Monday, January 15, 2018

"Old Yeller" Creator Max Balchowsky Born - January 15, 1924

January 15, 1924 - 1998
Max Balchowsky
Born in Fairmont, West Virginia, USA.
During WWII he was a belly gunner in a B-24 bomber. Following WWII, Max headed west and worked his older brother Casper, who had a Filling Station and transmission repair shop in Southgate California. There they became a well know street racing duo. Driving past a local High School in a Roadster, Max noticed a beautiful young girl named Ina Wilson. Ina's father had an auto repair shop nearby. In 1949, after Ina left High School, they married and opened Hollywood Motors in Hollywood. As his business became more and more successful, movie stars such as James Dean could be found hanging out there. Balchowsky also did stunt work in films and had many show business friends. Actor James Coburn had his Ferrari California Spyder V-12 street model looked after by Balchowsky.

Max was known as the "master" of engine "transplants", which were very popular with Hot Rodders. Max would routinely replace any motor with a Cadillac or Buick motor. One of the original letterheads of Hollywood Motors had the slogan "We can replace anything with anything". There were several Hot Rod magazines that ran feature stories about Max on the "swapping of motors" as a routine job for Hollywood Motors.

Max Balchowsky built various Old Yeller race cars in the 1950s and early 1960s, pitting them against exotic Ferraris, Maseratis and other foreign sports-race cars that cost a fortune and often winning.

Balchowsky had no elaborate tractor-trailer and drove Old Yeller cars to races. He was a mechanical genius who could take old parts and come up with a brilliantly engineered sports-race car. Balchowsky used Goodyear tires that had been recalled because they were too soft for highway use. Accused of being too cheap to buy the Dunlop or Pirelli race tires, he especially liked the fact they were whitewall tires, because you never saw whitewalls on race cars.

With Balchowsky at the wheel, his cars beat Ferraris and other top European machinery during the late 1950s. He built nine Old Yeller race cars before rear engine sports cars began dominating the scene in the 1960s.

One of the most famous was Old Yeller II, made in 1959. Visiting Southern California junkyards, the Balchowskys found such items for the car as steering from a Morris Minor, Jaguar gearbox, Buick brakes, Pontiac suspension, Studebaker rear end and 1951 Lincoln radiator.

Old Yeller II cost one-tenth the price of a glamorous Ferrari Testa Rossa race car. But it racked up so many victories against exotic foreign sports-race cars it became a legend. Road & Track called Old Yeller II "a masterpiece of ingenuity." Even the top drivers hired by the West Coast moguls ended up at the wheel of Old Yeller race cars and were impressed.

(Photo credit: Dave Hamster via photopin cc)
1959 Balchowsky Buick "Ol Yeller" II

In 1960 Old Yeller II was driven by by many legendary drivers such as Carroll Shelby (Road America & Santa Barbara), Dan Gurney (Riverside International Raceway & Laguna Seca), Bob Bondurant, Billy Krause, Bobby Drake, Paul O'Shea, and Max Balchowsky.

(Photo: Andrew and Annemarie via photopin cc)
The Old Yeller II is currently vintage raced by owner driver Ernie Nagamatsu and occassionally by featured guest drivers. Old Yeller II races at events including: Elkhart Lake Road America, Coronado Speed Week, Palm Springs Revival, Phoenix International Raceway, Willow Springs, Monterey Historic Races and the Old Yeller II has been featured at five Goodwood Racing events (Festival of Speed and the Revival Meeting Races) in England.

Balchowsky died in 1998, but his cars are still out there on the track, competing with old Ferraris and Maseratis in classic car races.

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