Tuesday, October 6, 2009

History: The Yenko Stinger

Like so many times before, some of the best cars designed, were born to take the fight to a rival manufacturer. In 1965, Don Yenko saw the potential that the newly redesigned Corvair had in competitive road racing. It was this year that Yenko’s love of motorsports, accessibility to GM products and a “get it done” attitude set into motion a series of events that would produce some of the worlds most sought after domestic machinery.

 

Working for his fathers Chevrolet dealership in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, Don already had a lot of experience racing Corvettes in SCCA competition. However, in 1965 when the Corvair was redesigned, Yenko saw that the rear-engine compact could make a formidable racer if given some modest upgrades. The problem was that there were several smaller, lighter and highly competitive vehicles coming out of Europe like the 356 and TR4. While special editions like Carroll Shelby’s potent Shelby Mustang’s were consistently outperforming Yenko’s Corvettes. Even the new Corvair couldn’t compare to such competition. So Yenko took a page out of Shelby’s book and decided to build enough factory supplied, dealership built special edition Corvairs to qualify for the SCCA’s rule that 100 production examples must be built to qualify for homologation.

With that, Yenko submitted the required homologation forms on October 11, 1965. He then ordered 100 Corvairs from Chevrolet that were delivered the 2nd week of December 1965. With the performance shop at Yenko Chevrolet working at breakneck pace, all were modified for SCCA inspection in only one month. They  were all painted white, as was mandatory for SCCA racing as white was the USA’s national racing colour. All came equipped with heavy-duty suspension, four-speed transmissions, quicker steering ratios, positraction differentials available with 3.89 and 3.55 gears and dual brake master cylinders. Power was available in four stages of tune with 160, 190, 220 and 240 horsepower engines built up from the Corvair’s 164 cubic inch, flat-six. Fibreglass body panels and spoilers were also available. On paper, the Corvair had become a formidable competitor.

 

Yenko was hoping to have the Stinger homologated into E-Production, and on January 7, 1966, he received a telegram from James Patterson noting the Stinger was approved for the 1966 season in the D-Production Class. The little British built Triumph TR4, a very quick car in racing trim, at this point in time had dominated D-Production. The TR4 had won the D-production title four consecutive years leading up to 1966. In its first race in January 1966, the Stinger was able to compete with the TR4, losing out by only one second. With Jerry Thompson at the wheel, the Stinger would go on to win the Central Division Championship and place fifth in the 1966 Nationals. Dick Thompson, a highly successful Corvette race driver, had won the Northeast Division Championship, and Jim Spencer had won the Central Division Championship, with Dino Milani taking second place. The Stinger had now proven a great success not only as a great racecar, but made Yenko a household name when it came to GM performance. This made the Stinger a step off point for a great line of Yenko branded performance vehicles.

 

After the success of the Stinger, Yenko turned his attention to Chevrolets brand new pony car, the Camaro. GM would not allow a power plant greater than 400 cubic inches be placed in the Camaro, and with Mustang’s and Barracuda’s available with larger power plants, Yenko saw yet another opportunity. Buying up SS Camaro’s, Yenko dumped in the Corvette based 427, creating the Yenko Camaro. More cars would come including the Yenko Nova, Chevelle as well as the Stinger II, based on the Vega. They were all cars with a performance level the Chevrolet were too scared to build, and legends they would become with Yenko Camaro’s fetching nearly $300,000 USD at auction. But these Yenko’s were aimed towards the red light racers. It was the Stinger Corvair that built the name of Yenko, proving the cars worth on street circuits all over North America doing battle with formidable opponents. The Stinger truly was the start of something special.

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