*Documented history and FIA Historic Technical Passport
*An icon of the California sports car scene
The Cheetah Sports Car
No one area of America is more passionate about automobiles than Southern California. And no product of the Southland's car culture more vividly represents those passions than does the Cheetah.
Conceived as a competitor to Ford's Cobra and built out of a small shop in Anaheim, Orange County in limited numbers from 1963 to 1965, the tube-framed fiberglass-bodied coupe was both crude and sophisticated, and its beastly behavior often mocked its curvaceous beauty. But, wherever it appeared — cruising down the boulevard or mixing it up with the eclectic sports car grids of the day — the Cheetah's Corvette-engined roar and extreme bodywork turned even graybeard heads, who thought they'd seen it all, and made young boys rush out to buy Cheetah slot cars for their collections.
If nothing else, the Cheetah story is about what might have been. Had its entrepreneurs of speed, Bill Thomas and Don Edmunds, been as well funded as, for example, Lance Reventlow and his Scarab or Carroll Shelby and his Cobra, or had Chevrolet deigned to continue its support of the project it had help spawn, the Cheetah story might have turned out far differently.
Bill Thomas grew up in Southern California and, in 1956, began his lifelong tinkering with cars by massaging Corvettes for road racing. By 1960 he'd opened Bill Thomas Race Cars, where his stellar work attracted the attention of the racing mavens at Chevrolet. Among his many commissions while a part of the bowtie brigade were performance mods for the Corvair, Chevy II, BelAir and Biscayne, and development of the Louis Unser stock car that took a division crown at Pikes Peak.
Then, in 1963, in response to Ford's Cobra program, Thomas was asked to develop the car that would be called the Cheetah. Because GM's board had suspended all factory race programs and the Chevrolet could not openly support the project, it did supply the Corvette powertrain and other bits that found their way into the Cheetah. The back-door brief called for 100 examples to meet FIA homologation, though just 11 cars were completed before Chevrolet cancelled its unofficial support when the FIA increased homologation numbers to 1,000 units for the production classes.
The first two of those 11 Cheetahs, prototypes meant to impress the Chevy powers and investors in the project, were clad in aluminum bodies by California Metal Shaping from a wooden buck build by Edmunds. Aircraft Windshield was contracted to supply the windows. Subsequent models sported fiberglass bodies molded by Contemporary Fiberglass.
Chassis engineering and styling fell to Thomas employee Don Edmunds (who soon after left to form his own firm, Autoresearch, the noted purveyor of open-wheel race cars). As computer-aided design was still in an unimagined future, Edmunds simply drew up what looked and felt right. His tubular steel frame supporting the Corvette powertrain and suspension certainly looked the part of a proper cage, but it lacked the torsional rigidity needed for track use — the Cheetah was, after all, an exercise in what could be achieved with Chevy's full backing and was never, as delivered, a fully developed competition machine. To reduce the chassis' flexibility, most Cheetah owners that raced their cars added a variety of gussets and triangulated elements.
The front suspension consisted of upper and lower tubular A-arms, while the rear configuration, though based on the Corvette's, was augmented with fork-shaped trailing arms. Monroe coilover spring/shocks were used at all four corners, and heim joints replaced all ball joints. Though the Cheetah's overall weight was around 1,700 pounds, Chevy drum brakes were little more than adequate to halt the progress of this extremely fast machine. American Racing supplied the five-spoke magnesium wheels.
The chassis might have been an underachiever, but the Thomas Corvette 327 small-block V-8 combined the legs of its namesake — 215 mph at Daytona and 185 mph at Road America — with the brawn of an angry grizzly bear. Thomas tweaked the engine with the usual measures to increase air and fuel flows, including a 0.75-inch stroker crank and his innovative dual air meter Rochester fuel-injection system. Output of the 377 cubic inches easily exceeded 500 horsepower and could smoke the competition on a road course (in a straight line, at least) or a dragstrip.
Perhaps the most innovative, and problematic, design feature of the Cheetah was Edmunds effort to create perfect weight balance. The engine was set far back in the chassis, and the Muncie 4-speed transmission was connected directly to the Corvette IRS without the need for a driveshaft. Because the driver's legs were next to the engine, and Edmund's custom headers were just above both driver and passenger legs, the cockpit was a furnace. Some owners added air scoops to the tops of the gullwing doors for cooler interior temps, and one car even had its roof removed and still exists in roadster form.
The Cheetah recorded a checkered race history (11 victories across several race series), burdened by various shunts and mechanical ailments, but no one who saw it run as expected will ever forget the V-8's shattering rumble or the visceral appeal of the sensuous bodywork. An icon of a cottage industry that has passed into history, the Cheetah is a rare and remarkable example of an almost overwhelming power-to-weight ratio, the kind that sets racers pulses beating at max rpm.
The Cheetah's short production life ended from a combination of the FIA homologation rules change, being outpaced by new race technology, and a fire at Bill Thomas's shop. Thankfully, the Cheetahs that remain have not been hidden away in collections but continue to be shown and raced, making a new generation of gray beards nod in memory of the boys they once were and their slot-car dreams.
Designed to be a GT car, but because 100 never were produced, instead of competing against Cobras and Stingrays it had to race against King Cobra/Cooper Ford, Chaparral, McLaren, Ferrari, Lola and Lotus 19, 23, and 30. In SCCA it raced in C/Modified instead of A/Production.
The Motorcar Offered
This is the fourth customer-delivered fiberglass-bodied Cheetah and second in the series of three delivered to Alan Green Chevrolet in Seattle, Washington. Green bought two of the three for competition (one was destroyed at Daytona in February, 1964), but this is the only one of his Cheetahs to go road racing, accruing an outstanding documented record that included ten FIA events in 1964-65. The drivers who braved the Cheetah's edgy performance included Jerry Grant, Allen Grant, Don Jansen, Gary Gove, and Larry Webb, wrestling it around tracks all over America and Canada.
When first delivered, the car was red and without the rear fender flares that later would be fitted after the FIA dictated the modification to reduce the amount of track debris being thrown by the big rear tires. After being given Alan Green graphics and the number '8', it ran for the first time at a California Sports Car Club event at Pomona in 1964. Several months later Green repainted the car his signature green. As well as going road racing, the car was taken to the drags and recorded a 134 mph run in the mid 10-second range.
Subsequent owners raced this car in various guises and prevailed in several SCCA Regional championships, and then, in 1972, its new owner decided to turn it into a legal street car. Some confusion as to this car's identity has occurred because that owner stamped his own "serial number", BTC003, into the frame in order to register it for street use. In actuality, none of the five Cheetahs raced in period had numbers on the frame, so there is still some dispute about how many unfinished chassis and bodies were produced in addition to the 11 completed cars.
In 1989 the current owner purchased the street-modified Cheetah and was determined to take the car vintage racing, so he removed the original body and replaced it with a never-used one that he had painted red and restored to Alan Green's 1964 livery. The car then was vintage raced for the next 21 years, including more than ten times at the Monterey Historics where, in 1993, it received a class trophy. This Cheetah also won the USRRC Seniors Tour Series, Entrepreneur's Cup, in 1994.
In 2012, the current owner decided to remove the replacement body and remount the original body with 1965's livery while also installing a modern wiring harness and rebuilding the dual-meter Rochester fuel-injection unit. Ready to race, this Cheetah is offered with an abundance of documentation, a manual for the fuel-injection system, a wiring diagram, a FIA Historic Technical Passport, a California title and street license, correspondence and ownership documentation from prior owners, and a presentation book.
In addition to the FIA race history as provided in the catalogue description, a more comprehensive listing of FIA race events is available to prospective buyers upon request.
This is a rare chance to own an uncommon and notable icon of 1960's sports car entrepreneurship.