Chevrolet high-performance legend Bill Thomas, Sr., died on Saturday Oct. 10 in California.
Over the years, Chevrolet drew on the talents of selected individuals to improve and promote Chevrolet products. Bill Thomas was a man who helped Chevrolet achieve racing superiority and lock in its high-performance reputation.
When the Chevy II arrived, he devised a kit that allowed enthusiasts to readily drop a 327-cid Corvette V-8 into the new Chevy compact. The kit included complete chassis and drive train upgrades to go along with the bigger engine.
Thomas created racing versions of the Corvair, too. In 1962, he built a fuel-injected 327-powered Chevy II for the SCCA Production class at Riverside Raceway. Known as “Bad Bascom’s Ghost,” the car was banned by SCCA and wound up with racer Dickie Harrell, who shoe horned a 427 Z11 V-8 under the hood and called it “Retribution II.” The car was very successful in match racing.
The Cheetah was a street performance and racing car built by Thomas in the early- to mid-‘60s to run wheel-to-wheel with Carroll Shelby’s Cobras. The prototype Cheetah was largely the work of a Thomas’ employee named Don Edmunds, but Thomas personally coordinated support for the project. Using his racing connections, Thomas arranged to have Chevrolet provide the car’s major component parts including its engine, transmission and third member.
When the 1967 Camaro arrived to compete for sales in the “youth market,” the car was capable of accommodating big-block V-8 power. Bill Thomas became one of a handful of dealers nationwide who marketed “super Camaros.”
Working through the Chevrolet Engineering Product Performance Group headed by Vince Piggins, the factory provided support to independent drag racers, some of who were Chevrolet factory dealers and enthusiasts.
Bill Thomas was a major force in Chevrolet racing through his Bill Thomas Race Cars in Anaheim, Calif. Then, he linked up with Nickey Chevrolet of Chicago to put 427-cid 425-hp V-8s into Camaro chassis. The Nickey/Bill Thomas Camaros won many drag races and more than a few showroom sales.