Smokey Yunick always thought big. With access to Chevy’s brand new 1967 Camaro, and liking its wind-cheating body, power-to-weight ratio, and the availability of both small-block and big-block power, Yunick thought it the perfect vessel to conceivably smash hundreds of Federation Internationale de l’ Automobile (FIA) time trial records, and also have some fun at the expense of Ford’s Trans-Am efforts.
Looking at the the U.S. Auto Club (USAC) speed records, Yunick saw more than 300 production records he could break in both the 305-488 cubic-inch displacement “B” production class, and the 183-305ci “C” production class. Yunick loved to absorb rulebooks and specifications, then out-think or otherwise beat both the sanctioning body and competition, between the pages.
He built a stock bore 445hp small-block, and 540hp big-block that contained “optional heavy duty parts” that were production components available from Chevy, which they had to be for eligibility. Both V8s used solid lifters, and all of the cars had Muncie four-speeds, and Positraction rearends suspended with stock leaf springs. Though 396 ci was a far cry from the allowed 488 ci, Smokey was confident in his estimation of what the Camaros were capable of doing.
Three Camaros were used—two with small-blocks, and one with a big-block. Besides the cars, Smokey brought a spare small-block and a spare big-block, along with the tools necessary to grind valves, hone cylinders, and so forth.
The Camaros were said to be Z/28s, though they may have started out as pedestrian Camaros with Z/28 markings. Smokey stressed that he started with stock, factory cars and parts, deviating from stock by only adding rollbars, magnesium American Racing wheels, and 10.00-15 rayon racing tires. This must have been where the term “Smoke(y) and mirrors” originated.
Says Vic Edelbrock, who owns the restored car today, “The front suspension points were relocated and the sub-frame Z-cut and rewelded to allow for a lower floor pan. The entire body was acid-dipped, the hood and front fenders are reshaped and are wider and lower, and every surface under the body was made smooth and reshaped to reduce drag. The windshield was laid back and the drip rails pulled in flush with the body.”
But before leaving for his reserved October 1967 dates at Bonneville, Smokey wanted to have some fun. Evidently Smokey took a detour to California with one of the cars on his way to Utah. On the way he called HOT ROD’s Jim McFarland to come meet him in mid September at Riverside Raceway, where the Bud Moore Mercury Cougar team was practicing for the upcoming 1967 Mission Bell 250.
McFarland showed up, and within an hour or so Smokey pulled up flat-towing a 1967 Camaro with bugs splattered all over it. Says McFarland, “I’ll be damned if he didn’t flat tow it behind this beat up 1950s pickup all of the way from Daytona Beach.”
Before too long a Goodyear rep stacked up four racing tires next to the Camaro, and within another hour in walked IndyCar driver Lloyd Ruby, “Just like clockwork,” says McFarland. This impromptu showing was taking on the appearance of something far more planned than Smokey had led on to anyone.
A couple of guys hosed the car down and wiped it off with some motel towels, and McFarland ran off some quick shots of the proceedings, some of which we are posting here. Says McFarland, “Ruby got into the car, Smokey motioned him onto the track, and as the only car there, all eyes were watching him make some warm up laps. Then Smokey gives him the signal, and Ruby clipped off three laps, each on quicker than the other, and all of them quicker than the pole time from the previous year.”
After the three laps Ruby parked the car and left, Smokey and his guys loaded the car, and says McFarland, “He got in the pickup and said, ‘I’ll see you sons of bitches later,’” and took off for Bonneville. Once at Bonneville, a 10-mile course was marked off on the salt, and with drivers Mickey Thompson, Curtis Turner, Bunkie Blackburn, and Johnny Patterson Yunick’s team spent 12 days breaking records. In all Smokey claimed more than 500 records were broken, because, “we kept breaking our own marks.” These were records for things like speeds from a timed mile to 2,000 miles nationally, and from a kilometer to 3,000 kilometers internationally. International records were all from standing starts, while U.S. records could be done from flying starts.
Most runs ran late into the night, which must have been fun seeing as how they had no lighting other than from the cars themselves. Imagine whipping around a 10-mile course at 180 mph in total blackness? Sticks (with no reflectors) were set up every 50-yards or so to help guide the drivers.
Besides the problems darkness imposed, it got cold, too. This posed problems warming the cars up. Smokey finally went to covering up the stock radiators to get the cars up to proper operating temperature before any real flogging occurred.
To break a record the existing record had to be exceeded by one-percent. The drivers noted that approaching 185 mph on the straights the front ends would abruptly start lifting, causing them to lose the ability to steer. Yikes! For some of the standing kilometer records they took the big-block car out at a steady 174-176mph spinning a consistent 8,100 rpm for hours at a time.
It wasn’t all fun and games, though. Of the 12 days they actually had, they ran the course only five days. The big-block Camaro broke its rearend in one 12-hour record attempt, and hitting some water with a small-block Camaro cause the driver to over-rev the engine, breaking a valve in the process. Some valve-float with the big-block resulted in pushing a valve through a piston in another engine fail.
Says McFarland, “You know Smokey was a loner. But there’s one thing he’d always say when he got into rules trouble, and that was, ‘They never said I couldn’t.’”