On a Friday evening with a thunderstorm slowly building in the distance, a gorgeous piece of automotive history changed hands off Park Avenue in upper Manhattan. The 1964 Cheetah, one of only eleven original design ever made, was auctioned off by its owner of 53 years who was only the second owner of the car. Built by Bill Thomas with Chevrolet to be their answer to the Shelby Cobra, Cheetah #4 was the first to be made of fiberglass after the aluminum prototypes. The unmodified, un-refinished car was raced extensively in its early years – and it’s got the pitted paint to prove it. Talking to the family, it’s amazing how many original parts it has. It was built with three fuel tanks for racing, but the two on the side were taken out (but kept), the injection holes visible in front of the side mirrors. Two original magnesium wheels – with original tires from the 60’s! – come with the car, though they aren’t on the car in the pictures. Even the headlights are original – in fact, the owner’s son-in-law said that this was the first time he had ever seen them in the car, re-installed for the sale.
Designed as a coupe for better aerodynamics, the Cobra Killer’s slim gullwing doors are lifted by hand for the driver to slide in. The driver’s legs are by the engine, and it can get a bit hot very quickly. Chevy influence is under the hood powered by a Chevrolet Corvette 327 Rochester in the front and a C2 Corvette rear differential. It was clocked at speeds up to 215 MPH. It hasn’t been driven than hard for years though; it has enjoyed a long retirement being displayed at classic car shows and driven moderately at vintage races. Either way, there’s no way to tell tow many miles have been put on the car as the original design did not include an odometer.
The Cheetah was much-loved by the family gathered in New York City, and the auction was bittersweet. While sad to see such a cherished member of the family go, they were also excited about selling the car and passing it on to the next owner to be enjoyed. Held outdoors in the courtyard between Guernsey’s auction house and the Russian Orthodox Church, there was no reserve – the car was going to be sold no matter what. Sam Goins, the seller, started the engine for the very last time before bidding started. Bidding began at $300,000, with several bidders present and on the phone. The bidding slowly went up, up… until the auctioneers on the phone both gave the cut-off signal. The final in-person bidder won the auction and the car for $625,000. After chatting so much with the family about the car, I even got a little lump in my throat when the bidding was over. The old and new owner shook hands and the Cheetah legacy was passed on to another enthusiast.