One Fast Cat: Cheetah With A 454 V8

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The original Bill Thomas-designed Cheetah was a monstrous straight-line car, using a Chevy-sourced V8 power to hustle the seriously compact sports car around popular road courses of the era. Of course, its handling was always less than confidence inspiring, so it shined the brightest on straightaways (and drag strips), where it was poised to challenge the ever-dominant Shelby Cobra. Find this somewhat unfinished example here on craigslist for $25,000.

The Cheetah had nagging issues in the form of questionable handling and structural rigidity when new, and really were fairly crude overall. That’s the benefit to buying one as a kit car, or modern day recreation, as some of those ills found in the original car were corrected. Those “first edition” vehicles fetch a pretty penny today if you can even find one for sale, as there were just 19 complete cars and 33 bare bodies built. I’m not sure what the origins are of this one, but Cheetah Evolution and Shell Valley are two that pop up online.

The engine effectively rode alongside the driver’s right-side leg, making the modern-day Dodge Viper look downright comfortable by comparison. It’s hard to determine exactly what stage of completion this Cheetah is in, as it looks mostly assembled but perhaps with some loose ends to tie up. The seller says it runs and drives, but that doesn’t mean much in a car that has a reputation for being a handful. It’s obvious from this photograph that the windshield pane doesn’t exactly line up with the A-pillar.

The seller says the Cheetah is built on a Corvette chassis and features a 454 paired to a Turbo 400 automatic transmission. The smaller projector-style headlights suggest a kit of recent origin, but I don’t see it matching the one from Cheetah Evolution, which looks quite authentic next to the original. The seller is asking a cool $25,000 for the kit, but is open to trades. Would you take on a project like this and restore it as a sympathetic re-creation, or continue the Mad Max-style build seen here?

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    I Love these cars man but they are death machines, and i don’t mean looks, they will literally kill you.

    Like 16
  2. MLM

    These were some mean vehicles in their day and quite pricey today,but I would not get in one.

    Like 3
  3. Poncho

    I want it!

    Like 11
    • Keith

      Oh HECK YEAH!!!!!! SUPER COOL!!!!!

      Like 7
    • Keith

      This is old school cool! Love it!

      Like 5
  4. DayDreamBeliever DayDreamBeliever

    Mad Max style is Right!

    As it is, this is a bit of a crude beast. I’d be guessing that the chassis came from a mid-70’s Vette, not the greatest base these days compared to more modern versions for ride and handling. The motor is a bit over the top size-wise, and should put out enough torque to scare pretty much anyone. Light weight, huge power… What could go wrong?

    From what I recall of the Thomas cars, the early problems were mostly due to having chassis components which were too lightweight, giving flexibility in a large enough measure to negatively affect handling. I have always admired the style of the Cheetah. Must be a gas to sit back by the rear axle with that long hood stretching out past the windshield.

    I think if I were to kit one up, it’d have to have a dedicated tube frame, and utilize C5 or C6 suspension and driveline components. Wait…. How about going C7, and using the ZR-1 featured a couple of weeks ago as the donor? Yea, THAT’S The TICKET!

    Like 12
  5. Martin

    I saw one race once. Completely unpredictable with so much chassis flex that every corner was a new adventure. He was a competent driver but he spun a bunch of times and called it a day.

    Like 10
  6. Mark

    What a beast!
    Not for the faint-hearted. That A pillar looks like a brace from a swingset and the vortex from the gap could suck you out arm first at speed.
    Diapers sold separately.

    Like 26
    • Poncho

      LOL! But isn’t that the car of your boyhood, playing with hot wheels, dreams? These are so obscure I never knew they existed until last year. I’m over 50 now. Sheltered life. To think I coulda had a real one 10 or 20 or 30 years ago is just mind boggling. If I did what could it be like today? Imagine the attention at a car show. Just be light on the throttle and no driving in the rain.

      Like 9
  7. MFerrell

    I’ve always loved these, had matchbox cars and slot cars of them growing up. The windscreen doesn’t connect to the A-pillar, which was part of the roll cage. They were all like that, from what I’ve seen.

    Like 3
  8. CapNemo

    Driver not responsible for items left in your shorts.

    Like 12
  9. Coventrycat

    Way cooler than any Cobra.

    Like 10
  10. Brian

    Holy balloon tires Batman!

    Wonder if there’s room for 3 pedals in the footwell? Turbo 400 is silly for this. I’d also rather have a hairy small block than a 454 in it, like the originals…

    Like 6
  11. Ike Onick

    Death Cab For Cutie

    Like 9
  12. Chevy Guy

    looks cool from the side, but ugly from the front. Still cooler than any mustang from the era, as it has a chevy engine!😀

    Like 1
  13. Markare

    Growing up when I was a kid we had a guy in the neighborhood that built one of these, watched him build the chassis over a period of time, he stuck a big hemi in it ,put the body on it in primer went to the drag strip ,on the second pass ,the body flew off , it was a homemade funny car end of the cheetah body ,and the guy sold what was left

    Like 5
  14. daCabbie

    Spam in a can.

    Like 0
  15. Graham Line

    Makes a Griffith 200 look refined.

    Like 2
    • Brakeservo

      As a former Griffith 200 owner I concur with your insightful comment! Other comparable cars from this era would include the Victress and LaDawri kit car coupes and today we have all the home-made Daytona replicas as well. There’s something so appealing about way too much horsepower in a very crude fiberglass coupe and dangerous levels of torque applied to too little traction with non-existent chassis stability!!

      Like 4
  16. Hemidavey

    My friend has an original, very cool ride and been sitting since the late 70’s. Never drives it, maybe he is afraid of it! Won’t drive it, won’t sell it either.

    Like 4
  17. Ken Smith

    Favorite car of all time! Most popular slot car ever.

    Here’s a picture of a real one – that’s the way the windshield’s supposed to fit.

    Like 7
  18. Jon Berndlmaier

    I have a 72 vett with a 355 small block trick flow heads shaved down to give me 11.0.1 with a roller cam roller rockers, victor jr intake, msd box ,dania 411’s, and a muncie 4 speed, and I have 525 at the crank, the 1&3/4 long tube headers into the road pipes, no baffles.

    I will blow this big block wana be out of the water.

    Like 3
    • Sirpike

      I suspect you would blow something …..

      Like 11
    • Camaro guy

      Definitely a very cool Vette, got any time slips on it, just curious what it runs runs, BTW love that small block

      Like 0
  19. Jon Berndlmaier

    now why do you have to go there,negative, do you live any where close to philadelphia pa, if you have a mouth like that you should be able to back it up, besides I am a 60 year old man, would you like to talk person to you have the gonads to back up your wide open mouth.

    Like 5
  20. charlieMember

    And if you want the experience of a powerful, great handling car, where your ass almost on the pavement, and backed up to the rear axel, with the long hood way out front, and your arms at arm’s length on the steering wheel, get a Jag XK 150 S. They were, and still are, incredible machines. 50 years after I sold mine, and 30 cars later, including Corvettes, MG, Audi, and having driven lots of others, it still stands out as the most erotic car I have ever driven. Literally, but then, I was 22 at the time.

    Like 2
  21. Jon Berndlmaier

    what engine did it have in it when you had it, and it is great that you had one, I bet you wish you still had it, but I agree the jag xk is one of the best looking cars ever made, when I see one at a show I want to have sex with it, just kidding , but they are that good looking.

    Like 2
  22. Wrong Way

    If this car was up to it, I would line up my Cobra against it. I think that I know what the outcome would be. I would give her a good spanking. :-)

    Like 2
  23. Jon Berndlmaier

    I agree

    Like 1
  24. Victor Anderson

    Interesting car. I’ve always liked the Cheetah’s -not so sure about this example though. At one point there was a company that had the rights to remake them — but it’s my understanding there was a lawsuit filed by Bill Thomas’ family or something and the deal when bad. There was a company in Phoenix that was selling all the tooling and molds to remake them (the company was for sale) — don’t remember a lot of details about all this though. Anyway this *could* be a cool car – but it seems like it has a lot of work to be done.

    Like 2
    • Terry

      Cheetah evolution does a cheetah with a alteration to the fender and expanded on the chasis have it costom made with c6 components from corvette and also Robert Auxier restores the original cars in Phoenix Arizona most of the cars were small block only one was a big block L88 Silver car sold at russo and steel for 660,000.00$ last year also they are restoring the one and only cheetah gt

      Like 0
  25. charlieMember

    My XK 150 S had the 3.8 liter, straight 6, with 3 SU carbs. Aluminum hood and trunk lid, and chrome wire wheels, even the spare! Disc brakes all around. I had a choice when I bought it (for $350) of it or a 140 drop head, right hand drive, which was the loosest, most rattily car, I ever have driven, (and that includes a 1927 Dodge and a Model T) with wood dash and interior trim, by 1960 Jag was putting in ugly vinyl, pink and grey, on my originally blue, car.
    Knowing now, what I did not know then, I should have bought the XK 140 and bought a set of Whitworth wrenches, and just tightened every nut, screw, and bolt and it probably would have made it tolerable and more fun to drive than the XK 140.

    Like 1
  26. Woody

    Sirpike you’re a d**k,read the rules ass!

    Like 2
  27. Jon Berndlmaier

    woody the other person was the one who could not do what most people do

    And that is treat any person no matter if they are a stranger or family or who ever
    Treat a person as you would want to be treated your self.

    His comment ( you will be blowing some thing) what do you take that as
    I know what I took it as, as did several of my friends they thought the same thing.
    that this person was saying that some thing would be in my mouth, I took offense to and responded as I did. if he meant it in another way I am sorry, if he ment as I took it I am not. and you are doing the same thing by saying that I am a d**k and calling me a ass, So woody the same goes for you, treat me as you would want to be treated your self. if you do I will always treat you with much respect. That goes for any person in my life.

    Like 1
    • leiniedude leiniedudeMember

      Hi Jon, nice Stingray by the way. I own the polar vortek of yours. 1972 classic white, a/c, power windows. I love it. i am hoping Sirpike was refering to motor, tranny or rear gears. Been here for a long time and do not remember seeing either of you here before. I am sure we can all get along without jumping to conclusions. Take care, Mike. -23 degrees here now, stay warm. Jeez, I want to be down with Kenneth! I do not care if it is raining!

      Like 0
  28. Jon Berndlmaier

    charlie at least you can say you had a xk not too many people can say that. my hats off to you my friend

    Like 2
  29. Woody


    Like 1
  30. Jon Berndlmaier

    I told fully agree with you Victor, you sound like you have a lot of knowledge of things most car guys could only dream of having. I do know that that car will not get any traction and in a drag race it will only spin, you would have to put drag radials on it or slicks, I know with my cars the vett I need to put slicks on it to race, the bf goodrich 275’s only spin, I was told slicks for a stick, and drag radials for a automatic, but in my opinion, I think slicks would do better then drag radials any day of the week, stick or auto.

    Like 1
  31. Jon Berndlmaier

    thank you Woody, thank you very much.

    Like 1
  32. skibum2

    This has a 454 Chev in it, and yes it was quite fast..I worked in a body shop in Seattle in the 70’s and worked on an original cheetah. You had a VERY hard time getting in and out of it…

    Like 3
  33. HoA Howard AMember

    I had a car like this, it was the hottest thing at the track,,,the slot car track, that is.

    Like 3
  34. Jon Berndlmaier

    That is a beautiful car, wow that is about all I can say wow

    Take care of that baby and again wow

    Like 2
  35. Jon Berndlmaier

    high Leiniedude I hope that you are right with your thoughts. I do not want any animosity with any one, the comment that sirpike did not seem like he was talking about a car, I hope he was, if he was I do apologize to the fullest that any man can, believe me respect is very important to me, I have been trained in many different martial arts, mostly military style, and you learn to respect every one, it is a big part of that life style. with saying that I would like to say to sirpike if you were talking like blowing up a motor or trans some thing like that I am very sorry for the misunderstanding if there was a misunderstanding. and Leiniedude show a pic of your vett, my vett has the L88 hood and jet black with blue ghost flames, you have to look at it at different angles to see the ghost flames.

    Like 1
  36. ctmphrs

    Why don’t we all lighten up and shut up, including me.

    Like 1
  37. Jon Berndlmaier

    yes, you got it ,

    Like 0
  38. Joe

    Looking for an air cleaner like the one on the cheetah. Where can I get one?

    Like 0
  39. bog

    I like the originals SO much more. BTW, from the ad, this one doesn’t have a title either. A benefit of age, is that I got to watch original versions race at both the drag strip AND at Road America. As mentioned by others, much better in a straight line ! Pretty unique car. The one I remember best was deep blue with a big white number circle on the side and hood. Question for myself…do I still have a photo ?

    Like 0

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