THE HISTORY OF MAX AND INA BALCHOWSKY AND OLD YELLER II
Max Ernest Balchowsky was born in Fairmont West Virginia January 15, 1924. The first job for Max at 12 years old was to lace spoked rims at a bicycle Shop where he was intrigued with everything mechanical. Max was a Military B-24 '"belly gunner" in WWII and he was once slightly injured (bailed out in friendly territory) during the European campaign. He was re-assigned to the Orient and he participated in the Burma Campaign. Following WWII, Max headed west with the encouragement of his older brother Casper who had a Filling Station and transmission repair shop in Southgate California. With the GI Bill in hand, he would take night school courses in watch repair in Glendale.
Max worked as a dishwasher at Algemac's Coffee Shop for 75 cents an hour. Hot Rodders and bikers would frequent Algemac's. Glendale was a 'hot bed' for some of the greatest 'speed merchants' of the day. Many legendary names came out of Glendale like Ed Winfield (who would influence Max tremendously), Kong Jackson, Barney Navarro, along with well-known car clubs like the "Sidewinders" and "Comets".
Max decided to work with Casper and they became a "hot" street racing duo. Driving past a local High School in a Roadster, Max noticed a beautiful young girl named Ina Wilson. Ina's father had an auto repair shop nearby. Ina left High School, and Max and Ina married in 1949. In the same year they opened the soon to be legendary Hollywood Motors (4905 Hollywood Blvd.) Hollywood.
Starting in 1951, Ina and Max became active in Sports Car racing, with Bill Harrah"s Jaguar XK 120 at the Road Races in Reno. This first "modified" road racer was the Summer's 32" channeled Ford named the Bu-Ford Special which raced in California Sports Car races including the Pebble Beach Road Races. Ina had a special name for the Bu-Ford Special. She called it the "Whistling Willy" due to the sound the wind would make passing across the front of the roadster. The 600 lb. 322 cubic inches 1954 Buick motor would effortlessly produce 310 asphalt ripping horsepower on 91-octane gasoline.
Max was known as the "master" of engine "transplants", which were very popular with Hot Rodders. Max would routinely replace any motor with a Cadillac or Buick motor. One of the original letterheads of Hollywood Motors had the slogan "We can replace anything with anything". There were several Hot Rod magazines that ran feature stories about Max on the "swapping of motors" as a routine job order at Hollywood Motors.
Next came the Swallow Doretti from England. The Doretti was a limited edition Sports Car that was based on the Triumph TR-2. Max quickly replaced the engine with a Buick motor. The Swallow Doretti Sports Car (1954-55- 273 built in U.K.) was built by the Swallow Coach-building of Walsall in England. The car used a tubular frame with aluminum panels. Max modified several Dorettis for Road Racing with the swapping of the stock Triumph 1991cc Pushrod "four" with the mighty Buick engine and linking it with a Jaguar transmission. Max struggled with the difficult steering during racing and the short wheelbase. The sometimes name of the Doretti Racer with the Buick was the "Buretti" Special. Dick Morgensen raced his specially designed road racing race-car named the "Morgensen Special". The Morgensen Special was welded by Boyd Hough and Dick as they used 2 chrome-moly tubing in a truss ladder type frame. The car had surplus aircraft joints, 1940 Ford steering, scooter wind screen, Buick–Lincoln brakes, Ford spindles and rear axle, DeSoto six engine (later Plymouth engine) and other "bits". Max took over the crashed car from his friend Dick Morgensen and Max stated that he changed or modified everything except the steering wheel and seat on the Morgensen Special. In an effort to correct the heavy body with a small motor, Max changed the motor to the mighty Buick and cobbled up some aluminum panels (common Hot Rod trick) for lightness. Eric Hauser was the odd partner who would race the Morgensen Special and he would share the driving chores with Max. The critical learning curve included an experimental brake system using basic domestic brakes with Fren-do lining, new effective geometry changes in the steering, with extensive work on eliminating problems such as "axle hop" and effective handling motor development.
Max developed a "log" type manifold that was copied by the Weiand Company (manifold specialists). The Jaguar XK 120 gearbox was matched with selected rear end gear ratios and made effective use of the brutal Buick power plant.
Lester Nehamkin was a Hollywood Studio photographer who loved hanging around Hollywood Motors and he chronicled the history of the Old Yeller race-cars for Max and Ina. Lester was to have "coined" the name Old Yeller I for the Morgensen Special and the new yellow paint soon followed for the car. The Old Yeller was the title of the 1959 Disney movie based on the novel by Fred Gipson. Dorothy McGuire and Fess Parker starred in the popular movie and the drama was set in the post Civil War wilderness. The story of Old Yeller is that of a stray mongrel, loyal, faithful dog that attacked a rabid wolf to save the family that resulted in the shooting of the Old Yeller by the older brother. There was "nary a dry eye" in the movie theater whenever the movie was shown. Journalists would often misinterpret the name and use the phonetic Ol' or Ole' or Yaller for the race-car. Max and Ina along, with ever-faithful Golden Retriever - "Ted" were found at the now very busy Hollywood Motors as job orders expanded. Max was known for having a network of some of the most creative and skilled fabricators and machinists in Southern California.
Max was on a learning curve with every race-car he raced including street racing. He focused on every element of the racing car as an important component. From the modified Studebaker street racer he learned that the "hot car" did not have to be a Ford or "Chevy" and he selected the Studebaker Champion solid rear end (wider selection of gear ratios) for the Old Yeller II. The '32' channeled Ford Bu-Ford Special showed that with potent power Max could race to the front, but the hampering factor was the poor brakes and high center of gravity. The Doretti Buick had too short of a wheel base car with difficult steering and front suspension. Max favored the Morris Minor for the quick steering as it was used by all Road Racing Special builders.
The Morgensen Special, AKA Old Yeller I, had a very low center of gravity and a custom-tube frame chassis (1610 lbs total car weight)" but was under powered (DeSoto Six) for Max. Changing to a Buick engine and Buick aluminum drum brakes created an incredible combination that would soon lead to many wins in major races and GPs. In 1958, Max broke the Santa Barbara Road Race track lap record that was held by Lance Reventlow and the well designed no-costs-spared Scarab. It became a defining moment for Max and Ina. They were convinced that it did not take mega bucks and a ton of engineers to be competitive in major Sports Car racing.
Max was the Buick "Guru" of the day, but not without disappointments and frustrations with the "Nailhead" engine. Lou Blaney was the master of OHV Caddy" Gene Adams could do magic with the Oldsmobile Micky Thompson pumped the Pontiacs and Max could make magical Buick motors for Dragsters to potent Power Boats.
In 1953, Buick replaced the straight 8 with the newer ohv V8. The Buick 364 cid engine brought great torque with performance and the later 1959 Buick 401 Buick Nailhead was even more impressive with huge low- end torque. The Buick motors had the unique radical pentroof design with an inverted V shape, dome-top piston and valves on one side of the V. Because of the high turbulence and short flame travel, Buick used a higher compression ratio without need for higher octane. The "Nailhead" nickname came because the valves were situated straight up and down (with horizontal intake ports) which also brought out the designs shortcoming, valve diameter increases were strictly limited. Buick worked around the problem by purposely using small valves and ports to keep gas velocities high for optimum torque through radical valve timing with long duration and healthy lift, employing a very light valve gear (rpm peaking at 5300 stock).
There were many letters to Buick Motor Division over the racing years as Max singularly promoted the mighty Buick motor with legions of Hot Rod, Drag Racing and Sports Car racing fans. There were unmarked crates of Buick motors delivered to Hollywood Motors and the crates were stamped…”For Industrial Use”. The constant problem with the ‘Nailhead’ motor was the overheating problem. In a letter to Mr. John Burnside, Service engineer for Buick Motor Division at Flint, Michagan, Max stated…”You are no doubt aware of the heat problem in the cylinder head… and after porting and sawing it in sections, there are places of only .150” thickness around the exhaust”. He continued to mention to John Burnside, “ …for the first five laps or so, the big Ferraris and Maseratis cannot touch me, either in acceleration or straightaway speeds… as the temperature increases and the horsepower falls off, I can lose 200-300 rpms on the straightaway… this is 5-8 MPH or one half second a lap”.
His concerns and letters to Buick included comments about Maserati and Ferrari building engines of a larger size, 5.7 liter and up. Both manufacturers were highly insulted by Max'x practically stock engine beating their cars with engines costing from $9,000.00.
Balchowsky always had the special tricks for Buick with the use of loose valve settings and the biggest radiator that can be put into the race-car. The Buick ‘heads’ cannot be modified much due to the design and the most critical factor was that Max relied on Ed Winfield to design and cut camshafts just for all of the “Balchowsky” motors for Road Racing. Once asked in 1960 if he would be interested in building something with a smaller engine… Max replied “I can’t find an inexpensive small engine with any possibilities”. Max was quoted in a magazine that…”The only substitute for cubic inches is more cubic inches”. The 1950s brought much testing with tires, as Max was one of the first with a durometer to check Shore hardness of the tires. Max worked with Gardner-Reynolds Inc. for special cured “re-caps” as he had the re-caps removed from curing 5- 10 minutes short of the suggested required time to get a softer racing tire. The number of laps was critical and there were times that the Old Yeller would “throw” the tread during the experimentation of tires.