Don Yenko built a reputation for providing ground pounding conversions, ala Yenko Super Cars, where customers could purchase Yenko modified Chevys going back to 1966.
Wait? In 1966 Chevrolet had not introduced the venerable Camaro to the public, so what did Yenko have from the factory stable he could modify to become his inaugural Chevy screamer? The Corvair!
Yenko was a third generation Chevy dealer, his grandfather having sold Durant Motor Cars before switching to the bow-tie brand back in the 30s. He was also a racer that competed with Corvettes in the early to mid-1960s and raced in such prestigious events as the 24 Hours of LeMans and Daytona and a plethora of other SCCA meets. An accomplished pilot, Yenko was competitive and in 1965 decided he had enough of the Carroll Shelby Mustangs that were frequenting SCCA racecourses and, unfortunately, showing him what their cute rear ends looked like on a regular basis.
Yenko took matters into his own hands after approaching GM about producing a factory racer that could give the Mustang a run for its money. The upper reaches of the General’s management didn’t go for it so Yenko looked for an alternative and the Corvair popped to the surface. It wasn’t long before he and his dealership crew had designed up a set of modifications for the rear-engine compact. An initial order of 100 cars in 1965 was made to meet homologation requirements for the upcoming SCCA season and Yenko set the stage for his performance business.
The story is much longer, but essentially Yenko continued his march for track dominance with the Corvair from 1966 to 1968, producing some 185 Corvair Stingers equipped with special exterior accoutrements and a whole list of suspension, interior and engine modifications that were split into stage levels (I, II, III or IV). The little beast came competitive right out of the box, not only gaining a SCCA D production national title but an additional 10 SCCA division titles.
So, what does this have to do with “one-off”? By 1968 Don Yenko was full speed into his vaunted Camaros, Novas, Chevelles and even some Chevy Vegas (tagged The Stinger II) and he decided to stop offering Corvairs. He’d made his point and showed that some good planning, an initial order of 100 cars mixed with creative modifications made the little Stingers a tough combination to beat on the racetrack.
While it was still possible to purchase any of the performance packages so customers could outfit their own Yenko Stingers (included in that 185 total), no more dealer installed packages were available. At least not until Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company showed up on Yenko’s doorstep. It seems Ford Motor Company needed a more durable 13” tire, but didn’t have a vehicle with that sized tire to actually perform the tests. Approaching Goodyear with the dilemma, Ford of Australia needed a test vehicle that could withstand the punishment they intended to inflict at the automaker’s proving ground in San Angelo, Texas.
Only one vehicle currently in production would fit the bill…a Chevrolet Corvair. And Goodyear knew that Don Yenko was the guy to outfit the Corvair to meet their needs. So a one and only 1969 Corvair Yenko Stinger was built for the track complete with SCCA-approved roll bars, a tall 3.27 final drive (to reach intended speeds of 130-140 mph), an auxiliary 24-gallon gas tank from a Corvette, heavy duty oil cooler and clutch, high flow carburetors and heavier valve guides.
The car had the 240 hp Stage IV engine mods that had only been used in a handful of cars. At this level, which was meant for all out racing, the 2,000-pound Stinger was a major competitor against the SCCA-spec Shelby Mustangs and Triumph TR4s.
Goodyear wanted the test car to emulate a factory vehicle, so the interior was left in place and previous Stinger lightening of body components wasn’t done. The car also didn’t receive the distinctive Yenko rear spoiler and C-pillar sail panels or the stripe that ran from front trunk to rear engine hood. It was simply a plain Jane all white Corvair 500 that displayed the Goodyear logo and black lettering denoting its use in the “Tire Testing Division”. It was given an official Yenko number (YS 9700), however, and sported a small Yenko plate and the words “Stage IV” on the rear taillight panel.
Goodyear engineers put about 2,200 miles on the car, completing the Ford project and briefly using it to test studded snow tires before it was retired and sold to a Southern California enthusiast who immediately added a two-tone blue and white repaint. That owner never raced the car (this was well before Yenko cars became sought after collector vehicles) and another Corvair fan took the car to Wisconsin to join his small Stinger collection. There the Stinger sat in a body shop awaiting restoration.
It appeared this “one-off” would spend a long-time collecting dust until Bob Dunahugh, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, recognized the car as the Holy Grail of Corvairs. Dunahugh had extensive experience with the Stingers, having restored and modified several and raced them extensively throughout the Midwest.
Dunahugh said it took nearly two years to convince the Wisconsin owner to part with the unrestored, but repainted Corvair. Once he got it home, he discovered the body was in excellent shape and even the original Goodyear markings were still intact under the repaint, allowing him to correctly reproduce the door signage. And with just 2200+ original miles, the mechanicals were still exactly as Yenko had delivered the car to Goodyear.
The restoration put the car back to its plain Jane persona and Dunahugh’s plan was to wrap the car in cellophane and allow no one to touch it ever again. Wrong! Bob Dunahugh was a racer and he wasn’t about to let a historical milestone sit idle when it could be running wheel to wheel at 100 mph on a road racing course.
A bonafide gearhead, Dunahugh was first smitten with Corvairs in 1967 shortly after buying a brand new Chevelle. He had been an active drag racer with a 327 powered ’57 Chevy and the Chevelle was destined to see some action on the quarter mile as well.
“I saw an ad just after buying the Chevelle for a 1964 turbocharged Corvair Spyder convertible,” he said, “and I wanted to take it for a test drive, just for fun.” Dunahugh took that test drive and said he loved how the car handled and he managed to trade straight up for it with a 1961 Triumph.
The Corvair was quick, but on the drag strip Dunahugh found he was bored. Track days gave him limited time behind the wheel, and he was determined to try something different to sharpen his driving skills and do some competing that better fit his Corvair Spyder. Autocross became his activity of choice and the Spyder provided just the excitement he wanted.
But attending college and raising a family took priority and his autocrossing days disappeared for several years. He couldn’t help yearning to get back to flying around a racetrack and in 1985 he began a new search, this time for a Yenko Stinger which he had learned was built for the track. Finding a Stinger was tough enough, but Dunahugh discovered that the Stinger faithful weren’t easily moved to let go of their compact rockets.
He did eventually manage to purchase not one, but multiple Stingers which allowed him to become a regular at road courses and sharpened his skills as a driver. And he also became an expert in all things Stinger, putting him right in the center of the organization that is determined to preserve Don Yenko’s creation of a real, American made sports car.
In 1998 he began the quest to purchase the last Yenko Stinger built from its owner in Wisconsin and was successful in 2000 to get that accomplished. And his plan included racing what many consider is the rarest Stinger of all. But Dunahugh isn’t one to not display the car at shows around the Midwest including multiple visits to the annual Muscle Car and Corvette Nationals in Rosemont, Illinois.
“I have shown it in a national concours event,” he explains, “and it managed 961.7 points of 1,000 which gave it a Senior Division classification.” But the Corvair was built to race and Dunahugh isn’t going to deny its provenance.
“I can’t completely explain it, but this car has a ‘feel’ that you don’t get in a Corvette or Camaro on a road course. It gives lots of feedback and you can really feel what the tires are doing.”
Besides, Dunahugh admits, taking what was originally designed as an economy car out to do battle with Porsches and BMWs is a lot of fun. “You don’t have to beat ‘em to hurt their feelings.”