What’s the most famous stock car? Good question that I can’t answer. NASCAR aficionados will argue until the cows come home. But, ask them what the most infamous stock car ever to pound the pavement is, and you will immediately know that it is the 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle Grand National modified by Smokey Yunick. There’s no denying that it is awesome. Even Smokey Yunick said so. The black and gold beauty shown below never raced. Why? Read below.
Smokey Yunick himself once said of the car that it was “The little car that could…but didn’t.” The car itself was so inventive that it failed to pass the technology inspection at Daytona in the summer of 1966. Long after cars that won at the Daytona 500 have been forgotten, the 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle Grand National lives on in myth and lore. “Experts” say it was never a Chevelle, but a 7/8 model. Some say that it was powered by a destroked, nitros-oxide powered big-block. Then, there’s the story of the missing gas tank, a role model for racing cheaters.
According to the story enshrined by any NASCAR lover, Yunick hid oversized gas lines in the rails. The technical inspectors didn’t find the gas lines, but they ordered Smokey Yunick to take out the fuel cell and fix ten other irregularities. Yunick snapped, “Make it 11,” and knocked down one of the inspectors. He tore out of the tech inspection arena in a haze of tire smoke, leaving the fuel cell on the ground.
Of course, the creator of the car was the cause of much of the confusion. In his uproarious autobiography, he describes every detail of the car, but had also written two magazine articles about the car. No two accounts of the car were the same. Mark Mountanos, the car’s current owner, bought the car in 2000 when demand was high for old stock cars. In fact, the Chevelle raced on many dirt tracks until the mid-1980s, when Yunick bought the car and restored it himself from spare parts collected in 1967. As longtime NASCAR historian John Craft notes: “Smokey put everything he’d learned about NASCAR into that car.”
The secret of Smokey Yunick? His somewhat-magical ability to coax almost 150 horsepower out of an engine. That, and his ability to bend the rules in creative ways. It wasn’t cheating in his eyes. He viewed it in this simple way: If the rulebook doesn’t say anything against it, then it can be used to your advantage. His success started with stepped-down Hudson Hornets, and he was the man who brought the Chevy small-block to NASCAR. His history with the Chevrolet Chevelle started in 1965, when his good friend, Bunkie Knudsen, the head of Chevrolet asked him to prep their then-new muscle car for the upcoming Daytona 500. The driver, Mario Andretti commented on the car. “Every detail of the car was perfect,” recalls Andretti, who wrecked the car early in the race. But it was just diabolical to drive. I’ve never been so happy to crash in my life.” The car was designed for superspeedways, so it feels out of place on road courses. How fast the car can go is a question none can answer. Smokey’s previous Chevelle won first place at Daytona in 1965 at 180 mph, so this car should go around 210 mph. Why? The bigger engine helps, the oversized gas lines, and the tuned four-speed Muncie “rock crusher” transmission. 210 mph is about today’s race pace, and that’s quite impressive for a car that was created in the 1960’s. Some may say that the Richard Petty Plymouth Superbirds were the most infamous, but they weren’t nearly so diabolical. And the debates go on.