NASCAR Grand National racing was dominated by Ford and Mopar in the mid-'60s. Chevrolet, along with its GM brethren, was still sitting out a "No Racing" GM policy edict, which was initiated in 1963. With only the two brands racing in NASCAR competition, things got boring. Smokey changed all that with his infamous Chevelle. The car came from nowhere to take the pole for the '67 Daytona 500 with none other than Curtis Turner driving. The car scared the factory-backed competition by running so strong for the pole but succumbed to engine woes during the race. Shortly after, it crashed at Atlanta and was totaled.
But Smokey had a second Chevelle which he brought out the following year. The political climate had changed by then, and NASCAR didn't want the little Chevy on the track for their big race. With only limited time for second-round qualifying, Smokey was given a list of items to change before his car could make a time lap. One of those things was the frame. Smokey took the car back to his garage and eventually sold it.
Years later, Smokey found the car and restored it. Its reputation preceded it, and when the restored car went to the speedway for these photos, NASCAR still didn't want the car on the track; the reputation of the famous Smokey Chevelle was that strong.
What made this car so magical was the man who created it. This car (and its predecessor) was the culmination of every trick Smokey could think up. The two Chevelles have about as many conspiracy theories as the JFK assassination. Some complained that the cars were 7/8 scale. Some claimed the engines were the aluminum big-blocks used in Can Am racing. Some suggested NASCAR told Smokey to build a Chevy that would win the pole to sell more tickets for the race. The wildest one we've heard was that Smokey also built a street version of the car, which was parked in the NASCAR garage parking lot, and when the inspection team didn't have Chevelle templates, they used the one in the parking lot to create a set.
As with any great race car, it's the details that make it better than the competition, details that are now commonplace in NASCAR. Notice how close the bumpers are to the fenders, keeping them out of the air for better aerodynamics. It's the result of narrowed bumpers which were changed and enlarged to modify the original angle of the face. Notice the small spoiler-like lip on the end of the roof. This was the car that employed the infamous floorpan trick mentioned earlier. All glass was painstakingly fitted to the car, all openings in the bumper (for turn signals and such) were covered, and all wheel opening were kept to a minimum so as not to catch the air and cause drag.
This was during the days when NASCAR engines were allowed to run bigger cubic inches. The big-block Chevy started life as a 427 Rat but is rumored to have been stroked to 416 by Smokey so it would rev higher. One single four-barrel gets plenty of air from the cowl vents and an insulated, two-inlet air box. The sheet aluminum heat deflectors above the headers were another Smokey-original to keep hot air from rising up to the air box. Notice the stock hood and hinges, the Holman and Moody oil cooler, and the OEM fenderwells.
The suspension was pure Smokey, too, with completely adjustable caster and camber via custom-made upper A-arms. While still prior to the disc brake age, Smokey reinforced his brake shoes by welding on small rods to prevent bending. Using the same, long Chevy truck-style rear control arms that are used today, he mounted the springs and shocks as close to the wheels as possible. He used square and rectangular tubing to reinforce the frame, not at all unlike what modern day NASCAR Winston Cup, Busch Grand National, Craftsman trucks and ARCA RE/MAX cars use today.