GRR

Is 'Old Yeller' the weirdest lap record-breaker?

29th July 2017
Adam Wilkins

Some of sports car racing’s most beautiful cars from the 1950s. It was an era when aerodynamic theory was tested by hand-formed shapes rather than wind tunnels, resulting in creations like the Jaguar D-Type and Aston Martin DBR2. But not every racing car of that decade had pebble-smooth styling and appealing proportions.

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Californian Max Balchowsky began his racing career in the early 1950s in a Jaguar XK120 before moving to building his own cars from scratch. His Hollywood Motors business mixed hot rod building with sports racing car manufacturing. ‘Old Yeller MkII’ of 1959 had sledgehammer power in the form of a 6571cc Buick V8 to make up for its wonderfully rudimentary construction. Beneath the distinctly unsleek bodywork is a ladder-frame chassis, live rear axle and double wishbone front suspension.

It was a formula that worked. In an era when privateer built cars could compete with factory entered cars, the legendary Dan Gurney set a lap record at Riverside in 1960 in ‘Old Yeller’. Gurney wasn’t the only household name to drive it. In the same year, the roll-call of drivers who took the wheel included Carroll Shelby and Bob Bondurant.

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Incredibly, the car continued to race until 1974. By then, it has been developed away from its original specification before being retired. In the 1990s, the car was bought by Ernie Nagamatsu. He knew Balchowsky in period, and restored the car to its 1959 specification. It has since been a familiar sight in historic racing, having made several appearances at the Goodwood Revival as well as this year’s Silverstone Classic.

Just as it was in period, the ‘Junkyard Dog’ as it’s sometimes affectionately called is a real crowd-pleaser, its upright air intake and swept front wings cutting a distinctly different dash to the Lolas, Lotuses and Listers that surrounded it in the Stirling Moss Trophy.

Photography by Tom Shaxson

  • Silverstone Classic

  • Silverstone Classic 2017

  • Buick

  • Old Yeller

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