This car looks like an amateur effort. It is not. American hot-rodder Max Balchowsky designed and built nine versions of Old Yeller, but this one, the second, made his name, against opposition from Testa Rossa Ferraris and Maserati Birdcages.
Under the scruffy body was an exceedingly well sorted chassis and a tuned Buick ‘Nailhead’ engine. In the first five races with the car in the late 1950s Balchowsky suffered some hair-raising spins, but he lowered the rear end and fitted an anti-roll bar from a truck, and hired – almost unbelievably – Dan Gurney to drive it. Gurney retired with engine problems, but the car was running third. Then Bob Drake drove it and won. Carroll Shelby raced the car at Road America and was impressed. He led the race until the final laps when the engine failed.
At the end of 1960, Drake drove Old Yeller again at the Times Grand Prix at Riverside and finished second to Billy Krause’s Birdcage. He drove home in the car after the race.
The car was crashed by an amateur racer in the 1960s and was thought to be lost. But the remains were found in 1977 and the car eventually returned to the track, causing problems for Testa Rossas again.
The car was sold to Ernie Nagamatsu, who returned Old Yeller to its original specification and became a friend of Balchowsky, who died in 1998. Nagamatsu brought the car to Britain for the 2012 Goodwood Dan Gurney tribute; it has since taken part in the Festival of Speed.
Photo by Peter McFadyen. See his website: http://petermcfadyen.co.uk