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
On The Street
"It's a clone of a car that never existed," joked Brent VanDervort, owner of Fatman Fabrications. We'd been hearing about this one for months and I couldn't wait to get behind the genuine racecar steering wheel. The interior, fitted with aluminum door panels and race seats up front, definitely looked the part of an early Grand National stocker, but it was surprisingly accommodating. It even had air conditioning for old timers/comfort junkies like me.
In keeping with the nostaligic theme, the transmission was a Ford Top-Loader four-speed. While lacking such modern amenities as fifth and sixth gear overdrive ratios, it was a joy, with tight gates and flawless action. While the clutch had been giving the Fatman crew fits, it behaved nicely for my test drive.
The steering was tight and direct, with excellent feel. Turn in was crisp, but not overly fast. You can't ask for much more than that in a street machine. As for the rest of the chassis and suspension, I gave it high marks. From the log book: "Perfect for the street. Excellent balance of grip, ride and comfort." The fact that it went through the slalom cones faster than a new Camaro SS speaks volumes about its capabilities.
You could go streaking with Paris Hilton in downtown L.A. and probably attract less attention than you do cruising around in this car. It's just a blast. All we would have asked for was a steeper rear gear and the kind of horsepower that's in keeping with the Tri-Five's radical appearance. Unquestionably, this would have greatly improved its performance in our high-speed autocross.
As he did two years ago, Brent brought an absolutely delightful vehicle to our Nitto Tire Suspension & Handling Challenge. While it looked the part of a Grand National warrior and made you feel like a hero just by turning the key, it was a pure pleasure to drive on the street. Well done. - Jim Campisano
Type: Gen 1 383 small-block
Block: Stock iron
Fuel Delivery: GM aluminum heads, Edelbrock 650 carb, Air Gap intake manifold and fuel pump
Transmission: Ford Top Loader four-speed, Lakewood bellhousing
Rearend: John's Industries 9-inch, 3.00 gears, Posi
Chassis: Fatman X-member style
Front Suspension: Fatman Stage III
Steering: Mustang II rack-and-pinion
Springs: 600 lbs
Spindles: Wilwood 1-inch drop
Shocks: QA1 Proma Star double adjustable
Sway Bar: Fatman spec Hellwig 7/8-inch 250-lb rate
Brakes: Wilwood six-piston, 13-inch drilled rotors
Rear Suspension: Fatman four-bar and Z-link
Springs: 375 lbs
Shocks: QA1 Proma Star double adjustable
Sway Bar: Fatman-spec Hellwig 1-inch 105-lb rate
Brakes: Wilwood six-piston and 13-inch drilled rotors
Cost of Suspension
Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Stockton Wheel Service Explorer 72 Series, Front 17x9, Rear 17x9
Tires: Nitto NT05, Front 235/40R17, Rear 275/40R17
LF= 946 lbs, RF= 924 lbs
LR= 825 lbs, RR= 835 lbs
1957 Chevy 210
Skidpad 0.85g Slalom 48.50 MPH Autocross 55.54 Sec.
2010 Chevy Camaro SS
Skidpad 0.91g Slalom 47.70 MPH Autocross 53.28 Sec.