The Bill Thomas Cheetah was a street/race car built in the early to mid-1960s by well-known Chevrolet performance tuner Bill Thomas as a competitor to Carroll Shelby’s Cobra. The prototype was largely designed and built by Don Edmunds, an employee of Thomas’ although Thomas was closely involved coordinating support for the project. Financing for the project came from private investors including Thomas and John Grow, a Rialto, California Chevrolet dealer. In fact, the first car belonged to John Grow. Using his racing connections, Thomas arranged for material assistance from Chevrolet for the major components – specifically, the Corvette engine, transmission and rear-end assemblies.
Despite some initial evil handling tendencies on road courses, few cars could catch it in a straight line due to its Thomas-built 377 cu in (6.2 L) displacement, dual air-meter, fuel-injected Chevy small-block V8 based engine. On the dragstrip, the car reportedly posted faster numbers than the much-vaunted 427 Cobra.
A fire in the factory destroyed the original plywood body buck, the factory drag car and some spare parts inventory, thus contributing to the eventual demise of the car. Another factor in the end of production was due to General Motors adherence to the automaker racing ban, thus killing backdoor projects like the Cheetah and the much-required parts supply. When the parts supply dried up, there was no way for Thomas to achieve the homologation numbers needed for racing, which went from 100 to 1000 units. Lastly, race car design was evolving and the true mid-engined configuration represented the wave of the future. To illustrate this point, in approximately the same time frame, Shelby’s Daytona coupes were rendered obsolete by the GT-40.
The remaining original cars are left as highly desirable collector items. No official records are known to exist documenting the exact number of cars produced, but best estimates indicate as many as 29 cars were built to varying degrees of completion and configuration.
Bill Thomas died on 10 Oct 2009.