When allocution turns to American V-8–powered, competition-pedigreed 1960s sports-car Cinderella stories, the altercation usually starts and ends with the Shelby Cobra. Shelby was hardly the aboriginal to apparatus the failing body/American V-8 strategy—Allard exhausted him to the bite by about a decade—but his success aggressive abundant low-volume manufacturers and antagonism wildcatters to accept the adapt for their own projects. Of them, the Cheetah, a.k.a. Bill Thomas’s Cheetah, endures as one of the best enigmatic. With abandoned 11 first-generation examples congenital and beneath surviving, spotting one in the agrarian is arresting enough. Now the sole single-owner, unrestored archetype is headed for bargain on May 10 in New York City.
Born during Southern California’s sports-car-racing heyday, the Cheetah was the abstraction of self-taught architect Bill Thomas. Nicknamed Mr. Corvette for a cord of about 100 victories racked up in Corvettes of his creation, Thomas parlayed his success into a adjustment with General Motors as a achievement authority of sorts. Afterwards auspiciously prepping GM articles for alley circuits, annoyance racing, and alike NASCAR, Thomas in 1962 went about the business of advancing a Corvette Sting Ray for what should accept been addition assertive season. His affairs were foiled, however, back Carroll Shelby appeared and began burglary SCCA podiums and account with his Ford-powered Cobra. The afterward year, GM issued its belled ban on accumulated racing, and the Vette affairs went dark, although back-room affairs kept some GM artefact on the clue unofficially. Thomas afterwards contacted Ed Cole at Chevrolet and pitched the abstraction of activity afterwards the Cobra with a new Chevrolet-powered vehicle, one that would be produced in baby abundant numbers that it would be beheld as a rogue activity that could fly beneath the alarm of Chevrolet administrators.
Once accustomed the nod, Thomas had agent Don Edmunds assignment up a alternation of drawings, one of which was reportedly rendered anon on a branch desk. In a absolute 1981 affection adventure in Automobile Quarterly (Vol. 19, No. 3) about the actual car abundant here, Thomas remarked humorously that he kept the assets because bodies who abutting the aggregation afterwards were “always assertive that about there was a cycle of prints that had arise from some abstruse abode that we were alive from.”
Regardless of its origins, the architecture active 1.0- and 1.3-inch bore 4130 chrome-moly tubing for the frame, a absolutely absolute advanced suspension, and a adapted 1963 Corvette bureaucracy in the rear. The wheelbase was 90.0 inches with a 59.0-inch advanced and 57.0-inch rear track. Brakes were drums all about abaft 15-by-7.0-inch American Antagonism magnesium wheels. The affection of the diminutive barbarian was a fuel-injected 327-cubic-inch Chevrolet V-8 akin to an aluminum Corvette four-speed. Due to the Cheetah’s bunched ambit and the aback ascent of the powertrain, there is no driveshaft; the achievement shaft drives the rear cogwheel anon through a distinct accepted joint.
After a brace of aluminum-bodied prototypes accepted the architecture achievable and one was beatific to Detroit for a abstruse analysis by the GM brass, the aggregation switched to fiberglass bodies and began bound production. This is area the car now activity to bargain comes in. Recently accepted as car cardinal four (conflicting letters adumbrated it was the third or fifth), this agent was beatific to Daytona for achievement benchmarking, area the 1510-pound Cheetah hit a arise 215 mph. Officially, a Cheetah acquaint a 185-mph allurement acceleration in the quarter-mile at Elkhart Lake in June 1964; it did it afresh in September of the above year to prove it wasn’t a fluke.
Sadly, the Cheetah never got to go arch to arch with the Cobra in a high-profile, clearly accustomed antagonism during its heyday. Because of its low accumulation numbers, the SCCA put it in the around able C-Sports/Modified big-bore chic in 1963, area it was aggressive with Chaparrals, Lolas, and McLarens. To add insult to injury, in 1964 the FIA added the “production car” homologation claim to 1000 cars, a amount Thomas knew he could never accomplish alike with accumulated support. That about abandoned any adventitious of the production-class sports-car animosity bout of the year arena out. Back a Cheetah did chase a Cobra, it was usually because the Cobra had been so heavily adapted that tech inspectors pushed it over into the Adapted category. Alike adjoin the added austere antagonism specials, however, the Cheetah managed to win 11 above contest in 1964 abandoned and claimed abundant local- and minor-event victories all over the country over several years. GM was no best absorbed if it couldn’t run beeline up adjoin the Cobra, though, so Bill Thomas and aggregation angry their attentions to added projects, including a NASCAR program, Funny Cars, and a Chevrolet big-block Mark IV program. In September 1965, the boutique was complex in a blaze that destroyed the blade and applique for the new Long Tailed Cheetah (often articular as the Super Cheetah), as able-bodied as several Cheetah genitalia advised for cars in assorted states of assembly.
Referred to as the Budd Clusserath car, the Cheetah featured actuality cutting the antagonism cardinal 64 is broadly admired as the best complete and aboriginal archetype extant. It has been inspected and certified as such by Bill Thomas III, son of the Cheetah’s creator, as able-bodied as a few added Cheetah experts. Featuring a period-original Chevy 327-cubic-inch V-8 with Rochester ammunition injection, a Muncie M-20 alternation transmission, a C2 Corvette differential, banal boom brakes, and a antagonism tachometer, it stands as a basic time capsule. Both Thomas and Clusserath, its aboriginal buyer, accede that the aboriginal awful adapted 470-hp Corvette 327 with Thomas-designed dual-air-meter Rochester ammunition bang was traded to adolescent Cheetah buyer and disciplinarian Ralph Salyer anon afore this car was awash to Sam Goins of Ohio in 1965. Goins campaigned the car in abecedarian antagonism and has been the sole buyer for added than 50 years.
While there is no catechism that the car headed to bargain is a 18-carat first-generation Cheetah, there is some agitation apropos its exact number. As is generally the case with low-volume manufacturers, few accumulation annal exist, consistent in generally agrarian and inaccurate acceptance from collectors and historians. As is additionally accurate of the Cobra to a bottom extent, the amount is added complicated by replicas produced by both Fiberglass Trends—which congenital and awash a fiberglass anatomy accepted with annoyance racers—and afterwards by a abbreviate run of Cheetah assiduity cars fabricated in Arizona by BTM LLC, beneath acceding with Bill Thomas Motors, afore that authorization adjustment concluded in October 2009. While the Thomas ancestors and Bill Thomas Motors accept issued a affidavit of actuality acknowledging that the Goins car is #4, their above accomplice at BTM feels otherwise.
Also apropos is Bill Thomas III’s affirmation that the abandoned Cheetah to be issued an official ID tag and consecutive cardinal is the car beatific to Chevrolet for inspection, although some owners would accredit their own VIN tags and numbers to annals them for the street. He does affirm the broadly captivated acceptance that aloof 11 “first design” Cheetahs, including the prototype, were produced during the aboriginal affairs and that some ashore cars were afterwards rebuilt application beginning bodies and parts. Bill Thomas III told Car and Disciplinarian that while he believes the above Automobile Quarterly commodity is “the best allotment anytime done on the Cheetah, it too has abounding inaccuracies apropos the timeline and accumulation numbers.” As a ancillary note, the aluminum-bodied car sent—or sold, depending on the source—to Chevrolet for analysis is accounted to abide in a clandestine accumulating in Michigan.
In its 50 years beneath Goins’s guardianship, the Cheetah has accumulated beneath than 100 hours of operation. It’s appointed to cantankerous the bargain block on May 10 at Guernsey’s. But first, the car will arise at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park ambit on May 4 and 5 for viewing. Afterwards it will be confused to the bargain area at 93rd Artery and Park Avenue in New York City. While the affairs surrounding the Cheetah, as is the case for added awful adorable low-volume vehicles, may accommodate a acceptable point of access for arrant sellers, the all-encompassing affidavit and two-owner history of the Clusserath/Goins car provides an incontestable provenance.
If the name Guernsey’s doesn’t absolutely bell in the aerial of auto collectors as an agent on the akin of added acclaimed automotive bargain houses, Guernsey’s co-founder Arlan Ettinger is able-bodied abreast in the accountable of best chase cars, as able-bodied as the pop-culture and nontraditional collectibles on which the bargain abode has congenital its reputation. It’s account acquainted that the absolutely adequate Cheetah #006 bootless to accommodated the assets at a aerial bid of $850,000 at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale bargain in 2017 and that the “Alan Green Chevrolet” Cheetah #007 awash for $660,000 at Russo and Steele’s 2018 Scottsdale sale. This new bargain is one account watching.
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