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  Balchowsky Old Yeller II
 

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Country of origin:United States
Produced in:1959
Numbers built:1
Designed by:Max Balchowsky
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:January 28, 2013
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Click here to download printer friendly versionHaving received no formal training, Max Balchowsky and his wife Ina established Hollywood Motors in 1952. Later in the decade he branched out to preparing and even building racing cars. Completed in 1957, his first racer was based on a Morgenson Special. A rather ungainly machine, it featured a wide variety of components including an old Coca-Cola sign. Balchowsky was well aware that his new racer looked like and very much was a 'junkyard dog' so he painted it yellow and named it 'Old Yeller' after the famous hound in the Disney movie by the same name. On the insistence of Disney, he later renamed the cars 'Old Yaller'.

Even more than they usually do, appearances deceived when it came to Old Yeller as it proved anything but a dog to drive. In the hands of part-owner Eric Hauser, the car won its first race by a margin of 13 seconds. Against an even stronger field, which included Phil Hill in a big Ferrari, Hauser scored back to back wins a few months later. Balchowsky also took turns behind the wheel of his creation. His greatest victory came at the 1958 Santa Barbara Labour Day races where he beat Richie Ginther in a Ferrari 250 TR. Although the original Old Yeller was still very competitive, Balchowsky set about building an all new car for the 1959 season.

Known as Old Yeller II, this car featured a chassis designed by Balchowsky himself. Reputedly drawn up on the floor of the Hollywood Motors garage, it was a multi-tubular frame. Balchowsky focused on spreading the loads evenly over the chassis and claimed it could take a 110-ton impact without failing. Keeping up a tradition, the running gear consisted of a mix of existing parts. At the front the suspension consisted of modified Jaguar upper wishbones and Pontiac lower wishbones, while at the rear a Buick live axle was fitted. Steering was by a rack-and-pinion normally found in a Morris Minor and the drum brakes were lifted off a standard Buick sedan.

Just like the original Old Yeller, a Buick V8 was the engine of choice. Slightly larger than before, the new car boasted the latest 401-ci 'Nailhead'. Equipped with high compression pistons and six Stromberg carburettors mounted on an Edelbrock intake manifold, the Buick engine produced around 350 bhp. The V8 was mated to a Jaguar four-speed gearbox. Upon completion, Old Yeller II was tightly wrapped in an aluminium body crafted during nights and weekends by Jimmy Burrell. Attached to the car by Dzus fasteners, the whole body could be stripped from the chassis in less than 20 minutes. Developed for function only, Balchowsky's latest creation was again a beauty in eyes of only very few beholders.

Although not quite as ugly as its predecessor, Old Yeller II did also turn out to be a match and often more than a match for far more exotic machinery. Further contributing to the unlikeliness of the pale yellow racer was the fact that Balchowsky usually had it shod with whitewall tyres. During the 1960 season some of America's most prolific drivers wanted to find just why the car was so quick. Both Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby raced Old Yeller II and came close to winning. Gurney stated after his outing that 'this is as good as the finest car I've ever driven.' Other drivers that were successful behind the wheel of the deceivingly fast machine were Paul O'Shea and Bob Drake. The car was eventually replaced by more advanced Old Yellers.

In new ownership, the unique machine was raced until 1974 in contemporary events. After languishing in a backyard for a few years, Old Yeller II was eventually restored for historic racing first by David Gibb. Current owner Ernie Nagamatsu acquired the car in the early 1990s and he has since continued to race the car with great verve. Even before he had bought Old Yeller II, Nagamatsu befriended Balchowsky and he often invited him to come to the races, until Balchowsky's death in 1998. Old Yeller II remains as one of the most successful and famous junkyard dogs.

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