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Thread: The Cheetah

  1. #1

    The Cheetah

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    I don’t need to detail the popularity and mass following Carroll Shelby’s magical original Cobra had. The Cobra had it all; aggressive looks, exclusivity, immense sound-track, barn-storming performance, and all the character of the man who created it. Yet much of what makes the Cobra so special, at least, in the US, is its impressive racing pedigree. From the launch of the original 260ci powered Cobra in 1962, right through to the monstrous 427 three years later (and which remained in production until 1967), the Cobra had few true rivals in motorsport. But really, how much true competition did the Cobra actually have?

    With Fords input, the Cobra was created as a competitor for Chevrolets Corvette, both as a marketing tool, and as a race car. It didn’t start out that way, of course, as Shelby first approached G-M about supplying him with engines for the car when still at concept stage, but after they turned him down, he was able to sell the idea to Ford.

    In competition, the Cobra competed in sports production racing, as rival to the Corvette. On debut at Riverside in 1962, Bill Krause, driving CSX2002, pulled out and passed the leading Corvette of Dave MacDonald early in the race, and proceeded to draw away, until sidelined with a broken wheel hub. But from that point on, the Cobra had little on-track competition.

    The FIA production sports car Grand Touring division required that at least 100 identical units be produced within 12 months, which really meant that any real Cobra competitor required manufacturer support. The Corvette did, but G-M were deep into their no-racing ban, and although Zora Arkus-Duntov initiated plans to have a limited number of special lightweight Corvettes built, fitted with alloy 377ci engines, and homologated for GT racing, G-M knocked the Grand Sport project on the head after only five cars were built. The Grand Sport proved it would have been a genuine competitor to the Cobra, having been significantly faster when they went head-to-head in late 1963 at Nassau, but would never get to face the Cobra in GT competition.

    Other companies, such as Rootes Group in the UK, and Cobra racer Jack Griffith in the US, sought to jump on the Cobra band-wagon, producing small block Ford V8 powered sports cars (Sunbeam Tiger and TVR Griffith) that were produced in the required numbers, but that were really intended to mimic the Cobra’s success, rather than de-throne it. British company Ginetta built a small block Ford V8 powered car called the G10, but only six of these were produced.

    However, the Cobra’s on track success may have been very different had one man realized his own ambitious plans. Bill Thomas, of Bill Thomas Race Cars, had built quite a reputation by the early ‘60s for building successful racing Corvette’s and for his powerful Chevy race engines. With the death of the Grand Sport before it had even got off the ground, Thomas proposed another G-M based production car, the Cheetah, which would be designed specifically to knock the Cobra off its perch.

    With close G-M ties, Thomas’ concept was sound. Rather than G-M have to go to the hassle of building specialist parts, Thomas’ Cheetah would utilize as many production Chevy parts as possible, fitted into a purpose-built chassis, which his own company would design and build, to the minimum 100 units required. Each production Cheetah would be assembled at Thomas’ own workshops. All G-M had to do was supply the required parts, and some funding, and Thomas would take care of the rest.

    The Cheetah was an impressive machine. It featured a 90 inch wheelbase, and although the first two cars built (including the prototype) would have alloy bodies, the production cars would all have fiberglass bodies. Underneath was a Don Edmunds designed chrome-moly tube-chassis semi space-frame, in which the Thomas fettled 520hp 377ci fuel-injected Chevy engine sat so far back, the Muncie M21 was connected directly to the Positraction diff. G-M cerametalic drum brakes were fitted all-round, and each finished production Cheetah weighed just 1,700 pounds (770kg).

    Jerry Titus test drove the prototype at Riverside in 1963, and as technical editor for Sports Car Graphic magazine, his opinion carried a lot of weight. And his glowing report brought a flood of orders for Thomas. One car was sent to G-Ms Milford Proving Grounds for testing, and produced some impressive results. The Cheetah still had plenty of bugs that needed ironing out, such as extreme cock-pit temperatures, chassis flex, and lack of engine cooling, but these could have been sorted.

    However, it mattered little, as G-M soon made it clear they weren’t going to provide the support needed. Additionally, Thomas’ workshop caught fire after only 11 cars had been completed, with around five additional cars still being built. Although most survived, the Cheetah project died, and Cheetah owners were left to race against much more radical competition in Modified Sports classes, though still managed to notch up numerous race wins.

    Sadly, the Cheetah would never get to face the car it was designed to topple, the Cobra, and like the Grand Sport, will remain a case for Chevy racing enthusiasts of what might have been.

  2. #2
    Semi-Pro Racer pallmall's Avatar
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    I understand there is a Cheetah here in NZ, that has been in NZ for many years.
    Never raced, but is being rebuilt currently.

    Can anybody tell more?

  3. #3
    Wow, really? Thats interesting. Would love to know more. It seems there are 8 Cheetah's known to still exist. So they're very rare. One of them was turned into a roadster when still near new. This was Ralph Salyer's example, which had its doors blow off on the Daytona banking at 200mph due to unequal cockpit air pressure. Crew chief Gene Crowe solved that issue, plus the cockpit heat issue, by chopping the roof off.

    There is a company that makes very accurate replicas and several of these have been constructed.

  4. #4
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    Wink

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Holmes View Post

    There is a company that makes very accurate replicas and several of these have been constructed.
    That might be 'Mr Bruce' on Club Cobra, although I think there are also some other players, a 'different' car, not really my cup of tea, much rather have a 'Daytona Coupe' myself....someday

  5. #5
    there is a neat DVD called Legendary Chevys that can be found here and there is one segment about the Cheetah. This is it as posted on Youtube:

  6. #6
    Thats a great piece of footage Brett. But wouldn't it have been good if the owner could have stomped on the loud pedal a bit harder!

  7. #7
    agreed steve, but even so its a mean looking, awesome sounding 'cobra killer' eh?

  8. #8
    This is another piece of footage, and the owner thinks his car, or the body at least, is the old Instant Motion drag car.



    If thats the case, this car used to be pretty wild!

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    Note the owner also says that Mike Argetsinger drives the Cheetah for him in vintage racing events. Mike has recently released a book on Mark Donohue called "Technical Excellence At Speed", which was brought to my attention by Roaring Season member Chad (OCTARD-USA) who rates the book very highly, for those of you interested in the career of Mark Donohue.

    Its available here: http://www.amazon.com/Mark-Donohue-T.../dp/1935007025

  9. #9
    Duncan Fox was rebuilding a Cheetah

  10. #10
    Johnny Rush in Oamaru built a sports car and called it a Cheetah. Its first race was the Waitati hillclimb where John flipped it over after clipping a bank. Car had no body panels and John sustained a serious foot injury. I was a flag marshal.

  11. #11
    Semi-Pro Racer pallmall's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vette8 View Post
    Duncan Fox was rebuilding a Cheetah
    So, that may have some relationship to what I have been told, which was only a small part of what the teller knew.
    Will have to go and see if I can loosen up some lips.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by vette8 View Post
    Duncan Fox was rebuilding a Cheetah
    Got anymore info on that Steve? By the way, good to see you on here.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by woody View Post
    Johnny Rush in Oamaru built a sports car and called it a Cheetah. Its first race was the Waitati hillclimb where John flipped it over after clipping a bank. Car had no body panels and John sustained a serious foot injury. I was a flag marshal.
    Yep thats right, with a 105E motor. I think there were a couple of other specials built using that name too. Was obviously a pretty popular name for a race car.

  14. #14
    In the 66 GP programme I see that Colin Lumsden No 120, was racing a Chev Cheetah Special. Anybody know anything about this car? It was a saloon car race.

  15. #15
    Huh, thats interesting. That'll be the race these shots were taken at: http://www.theroaringseason.com/show...lection-Part-2 I wonder what that was?

  16. #16

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by vette8 View Post
    Duncan Fox was rebuilding a Cheetah
    Yes, Duncan Fox did bring back a lot of Cheetah parts from the US approx 25 years ago, with the intention of building up a Cheetah to race here in NZ. But unfortunately he simply didn't have the time to devote to the project.

    At the beginning of this year I persuaded Duncan to sell the whole project to me, and we are currently building the car to race in classic / historic events. The goal is 'NZ Festival of Motor Racing' 2013.

  18. #18
    John, that will be awesome in the true sense of the word. Good luck with the build. Welcome aboard.

  19. #19
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    The Cheetah body molds /Jigs & right to produce etc were up for sale in the USA recently-last couple of months-Club Cobra website had info )

  20. #20
    Semi-Pro Racer pallmall's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John B View Post
    Yes, Duncan Fox did bring back a lot of Cheetah parts from the US approx 25 years ago, with the intention of building up a Cheetah to race here in NZ. But unfortunately he simply didn't have the time to devote to the project.

    At the beginning of this year I persuaded Duncan to sell the whole project to me, and we are currently building the car to race in classic / historic events. The goal is 'NZ Festival of Motor Racing' 2013.
    Thanks John, that explains the little story I heard. I don't think there would be any objections if you put some in progress build photos on here for us to see, please.

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