The Chevrolet Corvette, popularly heralded as America’s first sports car, hasn’t always had the brawn to back up the beauty. In fact, for its first two years of production, the sleek ‘Vette was powered by a “Blue Flame” 3.9-liter inline-six that didn’t create enough power to match the bold styling. That would change for 1955 when a V8 became available, but the first Corvette to sport such an engine was actually built the previous year.
Maintained by the Lingenfelter Collection, the first-ever V8-powered Corvette is an experimental vehicle with the codename EX-87. According to Hemmings Motor News, EX-87 started life as a six-cylinder 1954 Corvette, but at Chevrolet’s behest, hot-rodder Smokey Yunick fitted it with the automaker’s then-new 265 V8. Its 195 horsepower (145 kilowatts) was a useful upgrade over the Blue Flame Six’s 150 ponies (112 kW), and the small-block V8 would enter production the following year to give the 1955 Corvette enough muscle to take on sporty European rivals like the Jaguar XK, as well as Ford’s newly introduced and V8-powered Thunderbird.
But that wasn’t the end of the road for EX-87. Chevy turned the project over to Corvette engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov in an attempt to break speed records. Arkus-Duntov knew the 265-cubic-inch (4.3-liter) V8 wouldn’t have the muscle to shove the Corvette to his goal of 150 miles per hour, so engineers bored it out to 307 ci (5.0 liters), and Arkus-Duntov designed a unique camshaft to give it still more power. To help it slip through the wind more easily, the legendary engineer also gave EX-87, now nicknamed the “Duntov Mule,” a fiberglass interior tonneau, chopped windscreen, and stability-enhancing vertical fin behind the driver.
With Yunick behind the wheel, the Corvette pushed well past Arkus-Duntov’s goal to a top speed of 163 mph at GM’s proving ground. In 1956, the same engine was placed in a different Corvette, powering it to a top speed of 150.583 mph at Daytona Beach – good enough to capture that record Chevy was looking for and a huge improvement over the production Corvette’s 120-mph top speed.
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The Lingenfelter Collection recently showcased the Duntov Mule at the 2022 EyesOn Design show in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, where the YouTube channel DTRockstar1 spotted it. That loping, snarling Zora cam is plainly evident as the car idles across the lawn, sounding much more aggressive and sporting than any other Vette that came before it. As a piece of history, EX-87 is pretty fascinating. But as a sports car that captured records (and a massive enthusiast following), the Duntov mule Corvette is far more compelling.