It seems that icons are few and far between nowadays but, back in the early ’60s, you could certainly find individuals who were in their prime and knocking down records and barriers (or anything else that stood in the way). One such luminary was Henry Yunick—better known as “Smokey”—a legendary race car mechanic and driver.
The aluminum headlight covers...
The aluminum headlight covers are just one of the many small things that make this car shine.
Born of the group of folks who would help form NASCAR (as well as someone who shared the group’s humble moonshiners-outrunning-the-revenuers beginnings), it seemed that any car that Smokey Yunick worked on in his Best Damn Garage In Town would certainly be a contender, if not an outright winner, and racers with the dirt of Daytona under their nails or the smell of an Indy racer imbedded in their clothes would rely on Smokey for decades to help get them to the finish line.
Living in NASCAR country (North Carolina to folks living outside of the South), 57-year-old Brent VanDervort and 60-year-old Dick Lowder have certainly witnessed and felt the impact of the sport and hobby. A few years ago, they decided to build a car that would look like it could have been a Yunick-prepped racer found on the front row of NASCAR race in 1958.
A dual cold air package from...
A dual cold air package from Spectre Performance feeds the single 650 Edelbrock carb bolted to an Edelbrock Air Gap manifold. Co-owner Dick Lowder assembled the 383 with a 400 crank, a COMP camshaft, and stock aluminum heads. A Front Runner drive system from Vintage Air cleans up the front of the motor, and a Ford Top Loader four-speed trans bolts up out back.
One facet of Yunick’s legacy includes his ability to “bend” the rules to gain an advantage on other racers, and he’d be justifiably proud of the engineering that went into making this car handle and perform like no race car could have in 1958.
The chassis is the key to a performance vehicle and Brent didn’t have to go far to find what he wanted. His day job of running the business he founded in 1985—Fatman Fabrications—includes designing and selling a full line of chassis and suspension pieces for a large selection of vehicles, so this time around the Best Damn Garage In Town would be Fatman Fabrications’ homebase in Charlotte.
Set up on a stock wheelbase of 115 inches, this ’57 would receive a completely new chassis, which includes Fatman’s beefy X-member that allows for up to 3-inch exhaust tubing. The main framerails are 3x4.188-inch wall, and a John’s Industries 9-inch (with 28-spline axles and a 3.00 Posi) was located with the help of a Fatman parallel-link four-bar system as well as a Z-bar, 375-pound-rated QA1 coilovers, and a Hellwig sway bar. Stainless steel control arms, a NAPA power rack, another Hellwig sway bar, Wilwood 1-inch dropped spindles, and 600-pound-rated QA1 coilover shocks make up the Fatman Stage III IFS setup. Wilwood disc brakes are on each corner (13-inch diameter with six-piston calipers) and, because authentic NASCAR wheels are 15-inch, Brent turned to Stockton Wheel for a set of 17x9 wheels with 5.25-inch backspace on each rim. Nitto supplied the sticky NT05 street tires in a 235/40R17 front and 275/40R17 rear combination.
Five gauges from Doc’s Kustom...
Five gauges from Doc’s Kustom (with a big 8,000-rpm tach in the middle) fill up the panel on the dash of the ’57. You don’t notice the ididit tilt column in this old-timey interior, but you do see the genuine NASCAR steering wheel (with the cushioned center pad) Brent VanDervort found for the ride. ButlerBuilt aluminum racing seats fill the need, and each uses a Simpson five-point harness for added safety. There’s Dynamat insulation under the black closed-loop carpet, which, along with the black Naugahyde, was installed by Bobby McCarter.
The body, a 210 model, was left alone except for a nose and deck job, and the rear bumper was changed to a station wagon type so the license plate didn’t have to mount to the trunk lid. Enough year of manufacture still comes through by using the original door handles and keeping the factory side trim intact, but the race car look comes through with the aluminum headlight covers and the rear window retainer straps.
Some folks say it’s dangerous messing with science, but Brent sees nothing wrong with cloning something that never really existed. About as close as you can get is the layout of the paint scheme, which closely follows the look found on both Paul Goldsmith’s ’58 Pontiac or the ’67 Chevelle driven by Curtis Turner (both owned by and wrenched on by Yunick back in the day with the Chevelle taking the pole position at the ’67 Daytona 500). The vintage race cars and this ’57 share the black sides and gold panels up top and both have a big entry number painted on the door (No. 3 for Goldsmith, No. 13 for Turner).