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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One of my coworkers built his own…
Proves that there isn’t a pre-2005 car made that can’t be made better by a set of BBS RS wheels. These are probably ARE 398, but close enough.
This is odd. My husband has a 1996 Cadillac Brougham with a corvette engine in it. He says it came that way from Cadillac. This certainly precedes the 2000’s noted in the article.
Yes IIRC from the mid 80’s until the mid ’90’s Cadillac used Chevy engines on and off due to problems with the HT engine. Those problems were solved by the roll out of the Northstar, which I think started in 1991.
Chevrolet Performance E-ROD and Connect & Cruise systems make this easier today, but you do need a checkbook.
Holy grail indeed! Thanks for writing about this – it’s the first I’ve learned about it. My first car out of college -the first rather nice car I owned, and the first car I actually took out a loan for was an ’89 Brougham. I drove that car all over the country before replacing it with a ’94 Sedan de Ville. Later I had an ’87, ’88, and a ’91 Brougham. They’re still one of my favorite cars out there, but the pre-’91 versions with the 307 did leave a bit to be desired in the power department. It looks like the Duntov GT sought to remedy that and then some. Too bad a few more weren’t built.
370 hp isn’t shredding any tires when the car weighs 3 tons. Also that’s 370 at the crank which is like 307 at the wheels. A focus st would walk that car effortlessly. This writer has no business writing anything automotive. She’s full of shit 100% of the time.
Well, you may have incorrect information and poor reading comprehension, but at least you have a shitty attitude.
Try rereading the article before lighting stink bombs, it can save a lot of embarrassment.
Mercedes is literally the reason why I know the difference between gross vs. net crank horsepower. She’s not the one who’s full of shit here.
Hello Gmaxim317! I do find it a bit unfortunate that you comment essentially the same thing every week, and that you even go out of your way to send me emails with more or less the same tone.
The quoted performance figures come from the engine builder. Considering that building racing engines is what Traco is known for, I have no reason to doubt the numbers or the claim that the car could light up its tires. After all, even 307 at the wheels doubles what it made at the wheels from the factory. I’ve done burnouts in heavier vehicles with less power…
At any rate, I also never said that the Duntov GT was faster than a modern car. I only called it a hot rod and a holy grail. If a one-of-one car with more than double the factory output doesn’t meet those criteria, I don’t know what would.
Thanks for reading!
Comparing a malaise era steel land yacht to a modern hot hatch that is 40 years newer makes it sound like you are the one who is full of shit. Also hard tire compound from back in the day meant you could light up tires on just about anything. Go look in the mirror and ask yourself if walking around everyday this mad and miserable is really worth it.
And by 370 HP he really means that a basic naturally aspirated 300hp crank V6 would probably walk it.
These old guys and their tall tales…
Back in the day, I had a neighbor across the street from me with a classic 425hp Challenger. At the time I had a 97 Cobra with 305hp. He would constantly be telling me how if that challenger was running it was quicker than even my modern sports car.
Finally gets it running, says its running like a top. I follow him out to Woodward in the Cobra, proceeded to put about three car lengths on it before third gear.
Then he goes on about how the car is all iron and because it is so heavy is why he lost.
Gets it weighed turns out its 3190 as it sat and my Cobra was 3375.
Old timers, and their lies…
I feel like half the time, they only quote the HP based on the gross factory output and whatever the HP+ number on the box of parts they added was. It’s remarkable to watch old men see their classic get slapped down on a Mustang dyno.
This Cadillac on steroid isn’t only one going down the Hercules path.
Peter Jenkins, a New Zealander, installed the 500-cid Cadillac V8 engine in his 1981 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham d’Elegance® and used it as a daily drive. Here’s the fascinating article about his right-hooker car with a curious provenance.
I recalled a lengthy article about his 1983 Chevrolet Caprice Classic in Autoweek magazine (19 August 1985). Andy installed the 900-plus horsepower 9.6-litre Chevrolet V8 motor with twin turbochargers in the stock Caprice with minor modifications to the suspension. His Caprice was still a plush boulevard cruiser fully equipped with air-conditioning, automatic gearbox, power windows and seats, opera lights, vinyl roofs, crushed velvet upholstery, and such. Not even a roll bar or safety cage was installed as precaution. Caprice was his personal toy and a publicity tool.
Andy didn’t plan on doing the speed record run with his Caprice until the Bonneville officials asked him to help set the clocks. Andy invited a reporter, his friend, and a member of his public relations firm, to ride along with him. During the run, he averaged 194 mph on both runs and had exceed 200 mph in one run. This remains the fastest four-door vehicle with three passengers riding along ever run at the Bonneville to this day. Of course, that was 1985 when a tiny number of sports and exotic cars could do more than 150 mph. Today, Bentley Flying Spur (W12 and W12 Speed) is probably the only stock four-door saloon that exceeds 200-mph mark.
I feel like I missed something. Who is Andy, is he the same as Peter Jenkins?
I just love weird obscure stuff, and these holy grails fit the bill.
Concerning an engine swap that complied with California smog testing, I did one. Well sorta. The exhaust on my non-CA ’80 VW Vanagon Westfalia was toast, so I needed to replace it. The cost of just the exhaust bits was near $600. I managed to find a CA ’80 Vanagon with a bad engine, but a good exhaust system. I researched the CA laws about such things and bought the whole CA Vanagon Wesfalia for $400. I pulled off all the necessary bits of the exhaust system from the donor, put them on my bus, took all the required paperwork, including the parts of the law that allowed me to do this, to the DMV for inspection. Them hemmed and hawed a bunch, but they finally agreed that it complied, so they passed it. I sold the donor VW for $400 (I informed them of the missing exhaust) to a father-son team as they wanted a camper project. So I converted a nonCA engine to a CA compliant engine. Is that close enough to an engine swap?
If someone has the VIN, would a CARFAX tell us anything? Could at least reach out to the last place it had a logged service?
Awesome read! Thanks for the content.
Old Ed must have known a few people down at the CARB offices to get this monster compliant. What an awesome car.
CARB / EPA certification was probably a much different proposition in 1986. Those were OBD-I days, when you had to short a couple of pins in the diagnostic connector with a paper clip and count the flashes of the check engine light to get a failure code.
Even today EPA compliance is not difficult for engine swaps. The engine has to be no older than the car receiving it and must be from the same type of vehicle (no truck engines into passenger cars). It also has to be a US market engine and retain its emissions controls.
Certainly a much better tribute to a legendary namesake than the 1979 Buehrig
One of my first cars was a 1990 Fleetwood Brougham. Black, with a grey mouse-fur interior and the smaller limo rear window. It had a 350, and was no slouch for how much it weighed, but it handled & stopped just like you imagine it would. I would have loved more power from that engine, but only if the handling and brakes could be improved to match the power.
I would love to do a restomod on one that put a sportier but compliant modern suspension technology under it, plenty of good brakes, more than 4-forward speeds, and around 500HP. I know more HP would be easy, but more than that will likely be wasted on a roadgoing cruiser.
I would also keep the interior the same but with a few thoughtful upgrades like a modern infotainment stack. Not sure how I’d integrate that into it.
I’ve always thought these land yachts would be perfect for an EV conversion. The factory drivetrains were thirsty, anemic and emissions-strangled anyway, and they’re huge–plenty of room for batteries. You’d want to upgrade the brakes too, of course. But you’d have one helluva cruiser, especially if you swapped in some Tesla bots…
*bits, damn autocorrect.
Though you could swap in some Tesla bots and have a big Cadillac that is constantly on Twitter getting into arguments about FSD.
Making a small-block Chevy bolt into a Cadillac? Easy.
Making all the wiring work? Difficult, but not horribly so.
Doing all the testing and submitting necessary paperwork to get an EPA rating? ACK! BAD!
And why even bother, if you don’t ever sell any??
…because the plan was to sell them?
Seems to me you have enough contacts to get the VIN? Why not do a VIN search?
Hot rod Lincolns I get. This I don’t.
BTW – I seem to recall something about a ridiculously inexpensive electric car you can mail order from China. That sounds like a good holy grail topic to research. 😉
You gotta watch out for those– they’ll drive your daddy to drinkin’.
I’ve heard of that electric car! I think it is called a Chang Lee.