It’s OK to geek out about a car without driving it

Yenko Stinger

I used to think you had to drive a car to truly appreciate it. Oh sure, you might be able to look at, say, a Ferrari 250 LM or a C6 Corvette ZR1 and recognize its brilliance, but I never thought you could experience a car by admiring it or simply sitting in it. This fervent belief was rooted in the idea, taken as gospel, that cars are meant to be driven and you cannot fully judge or even understand a car’s character by looking at it.

I realized the folly of my ways during the Amelia Island or Bust rally, where I saw the light while geeking out behind the wheel of a very special car.

Regular readers know I have a thing for Chevrolet Corvairs. So you’ll understand my excitement over seeing a 1966 Corvair Yenko Stinger Stage III car. Chevrolet built about 115 of these “factory” race cars (exact figures have proven elusive) through its Central Office Production Order program with Don Yenko’s dealership.

Now, I’ve loved the Corvair since I first saw one 14 years ago, but I had never seen a Yenko Stinger in person. I doubted its authenticity at first. After all, auto aficionados build clones of rare cars all the time. I spent a few minutes poking around, checking the sway bars, body plate, and carburetors until there was no doubt in my mind. It was legit.

A big smile from the author while geeking out from the drivers seat
The tag that confirms this car is a legit Yenko. The YS-043 stamping means this was the 43rd built in the initial run of 100 cars to qualify for SCCA D-Production class racing.
The Yenko tuned engine features special carburetors, camshaft and exhaust.
The barren interior proves it is not a street car. No sound deadening or amenities to be found, with the exception of factory door panels.

I immediately geeked out. I fawned over that car, taking in its history and, for lack of a better word, its presence. I talked to its owner, Tom O’Brien, who told me a little about the car’s provenance. It won Sebring in 1966 with Yenko behind the wheel, and previous owners included Jay Leno and Tim Allen.

O’Brien asked if I wanted to get in. He didn’t need to ask twice. I climbed through the window and over the roll cage into the seat, which was perfectly positioned for my 6-foot frame. The interior was well-worn. It was spartan, as a race car should be. It felt large, both physically and figuratively. It was spiritual.

And that’s when it happened. I started making race car noises. “Vroom vroom” and the high-pitched “eeeeeeert” of tires sliding on pavement. I pictured myself standing on the brakes and downshifting into third to take Turn 5 at Road America. It was overwhelming, almost like meeting a hero.

That’s when it occurred to me that I had been foolishly, needlessly, stifling my love of cars by believing I had to drive a car to glimpse its character. I understood in a visceral way that it’s enough to simply see or, if you’re lucky, sit in, a wonderful car and recognize its brilliance. I still want to drive a Yenko Stinger, but the fact that I almost certainly won’t doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate just how special it is.