AJ’s “Badass Friday” Car of the Day: 1964 Bill Thomas Cheetah Coupe

AJ’s “Badass Friday” Car of the Day: 1964 Bill Thomas Cheetah Coupe

Car: Bill Thomas Cheetah Coupe

Year: 1964

What makes it special: The Bill Thomas Cheetah was an American sports car designed and engineered entirely with American components, and built from 1963 to 1966 by Chevrolet performance tuner Bill Thomas. It was developed as a competitor to Carroll Shelby‘s Cobra. In 1956 Thomas commenced work tuning and modifying Chevrolet Corvettes for racing for C S Mead Motors Co. By 1960, Thomas had started his own company, Bill Thomas Race Cars. In 1963 Thomas gained covert support from General Motors Performance Product Group head Vince Piggins to develop the Cheetah as a concept vehicle. It was designed by Thomas and Don Edmunds, his lead fabricator. Edmunds is credited with the bulk of the construction of the car.

What made it famous: Thomas arranged for material assistance from Chevrolet for the major components – the Corvette 327 engine, Muncie transmission, and independent rear-end assemblies. Other components were stocked from the larger GM parts bin, such as Chevrolet passenger car spindles, and NASCAR spec Chevrolet drum brakes. The production models used fiberglass bodies. The Cheetah’s chassis was constructed of Drawn Over Mandrel cro-moly tubing that was heliarc welded using a P&H Mining DAR-200 welder. The design of the car was unusual with the engine sitting so far back in the chassis that the output yoke of the transmission connected directly to the input yoke on the differential, basically making the driveshaft only a universal joint linking the transmission with the differential. With the engine positioned in this manner, the driver’s legs were beside the engine. The exhaust system headers passed over the top of the driver’s and passenger’s legs. The tops of the footboxes were curved to make room for Edmunds’ handmade headers. Despite some adverse handling tendencies on road courses, few cars could catch it in a straight line due to its Thomas-built 377 cu in displacement, dual air-meter, fuel-injected Chevy small-block V8 based engine. At the dragstrip, the car reportedly posted faster numbers than the 427 Cobra.

Why I would want one: The car for all intents and purposes was an all-out animal. In a straight line, there were few like it.

Fun fact: In 1964, race car rules changed from 100 cars needed for homologation to 1000 cars, prompting Chevrolet to advise Thomas that they would no longer support the Cheetah project. Thomas, faced with this negative factor as well as a fire that destroyed his factory on September 9th,1965 made the business decision to end production of the Cheetah and move on to other projects, including collaboration on the Nickey Chevrolet Camaros. The last documented Bill Thomas produced Cheetah was ordered in the fall of 1965 and delivered in April 1966.
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