1959 Old Yeller II

The Old Yeller story is one of passion, performance and determination. At the center of these cars was Max Balchowsky who took on the best in the business with his motoring equivalent of a mutt. From their outward appearance, cars like Old Yeller II appeared crude, but all of the Yellers were well engineered and usually competed for overall victory with much more expensive competition.

Balchowsky’s first car had a particularly crude body, but featured a 330 bhp engine that could propel the his car to sixty mph in less than four seconds. It was based off a Morgenson Special, but Balchowsky’s second car would be entirely new. About this time Disney was pressuring max to rename the car so it occasionally appears as Old Yaller, but on this car the badge clearly spells out Old Yeller.

He described his new chassis in Sports Car Illustrated: “My idea is a distributed load. There should be no maximum concentrated load at any point… we figure that it will take a 110 ton impact without any damage.” This was really similar to a ladder-type design with double-wishbone front suspension and a solid axle in the rear. Fitted to this was a Nailhead Buick 401 engine that was heavily modified, with a new intake and exchaust to produce 305 bhp.

Jimmy Burell built the new body which was basically a bunch of panels held onto the chassis by Dzus fasteners.

Initially Balchowsky himself drove the car and won first time out at the 1960 Ponoma races. Later drivers included Dan Gurney, Bob Drake and and Carrol Shelby.

After Balchowsky died, his long term friend Ernie Nagamatsu bought the car and has campaigned at events like the 2008 Goodwood Revival, 2002 Pebble Beach Concours and multiple times at the Monterey Historic Festival including part of 2006’s centerpiece display where it was called the ‘Junkyark Dog’.

Sources & Further Reading

1.Pace, Harold. Vintage American Road Racing Cars. Motorbooks: 2004.


In Detail

typeRacing Car
built atSanta Ana, California, USA
body stylistJimmy Burell
engineersMax Balchowsky
engineBuick Nailhead V8
positionFront, Longitudinal
block materialCast Iron
valvetrainPushrod OHV
fuel feedStromberg 97 Carburetors
displacement6571 cc / 401 in³
power227.4 kw / 305 bhp @ 5400 rpm
specific output46.42 bhp per litre
bhp/weight359.25 bhp per tonne
torque488.1 nm / 360 ft lbs @ 3500 rpm
body / frameAluminum Body over Steel Tube Chassis
front brakesBuick Drums
rear brakesBuick Drums
steeringMorris Rack & Pinion
f suspensionDouble Wishbones w/Torsion Bars
r suspensionSolid Axle w/Semi-Elliptical Leaf Springs
curb weight849 kg / 1870 lbs
wheelbase2413.0 mm / 95 in
length3810.0 mm / 150 in
height914.4 mm / 36 in
transmissionJaguar 4-Speed Manual
top speed~242.96 kph / 151 mph
0 – 100 mph~8.6 seconds
0 – 1/4 mile~11.9 seconds