What's the point of building a car you can't have fun in? This was the mindset of Fatman Fabrications founder Brent VanDervort in building his shoebox tribute to Smokey Yunick. A trick suspension underneath a car is pointless if you're not going to go out and enjoy it.
Fatman had been working on its prototype Tri-Five chassis for a while, and after nine different test cars (this particular '57 would be number 10) Brent and crew certified the new rolling frame ready for production. From there, it was time to permanently attach a car so Brent could take the new Tri-Five structure on the road to shows and events to show off for potential customers, and flog on any available test course on hand.
Fatman's Tri-Five chassis features fully-boxed steel construction, with a four-link rear suspension and a short/long control arm front, with Mustang II rack-and-pinion steering. The chassis can use almost any style rear end, as long as it meets the measurement requirements. Besides having a fully-boxed frame, the Fatman chassis also has several integral crossmembers that not only serve as points for suspension and transmission mounting, but bolster the frame's structural integrity. Fatman calls this the "Full Surround X Member." The chassis' transmission mount is modular, so if an owner changes gearboxes (either auto or manual) all he has to do is call up Fatman for a new crossmember.
For brakes, Fatman usually specs out its frames with Wilwood hardware, but any brake system will work as long as it can fit the chassis' Mustang II spindle and whatever rear the customer decides to use. The stock body mount locations are maintained for installation, and only small notches need to be cut in the trunk of the car and the passenger compartment for fit and full suspension travel. Another nice feature: The stock Tri-Five gas tank can still be used without hindering rear suspension travel.
Despite the car being a pile of parts when Brent and friend Dick Lowder found it, everything was there, and virtually rust-free. Once it was trucked to the Fatman shop, the body was cleaned up and prepped for painting. Subtle body mods like nosing and decking the hood, along with installing a '57 wagon bumper were done.
Nostalgia motivated the build, inspiring the Smokey Yunick paint scheme that never saw residence on a Tri-Five. The interior is also race car-themed, with aluminum seats up front, alloy door panels, a used race wheel, four panel mirror, and shifter boot from the Hendrick Motorsports parts store. Doc's Kustom out of Omega, Georgia, came up with the car's gauge cluster, replacing the speedo with a tach, and building a special accessory gauge mount for the ididit column. For safety, the '57 uses Simpson four-point belts. Keeping driver and passengers comfortable is a Vintage Air climate system and plenty of Dynamat beneath the vinyl flooring.
Power for the sedan comes from a 383 Mouse built by Lowder using a genuine 400 small-block crank stuffed inside a 350 block and topped with aluminum heads, intake, and Edelbrock carb. Backing this is an old school Ford Top Loader four-speed trans with Hurst Indy shifter and Lakewood bellhousing. The rear is a 9-inch style unit from John's Industries and features 3.00:1 gears for high-speed highway cruising.
On The Autocross
Dialing the imagination back to 1958 and the last Daytona race on the beach, I settled myself into Brent VanDervort's cool '57 Smokey Yunick tribute, pretended I was Paul Goldsmith, and took a trip back in time. Liveried in pure Yunick black and gold, and stickered up like it would've raced back in the day, the No. 13 was hands-down the coolest thing at this year's Suspension Challenge. Yep, I know that an autocross course is no substitute for the white sands of Daytona, but it didn't matter a whit. This was unadulterated fun.
Our "Daytona" track was a fast one and gave me ample opportunity to thoroughly check out the Fat Man chassis over many separate elements. The start and transition to the first set of slalom cones found the Chevy hustling through with minimal fuss. Yes, this is a large car and autocrossing isn't its forte, but I found the sedan more than capable, and easily positioned the Tri-Five pretty much where I wanted it.
Under hard cornering, the car felt heavy, but it's not too bad (it was nearly 200 pounds lighter than the Heidt's Camaro). Perhaps it's the size that makes it feel that way. When it became loose, it was lazy loose, but easily caught. What I particularly enjoyed were the brakes. These Wilwoods were awesome stoppers, easy to modulate, and slowed this car down in a hurry. No muss, no fuss, and happily, no brake nastiness like wheel lockup. Could I lock 'em? Of course, but the threshold was easily felt and managed. Brakes were never an issue with this car.
Through the two crossovers and heading to the 180 degree turnaround had the flying Chevy deep in third gear. A true test of twitchiness is heavy braking with that downshift back to second, and when the clutch was let out, the Fat Man Chevy settled into itself and stayed true on track. My entry into the turnaround and track-out transfer back to power was uneventful. I hustled the car down through the twisting right-left-right elements and the high-speed "lane change," got it slowed sufficiently to early apex the tight turns at the end, and was amazed that this huge car could stay relatively balanced and underneath me throughout.
Things I would change would be the steering (I'd like to see it a bit quicker) and gearing (would be a bit more responsive on corner exit). The 383 backed by the four-speed manual gearbox was very manageable and a perfect match for the tires, brakes, and suspension. Other than these, my wish list wouldn't change one bit. This is a wonderful car and a very worthy tribute to Smokey's "Best Damn Garage in Town." - Mary Pozzi