"The best damn Chevelle I ever built for Daytona — and it never got to race!"
One of the most historically significant stock cars of all time, built by a true genius, this car has become an icon of ‘60s stock car racing even though it was never allowed to race. Built for the 1968 Daytona 500 the car was actually a 1967 body with a 1966 nose that Smokey felt was aerodynamically superior to the ‘67 front end sheet metal.
Lost for 20 years the car was found and restored by its creator Smokey Yunick, The car has been in private collections and only driven in exhibition at selected historic events since the restoration was completed. It is period perfect, track tested, and ready for display, concours or the track.
The story of this car starts back in 1963 when GM decided to terminate all factory support for racing. Most teams switched to Ford or Mopar products but not Smokey Yunick. In the mid-sixties Smokey built a series of 1966 Chevelles that have transcended the racing record to enter the lofty realm of legend. The first car blew off all the Fords and Mopars and won the pole for the ’67 Daytona 500 with Curtis Turner behind the wheel. It also sat on the pole for the next race at Atlanta but Turner crashed it in practice and the car was destroyed. The car was full of Smokey’s tricks, some that NASCAR knew about and some they didn’t.
For 1968 Smokey took all that he had learned from the ’67 Daytona car added even more. In the end, NASCAR didn’t agree with Smokey’s rule interpretations and never let the car run, not even in tire testing! He ended up selling the car to a racer in Georgia who tried to run it in a Sportsman race at Daytona in 1969 and NASCAR again refused to let it race. In 1988 Smokey realized he had never been paid for the car and tracked it down. He recovered it from a city dump where the car had been taken after the shop it was stored in had burned down. Once back in the “Best Damn Garage in Town” it was carefully restored back to the condition it was in when presented to tech inspection at Daytona in 1968.
Over the years the legend of this car has grown, some stories are true and some have just gotten better with the retelling. In the day it was believed that this car and the ’67 car were 15/16 scale versions of the production Chevelle. This is not true, they both used factory sheet metal, the length and wheel-base are correct but the proportions have been “improved”. Smokey even created the first template to show NASCAR that his car matched a street Chevelle in the parking lot. It did, but then again the street car in the parking lot also belonged to Smokey. The front bumper was sliced and extended 2 inches to create a front air dam. The roof was modified with a subtle “vortex” generating lip. All the rough edges were smoothed, the glass was fit flush to the body, and the rear bumper feathered into the rear fender, all to improve the aerodynamics of the car.
It was common practice in NASCAR at that time to use the much stiffer Ford frame in a Chevy, Pontiac, or Dodge. Smokey believed that to mean that you could use “any manufacturers” frame in any car. So he “manufactured” his own frame. Since you had to keep the engine centered between the frame rails, he moved the entire frame to the left, as well as the fuel cell, driver and many other components to improve the balance of the car on Daytona’s banking. The engine was also used as a stressed member in the frame. The underside was an engineering marvel. The floor boards were lowered to create a belly pan, custom-made adjustable front control arms replaced stock units, and a revised front steer system was used to optimize the Ackerman angle and make room for the engines belly pan style oil pan.
The car weighed 3,900 lbs. and was powered by a de-stroked version of the Chevrolet Rat motor that displaced 416cid. Smokey’s theory was that less reciprocating mass meant higher backstretch RPM and decreased fatigue. The engine made 450HP at 7600RPM.
After nearing killing himself building the car Smokey showed up at tech for the ’68 Daytona 500 on the last day. It was required that the car be inspected without any fuel in the tank. After six hours in the tech shed the car passed. The team pushed it over to the gas pumps to fill up and get ready for practice. They were refused fuel and told that they would not get any until the head of tech Joe Gazaway signed off on the car. Joe looked the car over and found ten items that had to be changed. First on the list was Smokey’s custom frame. It had to be a stock “Ford” frame. According to legend, with no fuel in the car and Joe telling a steaming mad Smokey he needed to change ten things on the car to race. Smokey jumped in, fired up the engine and said “make that eleven things” drove the car out of the racetrack onto the street and back to his shop. Smokey says that really isn’t true, he had put some fuel in the tank... but where did he get the fuel?
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Canepa, located in Scotts Valley, CA, is a multi-faceted automotive organization that includes Canepa
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