Kettering inherits a piece of a legend
Today, the Kettering University Scharchburg Archives is pleased to take possession of the papers and personal correspondence of Dolza, which provide a historical perspective of his life and career following his distinguished service to GM and the Corvette.
American muscle cars have come and gone over the years. Those of us who grew up racing in hopped up Mustangs, Chevelles, Chargers and Novas between lights on Woodward Avenue and Telegraph Road outside of Detroit late at night understand that to create a truly special, hot-off-the-production line mean machine takes an exorbitant amount of money, time and commitment from automakers. Even those sleek and historical bolts of automotive lightening produced in the 1960s--the Pontiac GTO, the Ford Fury, the Dodge Charger--make one realize that the inscrutability of time and considerable pressure exerted by changes in the economy and environment often meant the death of cars many in the general public consider to be icons of the American automotive scene.
But one car has withstood the unpredictable nature of time, money and economics, and throughout the years has come to symbolize the strength of American automotive engineering. The Chevrolet Corvette. Since it first rolled off the Chevrolet prototype line on VanSlyke Road in Flint in 1953 with a Blue Flame Special, triple carburetor six-cylinder engine, no other American produced sports car has completely absorbed the attention of car enthusiasts throughout the United States and the world. In 1956, the car underwent a redesign and was fitted with a V-8, 265 cubic inch, 195 horsepower engine, which made it a hot selling sports car and helped establish the reputation of the vehicle.
Perhaps one of the most important figures in the development of the Corvette is less well known than some of the legends of the car, such as Harley Earl, Zora Arkus-Duntov and Ed Cole. In the early and mid 1950s, GM engineer John Dolza, working in concert with Harry Barr, who took over for Cole in his work on the Corvette, developed the fuel injection system for the vehicle in 1957. Fuel injection offered the sports car a fuel delivery system that immediately boosted the horsepower of the car and helped change the small block V-8 engine and automotive industry forever.
But this was not the first attempt by Dolza to produce a fuel delivery system that would enhance the performance of a vehicle while increasing engine power. During WWII, Dolza worked at the General Motors Allison Division in Indianapolis, Ind., where he developed and demonstrated the first working aircraft autopilot navigation system.
Additionally, Dolza was engaged in improving the fuel injection system for high altitude military aircraft engines produced by the GM defense plants during the war. For his efforts, Dolza received the1942 Charles Manly Award from the Society of Automotive Engineers. Following WWII, Dolza returned to Michigan where he led research and development projects to produce a lightweight thin-wall Chevrolet small block engine and to successfully mold the 1953 Corvette fiberglass body. Soon after this he received an assignment from GM President Harlow Curtice to develop the GM fuel injection system, and the rest was history.
Today, the Kettering University Scharchburg Archives is pleased to take possession of the papers and personal correspondence of Dolza, which provide a historical perspective of his life and career following his distinguished service to GM and the Corvette. David White, archivist for the Archives, explained that this material "best reflects John Dolza's life after his retirement from GM when he incorporated the Dolza Engineering Co., which operated out of Fenton, Mich. His interests continued to focus on the automobile and like many inventors his interests varied. His papers, for example, document the invention and sale of a solar pool cover in the 1960s."
White also said that without the significant efforts of Ken Kayser '73 and his work in establishing a relationship with Dolza's son Paul, this collection may never have come to Kettering University in the first place. Kayser, who was engaged in his own research at the time, encouraged Paul Dolza to donate these materials to the Archives as the best way to preserve the important contributions of his father and to help the American public remember the significant and lasting contribution he made to the Corvette. In the spring of 2003, the Scharchburg Archives will offer an exhibit titled "John Dolza: Engineer and Inventor."
"John Dolza exemplifies the many immigrants who fled their homeland in the 20th century to come to the U.S. in search of freedom," White said. "His wealth of knowledge helped shape the American automobile and aircraft design during WWII."
And given the shape of today's Corvette, it is fair to say Dolza's contribution will last at least another 50 years.
To learn more about the John Dolza Collection, contact Kettering's Scharchburg Archives at (800) 955-4464, extension 9890, or visit www2.kettering.edu/acad/histcoll.
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Written by Gary J. Erwin