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.

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.

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.

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).

Don Eddin and the guys at Fat Cat Customs (Albemarle, North Carolina) did the bodywork and paint while R&D Finishing (Elizabethton, Tennessee) not only did the car’s plating but supplied all of the rubber and repro items. Once the two-tone paint had cleared it was time for the engine and trans, so Dick Lowder assembled the 383 with a forged 400 crankshaft, a COMP Cams camshaft, Chevy pink rods, and production GM aluminum heads.

Up top an Edelbrock Air Gap manifold supports a 650-cfm Edelbrock carb, which is fed by a dual cold air package system by Spectre Performance. Exhaust is handled by Sanderson headers and Hushpower mufflers, but the tubing fabbed by Whelan’s Rod Shop exits the car in front of the rear wheel, NASCAR style. A Powermaster alternator was also used, and a Vintage Air Front Runner System allows for the running of a serpentine belt system. The small-block is backed to a Ford Top Loader transmission, which has been equipped with a Hays disc ’n’ plate and a shifter from Hurst.

It looks like a race car inside the ’57 due to the clock and radio delete plates, and the aluminum door panels Brent fabbed (he did the aluminum panel work in the engine compartment, too). And you can bet with a nickname of “Fatman”, Brent isn’t a Jeff Gordon-sized (5-foot-7, 150-pound) driver, but he fits well in the aluminum ButlerBuilt, vintage-style bucket seat (secured by Simpson five-point belts) whether he’s driving or riding shotgun. Bobby McCarter did the interior work using black Naugahyde, and the stripped-down race car look is capped off with a genuine NASCAR steering wheel from City Chevrolet in Charlotte attached to an ididit tilt steering wheel. Up on the dash are a set of Doc’s Kustom gauges, with a big 8,000-rpm tach taking centerstage to the other four (temp, oil, volt, and fuel) gauges. An air-conditioning system from Vintage Air still uses the factory vents, and the wiring from It’s A Snap Wire and Cable was installed by Dick.

Since completion the car has made the rounds, including a brief pass through Southern California where Super Chevy magazine put the car through its paces in a slalom course at its Suspension Challenge Track Day. Besides commenting the car generated “unadulterated fun,” the magazine went on to state, “The fact it went through the slalom faster than a new Camaro SS speaks volumes about its capabilities.” And that’s what Smokey would have liked about this ride: The best tricks of the trade expertly applied under the skin of an iconic ’57 Chevy.

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