Bill Thomas’s Cheetah and Super Cheetah – Shelby Cobra Competitor Found…

3 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Bill Thomas’s Cheetah and Super Cheetah – Shelby Cobra Competitor Found…

By Ronnie Schreiber June 17, 2013 / Photos by Ronnie Schreiber

If you want a ludicrously fast 1960s American sports car, but you want to stand out, the Shelby Cobra-s a bad bet, and here-s why. Real 427s are rare and expensive, but with so many replicas out there, it-ll seem relatively common.

Cheetahs, on the other hand, are anything but common. With gullwing doors and a de facto mid-engine layout, no real driveshaft to speak of, and an unfortunate penchant to turn the interior into a sauna, the Cheetah was unruly and uncouth. But also, incredible.

That-s why, until recently, my advice to the well-heeled enthusiast who wanted a dangerously fast ’60s style car and who also drives to the beat of a different drummer would have been to buy a Bill Thomas Continuation Cheetah built by Bob Auxier’s BTM Race Cars. Before his death in 2009, Thomas signed certificates of authenticity for 100 new Cheetahs, and Auxier has so far built about three dozen to compliment those 19 original cars.

Bill Thomas, a California road racing legend, built 19 of these cars in the 1960s with fabricator Don Edmunds. Cheetahs are crazy fast with an emphasis on insane. Low weight and a high powered V8 in a short wheelbase chassis originally designed for boulevard cruising makes for highspeed and interesting driving dynamics.

The continuation cars are better mannered, with stiffer frames, better brakes, and improved, adjustable suspensions, but they’re still exciting cars to drive. They also look exciting just standing still. The Cheetah has a shape so sexy that it makes the Jaguar E Type look like a prim and proper English schoolmarm.

Exciting and fast but flawed. At 1500 lbs, a small block Chevy V8 can easily spin the tires. The wheelbase is so short and the engine so far backthat there’s no driveshaft, only a single universal joint between the transmission and rear axle.

Effectively a midengine car, the back end can come around fast. The engine sits two feet behind the front axle and everything is packed so tightly the exhaust headers are routed around the driver’s footbox, located next to the engine block. Everyone who drove the Cheetah was a hot shoe.

Continuation Cheetahs have Spartan interiors but they come with air conditioning, necessary because of cabin heat. One racer in the ’60s turned his Cheetah into a roadster just to cool it down. Cheetahs’ sexy bodies were also not very aerodynamic-at speed a Cheetah could supposedly blow its own gullwing doors off.

Malt shop cruiser or not, someone at Chevrolet decided it should parry the thrust of the Ford powered Cobra, so the Cheetah went racing, winning 11 races. In a different SCCA class than the higher production Shelbys, the Cheetah could be faster on track than the Cobra but they never technically raced head to head.

Building only 19 Cheetah chassis and 33 bodies, Thomas did end up selling hundreds of thousands of cars: scale model cars, that is. He had deals with model kit makers and slot car companies. That gave the car considerable exposure and a place in the hearts of baby boomer car enthusiasts.

Hence the continuation Cheetahs today.

As mentioned, I would have suggested a continuation Cheetah, but if your tastes are so refined that a mere Cheetah is not rarified enough for you to wreck while leaving Cars Coffee. you’re in luck.

Bill Thomas’ original intention, before a shop fire in 1965 and GM politics convinced him it was easier to make a living building race engines, was to address the Cheetah’s problems with the Super Cheetah, morecomfortable, with more interior space, a longer wheelbase, and with a more aero body suitable for 200+ mph runs at Le Mans. The Super Cheetah was four inches wider and 19 inches longer than the original.

The exterior styling was pureCheetah from the cabin forward, reusing one of the three original aluminum Cheetah prototype bodies (production Cheetahs used fiberglass) but the roofline and Kammback rear end of the Super Cheetah were cribbed from the Corvair Monza GT concept car, on which Thomas had done some contract tuning work for GM. Thomas even put together publicity materials, planning to sell the car through Chevrolet dealers starting in 1965.

The prototype escaped damage in the fire and Thomas put it in storage. At a sheriff’s auction in 1970, Don Edmunds himself bought the car still sitting on it’s chassis jig for just $300 only to flip it a year later to someone who let it sit in a garage for 40 years. Auxier knew about the prototype for 20 years but had to wait until the owner passed away before buying it in 2011.

He had planned to complete the car and show it at the 2014 Pebble Beach concours, but Auxier has now put it up for sale in a listing at Hemmings for $1.25 million, as is. He told Hemmings that he’ll consider selling an interest in the car to an investor willing to finish the car as equipped and liveried as Bill Thomas hoped to compete with it at LeMans in 1965. Auxier thinks it would be worth twice the current selling price if completed.

Not for everyone but completed or not, if you brought it to a car show, plenty of people would walk right past a 427 Cobra, real or replicated. to get a look at it.

This Is A Developing Story

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