rear suspension, pure-bred race cars and daring prototypes. Suddenly, “The General” was more alive than ever. Corvettes began to appear in racing paddocks at places like Pebble Beach and Sebring alongside Mercedes, Jaguars and Porsches. As the years passed, the Corvette would become the best selling sports car in the world and like, blue jeans and Marlboros, the Corvette would become known for its brash American character.
Duntov didn’t work on this Cadillac. However, the men were able to strike a deal with Duntov to put his name on the project. Dempsey was serious about selling this to Americans. The vehicle was fully-compliant with regulations, and it was even legal in California. You can even find official fuel economy ratings for the car, which state that it scored up to 20 mpg on the highway. Dempsey had Duntov pose with the vehicle and documents were created to go with the vehicle.
However, as Jones told me, one thing made the whole deal fall apart. Dempsey wanted to sell the Duntov GT through Cadillac. The automaker apparently liked what it saw and was even willing to sell the package through dealerships. However, Dempsey wanted his Duntov GTs to have a factory warranty, something that Cadillac wasn’t willing to do. Jones tells me that after this, the dream of the Duntov GT died. Just the single car was built and it was used as Dempsey’s personal car for some time before it was sold. It was last seen in California about eight years ago on Craigslist.
A number of readers have asked about the Duntov GT. This vehicle has fascinated me for a whole month, in part because it’s all sorts of silly, and in part because there’s seemingly nothing out there about it. Now, we have the story of how and why this car came to be. It didn’t get destroyed in Cash For Clunkers, but I wonder where it is today.
If you happen to know where this car is or any additional information about this project, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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