1964 Cheetah GT: For When a Shelby Cobra is Too Soft
When Carroll Shelby designed the iconic Shelby Cobra, he envisioned it being a hard-charging sports car, the likes of which the world had never seen. And it was. Shelby married potent American V8 performance with a nimble AC Ace chassis to create a legend, and a true heavy-hitter at that. But what if the knife-edged Shelby Cobra wasn’t exactly “knife-edged” enough? For that you turn to race car builder Bill Thomas, who built something that was perfectly nutty—the Cheetah GT. It was little more than a V8, gearbox, and rear differential, wrapped in a tightly packaged body and space frame, leaving no room for excess. It was also properly fast, if a bit unwieldy to drive. Alas, just a few Cheetah GTs were ever built as Thomas’ shop tragically caught fire in 1965. This is one such original car—a ’64 Cheetah GT, the seventh of 11 known to have been built—and it will cross the Bonhams auction block on August 19th in Carmel, California. Expect big bucks to fly. RELATED: Shelby USA is Selling Off its Rarest Concepts and Prototypes
Like its animal kingdom namesake, every bit of the Cheetah was engineered for agility and outright speed. Thomas’ cars featured a lightweight chromoly space-frame chassis, fiberglass body panels, independent suspension at all four corners, a Borg-Warner gearbox, and a 327ci small block V8—nicked from the Chevrolet Corvette—which was later punched out to a massive 377 cubic inches. General Motors is said to have even provided some clandestine support for Thomas’ Cheetah program, in a hush-hush sort of way. All told, these pint sized supercars weighed just over 1,500 pounds.
In fact, if the sports car’s racy dimensions don’t reveal its tight packaging, the front-mounted V8 was pushed so far back into the chassis that only a universal joint separates its four-speed transmission from its rear axle. The tight quarters did have their downsides, however. Due to the front-mid-engine layout, the exhaust was routed out the side of the car, around the driver’s feet, making for a markedly hot driving experience.
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A gorgeous shape—yes, those are gullwing doors—the Cheetah developed a reputation for its sheer ferocity. In the bends, early Cheetahs proved difficult to handle, but brutally quick, as this #17 Cheetah would have been.
According to Bonhams, the ’64 Cheetah was purchased new by Alan Green Chevrolet of Seattle, Washington, and was campaigned by driver Gary Gove. With so few in existence, it isn’t hard to imagine this as one of the best preserved of the lot.
Of course, continuation models have been built off-and-on for years, but this is genesis. This is where it started. Granted, it may not have the name recognition of the Shelby Cobra or the Chevrolet Corvette… but on a track, those contemporary rivals surely do have reason to be nervous.
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