Max and Ina Balchowsky opened Hollywood Motors in 1949 and worked side by side on race cars. A couple of years later they started racing with a borrowed Jaguar XK120 at the Reno Road Races. However they knew they had a much faster car in their own highly modified Bu-Ford Special which was a 1932 Ford Roadster with a Buick motor that they eventually raced at Pebble Beach and other major sports car races.
As part of their regular shop activities, Max and Ina would routinely replace any engine with a Cadillac or Buick motor which were very popular with hot rod enthusiasts. They soon became recognized as the premier engine transplant specialists and several Hot Rod magazines ran feature stories about their expertise with engine swaps. One of the original letterheads of Hollywood Motors displayed the slogan "We can replace anything with anything".
The Balchowsky's next race car was the Buretti Special which was a modified Swallow Doretti with a 6-litre V-8 Buick engine which Max used for drag and road racing. This was one of several Doretti sports cars that were reported to have been converted to V-8 specification. Four cars were fitted with Buick motors, one with a Cadillac engine, another was Chevy-powered and another was completed by a customer. According to Balchowsky, the Chevy-engined Doretti weighed just 40 pounds more than stock and had almost 300 horsepower. Although better known for his later road racing successes Max also took his modified Dorettis to the drags, securing a class record of 120 mph in the quarter-mile. Between December 1955 and the following December, Max also drove a Doretti-Buick in at least eight sports car races without much success. The Buretti did not make Max Balchowsky famous, but it was an early step down the road to the series of Ol'Yeller sports racers that made Max a legend in the shop and on the track.
Ol'Yeller I was a modified Morgensen Special and with the experience gained from that car, they decided to design and build a completely new Ol'Yeller II.
The new car was extremely fast from the start but had durability problems in its first five races. However once these difficulties had been resolved, Ol'Yeller II went on to make racing history. Competing at all of the major international sports car races in 1960 as well as almost every other important California sports car race.
Ol'Yeller II was driven by by many legendary drivers such as Carroll Shelby (Road America & Santa Barbara), Dan Gurney (Riverside International Raceway & Laguna Seca), Bob Bondurant, Billy Krause, Bobby Drake, Paul O'Shea, and of course Max Balchowsky.
In later years Max designed some very innovative automobile setups for action shots with cars for movies and was busy with movie stunt car preparation work. Max became good friends with Buddy Hackett as a result of doing the set ups for Herbie the Volkswagen Beetle in the movie Love Bug. Max is prehaps best known for his work with the cars for Bullit with Steve McQueen, who he knew well and set up Steve's Baja race pickup for for the Baja Races. Max also worked with Elvis Prestley on several movies including Viva Las Vegas.
Many thanks to Ernie Nagamatsu, the current owner and driver of Old Yeller II, for much of the above information.
The 1959 film adaption of Neville Shute's "On the Beach", is the story of the aftermath of a worldwide nuclear war. As some survivors in Australia and the crew of an American sumarine await the inevitable arrival of the fatal radiation fallout they stage a sports car race. Fred Astaire is seen driving a Ferrari 750 Monza and right behind is Max Balchowsky in a black Buick-powered Swallow Doretti. The race sequence was filmed in California at both Paramount Beach and the newly opened Riverside track.Back to Max Balchowsky - 2