This Biscayne Fleetmaster was the 41st off the line at the Van Nuys Assembly Plant, hence our story’s title. Three years ago, Butch and Debbie Schultz’s ’61 409 Biscayne Fleetmaster was written about in my “Back In The Day” column. It was a super rare, rust-free, Oregon car in excellent condition. After learning more about its grand drag racing history, its owners (since 1976) decided it was time for a total restoration. This is the glorious result.
For the record: The 409’s inaugural year, 1961, saw limited production amounting to only 142 (across all fullsize body styles). A few 409 engines were crated and shipped to the top drag racers, who had been campaigning 350-horse 348s. Two of the best of these were Don Nicholson and Frank Sanders, both of whom won prior championship drag races in Impalas. Back then, Chevrolet sold just about everything high performance it could create. Luckily, it did keep basic records, which included fullsize, two-door cars with a V-8 engine. But it never pared down how many were 283s, 348s or 409s. Lastly, few remember that Chevrolet offered three different Biscayne V-8, two-door sedans in 1961:
Chevrolet Motor Division sold fewer ’61 Biscayne two-door, V-8 Fleetmasters like the Schultz example than it did total ’61 409 engines (138 versus 142). We have always tended to believe that the overwhelming majority of RPO 580 409 engines were dealer-ordered/delivered in the Impala and Impala SS body style. We have no proof other than our understanding of Chevrolet’s vehicle marketing procedures. Remember the ’61 409 Impala SS Road Test in Motor Trend? Impalas and the new Super Sport (453 sold) were Chevrolet’s greatest profit makers, as well as highest styling bang for the buck. With only 142 409 engines, the Impala and Impala SS hardtops and convertibles were naturals for exciting the buying public.
The Series 1411 and 1221 Biscaynes were the cheapest and lightest fullsize Chevys in 1961. The 1211 Biscayne was close behind. The first two were models primarily created for big city municipalities, corporate fleets such as natural gas and telephone companies, law enforcement, traveling salesmen, and so forth.
Since 1961, I have seen dozens of standard two-door Biscaynes (Model 1211). Most were ’80s drag cars running small-blocks. I don’t recall ever seeing a Model 1221 Biscayne Utility Sedan. Finally, the only other Model 1411 Biscayne Fleetmaster I ever recall seeing was during the summer of ’61 at a dealership. It was brand new and was being prepped for drag racing.
For the most part, the Schultz’ number 41 ’61 has resided all of its life in the Pacific Northwest, so documenting it and finding all past owners was possible. Contacts were made via the 348-409.com website. Documented histories include: (A) all four registered owners; (B) its early drag racing championship wins, 1961-’75; (C) current owners Butch and Debbie Schultz’ history, 1976-present; (D) its rust-free, never hit heritage; and (E) its recent frame-off restoration.
Sponsor: Glen Volz, Salem Speed Shop, Everett Hatch, engine builder.
May set the Southern Oregon Timing Association’s SS/S Class mph record in August 1961 and was photographed and written about in NHRA’s National Dragster newspaper. He also won the SS/S class—besting the previous record-holder, a ’61 401hp Ford. In early 1962 his 409 engine faltered and was not repairable. With a different casting number than a ’62 409, a replacement block was not available anywhere. May and his sponsor, Salem Speed Shop, then chose to install a ’61 3x2 induction 348 engine. He soon entered the 1962 NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. He ran E/Stock class and won. All continued going well in 1962-’63. During this time, May also knew Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins. May’s friends kidded him that his telephone bill was bigger than his drag racing bill.
May sold the ’61 to his friend in 1964. Burton won many weekend races at various tracks, but then Uncle Sam came calling so …
Buck Burton and Glenn Larson
Burton sold the '61 to his brother, Buck, and Buck's friend, Glenn Larson. Through 1968, they raced at all the northwest tracks, plus many others in California. Under the hood was a 425hp 409.
From 1968 to1976, the '61 was either sold or traded back and forth.
Oregon's Butch and Debbie Schultz became its current owners in 1976. It still had a 425hp 409. Butch wanted to run quicker and faster, so he installed a Mickey Thompson (M/T) cross ram intake manifold with a pair of 650 cfm Holley carbs, an Isky roller cam, Warner headers and an MSD-7A spark amplifier. They mostly raced at Renegade Raceway in Yakima, Washington. Now running high 11s, Butch won Formula 1 DD Hot Rod Automatic class at the 1982 AHRA Spokane World Finals. Racers began calling him "Big Daddy Jr." from his long win streak through 1992.
Then as time, age and his career advanced, Schultz, the craftsman, was earning a living performing professional home renovations. Times were good, so it was work before pleasure. The '61 was lovingly parked/stored/mothballed—temporarily they hoped.
Tracing Its Heritage
Beginning to believe in the '90s that their '61 might have been a special 409 drag car when new, the Schultz' eventually placed an ad on the 348-409 website hoping for info on the car, and also asked where they could buy a replacement rubber factory floor mat. Over time, data trickled in. Allan May's pinstriped dash—done early on—included a small artist rendition in the center of the dash of a farmer with a pitchfork chasing a dragster. Still present, this confirmed the car's heritage to Glenn Larson. From here on, the information floodgates opened wide.
End of story except for one thing: How many of the 142 '61 409 engines powered any of the 138 V-8, '61 Biscayne, body style 1411, two-door sedan Fleetmasters? Answer: We'll probably never know. Counting the Shultz' documented gem, your author has seen two. Right now, Butch and Debbie are wondering if their '61 is the only one remaining. Anyone know another?