Max Earnest Balchowsky
Born(1924-01-15)January 15, 1924
DiedAugust 30, 1998(1998-08-30) (aged 74)
NationalityUnited States American
Spouse(s)Ina Marie Balchowsky (1949–1986; her death)

Max Balchowsky (January 15, 1924 - August 30, 1998) was a prominent 1950s and 1960s American race car builder and driver, and was involved in the film industry as a stuntman and an automotive mechanic. He is remembered for his crude but spectator-popular underdog Old Yeller Specials that competed against many of Europe's most exotic and expensive sports cars.

Early life

Max Balchowsky was born and raised in Fairmont, West Virginia.  His early training in mechanical engineering came when he worked in watch repair and bicycle shops at a young age. He served in World War II as a B-24 belly turret gunner in the European campaign and following injuries incurred while bailing out, served in the Burma campaign.[1]

After the war he moved to Southern California where he worked in his brother Caspar's garage and became involved in street hot rod and drag racing.[1]

In 1949 he married Ina Wilson and they opened Hollywood Motors at 4905 Hollywood Blvd in Hollywood, California.  The business catered to auto enthusiasts with Balchowsky specializing in replacing European engines with more powerful American V-8s, predominantly Buick and Cadillac engines.[2] Several of his engine swaps were illustrated in Hot Rod magazine at the time. Ina was an active part of Hollywood Motors and in the racing they participated in. She not only took care of the business part of the business, but also welded, fabricated, tuned engines, and set up their race cars for the track.[2]

Racing

Balchowsky competed in street, drag and most notably in California Sports Car Club (Cal Club)[3] and Sports Club Car of America (SCCA) races. From 1951 to 1960 he entered 64 SCCA and USAC races, with 38 finishes, 5 wins, 9 class wins and 18 podium finishes.[4]

In 1952 he bought a 1932 Ford roadster hot rod with a LaSalle engine. He drag raced it and raced it in sports car races which was unusual at the time. After changing the engine to a Buick V-8 he found success. He nicknamed it Bu-Ford Special.[5]

Between 1954 and 1955 he purchased six or seven Doretti Swallow sports cars, swapping their 2 litre Triumph engines for Buicks, Cadillac and Chevrolet engines, and replacing their transmissions with Jaguar and Ford transmissions. Most were sold to customers and Balchowsky kept one for himself which he called the Buretti Special. He drag and sports car raced it. He raced his Buretti often in 1955 and 1956 and in a couple of races in 1957.[6]

From 1955 to 1960 Balchowsky raced his famed Old Yeller/Ol' Yaller cars with much success. He won two 1957 SCCA National Sports Car Championship races out of fifteen in his group (BM). When Balchowsky wasn't driving his cars, some of the best drivers of the day took the helm, including, Dan Gurney, Carroll Shelby, Bob Bondurant, Billy Krause, Bob Drake, Paul O'Shea, and Ronnie Bucknum.[7][8]

In 1965 Balchowsky was a mechanic for the two Bizzarrini Iso Grifo cars powered by Chevrolet 327s for the Sebring 12 Hour Grand Prix of Endurance. Unfortunately both cars crashed. Balchowsky took the wrecked cars back to his shop, started building a car using parts from the two totaled cars but the result has never surfaced.[9][10]

In 1966 car owner Chuck Jones brought driver Skip Hudson and Balchowsky together to campaign his Lola T70 Spyder in the United States Road Racing Championship series. According to Jones, they placed either 2nd or 3rd overall by season's end with a 3rd at Road America 500 miles.[11]

Old Yeller and Ol' Yaller Race Cars

Balchowsky designed and built nine Old Yeller/Ol' Yaller cars. His first two were named Old Yeller after the dog in Disney's 1957 film who was yellow, mangy and unwanted. Disney didn't like that so Balchowsky changed the spelling of his cars to "Ol' Yaller."[12] The first two were crudely built and parts were sourced from junkyards but they proved very competitive with the high torque Buick V8 nailhead engine.[13] Cinematographer Haskell Wexler financed/sponsored many of the cars. He remarked that, "I never kept track of which Old Yellers were really mine or not. I paid for the right to be the owner and to be around Max and to be around the cars and to drive the car on the streets."[2]

Max Balchowsky's Old Yeller II
Max Balchowsky's Old Yeller II
Name Year Engine Notes
I circa

1955

Buick Formerly the Dick Morgensen Special, acquired in 1954 after a fatal racing accident. Balchowsky rebuilt it, changed the engine to a Buick and co-raced it with partner Eric Hauser. When the partnership ended, Hauser took the chassis and body and Balchowsky took the engine.
II 1959 Buick Cost $1456. The car's frame was famously built from garage floor chalk lines. Tubular ladder type frame. Jaguar transmission. Studebaker rear-end. This was Balchowsky's most famous car that was raced in 1959 and 1960 and produced the most wins of Balchowsky's cars. It is still raced today in heritage racing by Dr. Ernie Nagamatsu—a long time friend of Max and Ina Balchowsky—who purchased it in 1989.
III 1959 Buick Financed by Haskell Wexler. Initially built for street use but later raced.
IV 1961 Financed by Haskell Wexler. Raced by Bill Krause and Bob Drake. The car was retired from racing after crashing in its second race.
V 1961 Chev Built in collaboration with Jim Simpson & Dave MacDonald. who built the custom 1961 No. 00 Corvette Special. The car carried a body molded from a stock 1961 Corvette which was shortened.
VI 1961 NA Chassis without engine and body. Sold to Bob Sohus. Sohus named it Godzilla because of a payment disagreement.
VII 1961 Chev Sold to Don Kirby of Rochester, NY. for $4500.
VIII 1962 Chevy Built for Haskell Wexler. Part of a Jaguar chassis/body used. Later customized by Dean Jefferies.
IX 1963 Buick Sponsored by Haskell Wexler. Raced by Ronnie Bucknum. Engine later

changed to a Ford 427.

Film Work

Balchowsky was involved in the production of many films working as a mechanic to modify, repair, and maintain the cars, as a consultant, and as a stunt driver.[14] He is noted for preparing the Mustangs and Dodges used in the film Bullitt which had one of Hollywood's most iconic car chase scenes.[15]

Filmography
Title Year Role Credited Notes
On the Beach 1959 Stunt Driver No Balchowsky drove his Buick powered Swallow Doretti in the Australian GP scenes.[16]
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World 1963 Stunts No
Viva Las Vegas 1966 Stunt driver No Ol' Yaller III and VIII used in Las Vegas GP scenes. Ol' Yaller III was wrecked.[17]
Spinout 1966 Stunts No An Ol' Yaller car used in Santa Fe Road Race scenes.[18]
Grand Prix 1966 Stunt driver No
Speedway 1968 Stunts No Last of the three Elvis Presley movies Balchowsky worked on.
Bullitt 1968 Stunts No Modified the two Mustangs and two Chargers used in the chase scene and supplied a modified Old Yeller camera car
The Love Bug 1968 Actor, mechanic stunts No Supplied stunt & camera cars, and maintained the Love Bug. His stunt work can be seen in the scene where Tennessee Steinmetz (Buddy Hackett) hangs out of the Love Bug as they take a corner too fast.[19]
Vanishing Point 1971 Stunts No Maintained the 5 1970 Dodge Challenger R/Ts used in filming.
Slaughterhouse-Five 1972 Stunts No
Magnum Force 1973 Stunts No
The Front Page 1974 Stunts No
The Sugarland Express 1974 Stunts No
The Deer Hunter 1978 Stuntman No
The Visitor 1979 Stuntman No
The Promise 1979 Actor Yes Truck driver
Eye of the Tiger 1986 Assistant stunt coordinator,

stunts, auto mechanic

Yes
Brain Donors 1992 Stunts Yes

Legacy

References

  1. ^ a b Nagamatsu, Ernest. "History -- Old Yeller II". Old Yeller II. Retrieved 2020-03-22.
  2. ^ a b c Vasha (Host), Bob (2004-04-07). "Old Yeller". Behind The Headlights. Season 1. Speed Channel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ourvuotFuY
  3. ^ "PressRelease-Buttonwillow-CalClub.pdf" (PDF). calclub.com. Retrieved 2020-03-28.
  4. ^ "Max Balchowsky (USA) - All Results". Racing Sports Cars. Retrieved 2020-03-22.
  5. ^ "Jimmy Summers' 1932 Ford - Kustomrama". Kustomrama - The Traditional Rod & Kustom Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  6. ^ "Swallow Doretti Page - Max Balchowsky". Swallow Doretti Page - information and history of this rare Triumph ... Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  7. ^ "Max Balchowsky 1 and Mechanical Engineering". Tamsoldracecarsite.net. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  8. ^ "Ol"Yaller - Racing Sports Cars". Racing Sports Cars. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  9. ^ "Just A Car Guy: Bizzarrini". Just A Car Guy. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  10. ^ "Two Crashed Iso Grifo/Bizzarrini". My Car Quest. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  11. ^ "Chuck Jones - Interview and Profile". Sports Car Digest. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  12. ^ "1959 Old Yeller II || SuperCars.net". Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  13. ^ "Old Yeller II: An Amazing Underdog | Articles | Classic Motorsports". Classic Motorsports.com. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  14. ^ "Max Balchowsky - IMDb". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2020-03-24.
  15. ^ "Bullitt - The Greatest Chase of All". hottr6.com. Retrieved 2020-03-24.
  16. ^ On the beach. Paxton, John, 1911-1985., Kramer, Stanley., Gold, Ernest, 1921-1999., Peck, Gregory, 1916-2003., Gardner, Ava, 1922-1990., Astaire, Fred. Santa Monica, Calif.: MGM Home Entertainment. 2005. ISBN 978-0-7928-4361-0. OCLC 43844193.CS1 maint: others (link)
  17. ^ Viva Las Vegas, Danova, Cesare., Demarest, William., Blair, Nick., Biroc, Joseph F., McSweeney, John., Stoll, George., Warner Home Video, 2000, ISBN 0-7907-4489-9, OCLC 46720239, retrieved 2020-06-05CS1 maint: others (link)
  18. ^ Spinout. Pasternak, Joe, 1901-1991., Flicker, Theodore J., 1930-2014., Kirgo, George., Taurog, Norman, 1899-1981., Presley, Elvis, 1935-1977., Fabares, Shelley. Burbank, Calif.: Warner Home Video. 2007. ISBN 1-4198-5542-5. OCLC 163572814.CS1 maint: others (link)
  19. ^ The love bug. Walsh, Bill, 1913-1975., DaGradi, Don., Stevenson, Robert, 1905-1986., Jones, Dean, 1931-2015., Lee, Michele., Tomlinson, David, 1917-2000. (Special ed., widescreen ed.). Burbank, CA: Distributed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment. 2003. ISBN 0-7888-3806-7. OCLC 52298779.CS1 maint: others (link)
  20. ^ "Top 100 Hot Rods That Changed The World Hot Rod.com". HotRod.com. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  21. ^ "ACHIEVEMENTS -- Old Yeller II". Old Yeller II. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  22. ^ "Barrett Jackson Auction Company Returns to Las Vegas Collector Car Sales Exceed 23 Million". Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  23. ^ "1963 Balchowsky "Ol Yaller" Mark IX | Petersen Automotive Museum". Petersen Automotive Museum. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  24. ^ "1968 Ford Mustang Fastback (Bullitt - 559) - Historic Vehicle Association". Historic Vehicle Association. Retrieved 2020-03-23.
  25. ^ "Legends of Los Angeles: Southern California Race Cars and Their Builders". Hot Rod Hotline. Retrieved 2020-03-23.