Way back in the 1960s (some of you remember the '60s, don't you?), Bill Thomas Race Cars was a high-performance Chevrolet race shop located in Anaheim, California. They were involved in everything from the Mobil Gas Economy Runs to SCCA road racing to preparing engines for Stock and Super Stock drag racers like '62 NHRA U.S. Nationals champion Hayden Proffitt and other well-known drag racers.
Although GM was "officially" out of racing, Bill Thomas Race Cars more or less functioned as a "back door" for numerous Chevrolet high-performance projects generated on the West Coast, some of which were more popular than others, like Thomas' infamous SCCA road racing Cheetahs, which were his answer to Carroll Shelby's Cobra. And then there were other less well known projects, like Thomas' SCCA Chevy II road race cars built between '62-63.
In '62, Thomas and his staff built and entered a fuel-injected 327 Corvette-powered/Corvette IRS-equipped Chevy II in the SCCA Production class at Riverside Raceway called "Bad Bascom's Ghost." Unfortunately, due to the nature of the beast (it was a prototype), the SCCA immediately outlawed the car. However, there was a happy ending-the Ghost eventually ended up in the hands of the late, great Dick Harrell, who outfitted the car with a 427 Z11 engine, renamed it "Retribution II," and match-raced it with tremendous success.
The following year, Thomas tested the SCCA waters again, this time with not one, but four '63 Chevy IIs equipped with the same 327 Corvette powertrains and suspension systems as the Ghost. But that wasn't what made these cars so unique. It was the fiberglass fastback roofs, which were also featured on the yet-to-be-released Rambler Marlin and first-generation Dodge Charger production fastbacks from '66 and '67.Once again, Thomas' SCCA aspirations were thwarted, and the Chevy II fastback project was ultimately scrapped. And this is where the "heroes" of our story come in.
In the early '60s, the San Antonio, Texas, Top Fuel team of Carl Callier, J.E. Kristek, and Buddy Cortinnas earned a reputation as "giant killers" in the NHRA Division Four Top Fuel ranks with their small-block Chevrolet-powered Top Fuel cars. With the release of Carl's son Fritz from the U.S. Army in '65, the team went funny car racing. At this juncture, we'll let CKC Racing Chief Mechanic Kristek tell the rest ofthe tale:
"In 1965, Fritz just got out of the U.S. Army and really wanted to go drag racing. However, his father didn't want him driving a fuel car, so he told us that if the team wanted to continue under his sponsorship, we needed to build what they called a 'Factory Experimental Stocker.'
"In 1964, Bill Thomas Race Cars built a total of four fiberglass Chevy II fastbacks for GM to race in the SCCA B/Production class. These cars were equipped with a Corvette independent rear end, huge drum brakes and fuel tank, fully adjustable front suspension, and a Rochester fuel-injected 327 Corvette small-block V-8 engine. Unfortunately, the SCCA refused to homologate these cars, and they were never run. A close friend of ours, Dick Harrell, got our foot in the door, and we paid Bill Thomas Race Cars $2,500 for one of these Chevy II fastbacks."
For the sake of accuracy, it should be noted that Chevrolet drag racers Dick Milner from Seattle, Washington's Alan Green Chevrolet, and Atlanta, Georgia's Houston Platt purchased and converted two of the remaining three Bill Thomas Chevy II fastbacks into match racer stockers, while the fourth car was rumored to have actually been converted into a street car, and is in the hands of a collector.
"To make a long story short, with Harrell's much-needed assistance we located a 427 Chevrolet Z-11 engine block through a Chevrolet dealership in California. Then Dickie provided us with the heads and dual-quad intake manifold, after which we installed a four-speed transmission and Oldsmobile passenger car rear end and went drag racing," Kristek said.
Although the CKC Chevy II was primarily match-raced, history records that the team of Callier, Kristek, and Cortinnas won the first F/XS Eliminator class at the AHRA Nationals held at Green Valley Raceway in '64, beating Kelly Chadwick in the final. Team driver Callier recalls what a handful the CKC Chevy II fastback was to drive in those halcyon days:
"Up until that time, the fastest car I had ever driven was a Corvette. That car [Chevy II] used to do some incredible wheelstands, which made it a handful to drive. There was no way you could get off the throttle and get back on it again once it stood up on the back bumper, and it used to do that a lot! I remember one time at Houston Raceway during a match race with Dickie [Harrell], we both stood our cars up on the back bumpers, and the crowd went absolutely wild. Another time, I bent the front axle so badly on re-entry that J.E. had to use a floor jack and a torch to straighten it out just so we could load the car back on the trailer."
As you can imagine, Kristek kept making running changes to the Chevy II fastback to make it more and more competitive.
"We sold the Z11 engine and replaced it with a 396/427 Chevrolet 'Semi-Hemi,' or 'Mystery Motor,' as they were called in those days. First we tried a set of Enderle (and later Hilborn) fuel injectors and blew the engine up two out of three times out.
"What we didn't know at the time was that these systems would leak down. You had to pull the plugs and clean the engine out or [the engine] would hydraulic and blow up. Talk about stupid. What a learning curve that was. We also installed a GM Turbo 400, but that didn't work out too well, either. Finally, we installed a Chrysler Torque Flite transmission and a set of traction bars I built here at the shop, and the car started runningmore consistently."
As time progressed, the CKC Chevy II ran low 9's in the 150-mph range when injected with nitro-methane. In late '66, the team built a supercharged 468-cid Chevrolet big-block but never really ran the car in that configuration. Instead, they ordered an all-new race car and sold the fastback to San Antonio racer Ray Doyan prior to its fading away in history. "The car was really stressed out from all those huge wheelstands. It was also far too heavy, and no longer competitive," Callier said.
Kristek was quick to chime in. "In November '67, we installed the blown engine in a Don Hardy-built '67 Camaro. That was probably one of the nicest cars we ever had. Unfortunately, the Camaro crashed on the top end at Green Valley Raceway after the parachute failed to open. In '68, we installed a Chevrolet Nova body on the same chassis. We ran really well with that car, first with a blown Chevrolet in it running a best of 7.20-190.00, finishing in the runner-up spot to Gene Snow at the '69 AHRA Spring Nationals, and later with a blown Chrysler running a best of 7.00-200.00."
Callier and Kristek continued racing funny cars throughout the early '70s. In July '74, the team could no longer continue the torrid pace financially and hung it up for good. Kristek returned to his auto repair business, but briefly came out of retirement to wrench local Top Fuel sensation Jody Smart to a runner-up finish at the '74 NHRA Springnationals. Callier first went sport fishing, and eventually got into the wholesale car business.
As for the CKC fastback Chevy II, the car was sold and resold a number of times prior to disappearing from the racing scene completely. However, we've recently learned that San Antonio, Texas, musclecar collector Gordon Chisenhall (who restored the team's Logghe-Stage III chassis '72 Chevrolet Vega AA/FC) is currently in the negotiating stages with the Chevy II's current owner, and with a little luck (and a LOT of bucks), he may have the CKC Racing Chevy II fastback back in San Antonio by the time you read this! Only time will tell.