Sir Malcolm Campbell's Bluebird race car is towed out to the salt beds for its first test run in his attempt to set a new automobile speed record of 300 mph, Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, September 3, 1935. The large automobile escort is in the background.
Bonneville Salt Flats – Oddballs and Rarities
The Bonneville Salt Flats covers about 100 square miles in Tooele county Utah. The flats, part of the Great Salt Lake Desert, are a remnant of the bed of an ancient lake formed about 30,000 years ago late in the Pleistocene Epoch. Named for explorer and fur trader Benjamin de Bonneville, the salt flats are the remains of what was once massive lake about the size of Lake Michigan.
Since the first SCTA-organized gathering in 1949, Bonneville Speed Trials has been a sort of Burning Man for the speed afflicted. Hot rodders, their machines first tuned on the dry lakes of Southern California, flocked to Bonneville’s wide open moonscape — a horizon-to-horizon expanse inviting wide open throttles and triple-digit speeds.
While that ’49 meet kicked off the modern era at the Bonneville Salt Flats, the venue’s you-can-see-the-curvature-of-the-earth landscape first attracted racers as far back as 1907, when a man by the name of Bill Rishel drove a Pierce-Arrow across the salt. In 1914, American race car driver Teddy Tetzlaff drove a custom built 200hp car known as the Blitzen-Benz to 141.73 mph on the flats.
Then in 1925, one enterprising chap, Abe Jenkins, hell-bent on promoting the salt as a venue for speed trails, challenged a Union Pacific Railroad train for bragging rights across the flats. He bested the locomotive by five minutes.
The draw of the Bonneville Salt Flats heated up after WW2. In 1948, SCTA general manager Wally Parks and Hot Rod magazine publisher Robert Petersen spearheaded a campaign to open the salt flats to racing, leading to the first meet in 1949.
From that first meet to today, the lure of speeding across the salt has attracted entrants and cars of all shapes and sizes and performance, encouraged by a class structure that seemingly has a category for every type of wheeled contraption, from jet cars to electric motorcycles.
Over the years, many famous, serious racing machines have blurred across B’ville’s potash salt surface — the SoCal Speed Shop coupe, the Burke lakester, the City of Burbank streamliner, the Summers Brothers 400-mph bullet, the jet cars of Breedlove and Arfons, and the hundreds of cars that joined the illustrious 200 mph hour club.
Fuel Curve recently ran a Time Capsule post on the mano-a-mano jet car shootout from the early 1960s between Breedlove and Arfons. The story was inspired by rare photographs unearthed from the Tom Medley and Don Francisco archive. While reviewing hundreds of images, it became apparent that in addition to attracting powerful jet cars and sleek streamliners, the generous SCTA rulebook drew all manner of bizarre vehicles — Swedish Saabs, Italian Alfas, German VWs and even Mercedes SLR’s. Who knew?
So it is that Fuel Curve has decided to honor the cars of “everyman,” those humble vehicles and their owners who proudly trekked to the salt in search of hot rod glory and maybe, just maybe, a place in the Bonneville record book.
BY Gary Medley
Chet Herbert’s Beast IV re-debuts fresh off its restoration to its original configuration Daniel Strohl on Feb 9th, 2017
Photo courtesy NHRA Motorsports Museum.
While it only took three weeks for Chet Herbert and his crew to build the Beast IV, Herbert’s last and most successful streamliner, Dan Webb’s restoration of the low-slung racer, which debuted last month, understandably took a little bit longer, considering that only a handful of the Beast’s original parts remained after decades of reconfigurations.
The earliest of those reconfigurations, in fact, took place during the car’s original construction period. According to an article George Barris wrote for the January 1954 issue of Rod and Custom, Herbert originally intended to use a Weir Indy engine, a then-20-year-old four-cylinder, until it blew up on the dyno, forcing Herbert to switch to a 331-cu.in. Chrysler Hemi V-8, directly mounted to the Pat Warren two-speed quick-change rear axle using a one-off bellhousing adapter.
“As the story goes, Dad went to the local Chrysler dealer and talked a friend into pulling the Hemi out of a brand-new car, then took it straight over to Stu Hilborn for a set of injectors,” Doug Herbert said.
Barris, a friend of Herbert’s who was known more for customizing street cars and less for building race cars, had the inside line on the streamliner’s construction after Herbert chose him and his brother Sam (along with S&S Metal Shaping) to body the streamliner in aluminum. According to Doug Herbert, much of the design resulted from the data that his father and Rod Schapel gathered while wind tunnel testing for the Beast III‘s fiberglass body, tweaked after running Beast III at Bonneville in 1952.
With the build completed in time for the 1953 Bonneville Speedweek, Herbert – paralyzed from a bout with polio as a young man – chose Leroy Neumayer to pilot the Beast IV. On that first excursion, it recorded a top speed of 246 MPH, 12 miles per hour better than the Beast III‘s best, and set about half a dozen records in the process.
“It just shows how these two kids from Southern California – Dad and George were both probably 24 or 25 then – with some innovation and determination, could build a car from nothing in just a few weeks, then take it to Bonneville and break records that were set by Auto Union on the Autobahn in the Thirties,” Doug Herbert said.
Photos courtesy Webb Automotive Art.
Most accounts claim the streamliner ran continuously until 1991, and according to information compiled by Greg Sharp, curator at the NHRA Motorsports Museum, that included runs in 1954 (with a pair of Dodge V-8s good for 270 MPH), in 1957 (with triple Chevrolet V-8s), in 1958-1959 (campaigned by show car builder Ermie Immerso with a new chassis and a pair of supercharged Chrysler V-8s good for 289 MPH), and in 1990-1991 (campaigned by Bruce Johnston with a GMC 302-cu.in. six-cylinder engine), along with some less distinguished runs using a pair of big-block Fords and a blown Lincoln V-8.
By the time it finished active campaigning, Beast IV‘s original 95-inch wheelbase had stretched like taffy, and all that remained of the original Sam Barris-built aluminum body were the wheel pods and a section of the nose. “It’s a wonder there was anything left to restore,” Sharp said. In need of restoration, it eventually made its way to David and Marianne Duthu, who decided not only to donate the streamliner to the NHRA Motorsports Museum, where the restored Beast III already resided, but also to fund the restoration.
“David said he wanted a real car and not a recreation, but after all those years and all the remodeling, it was in a pretty sad state,” Sharp said.
So last March, the museum selected Dan Webb – well known for replicating a number of famed dry lakes and Bonneville racers – to restore/rebuild the Beast IV in its original 1953 configuration.
Photos courtesy Webb Automotive Art.
“Dan used what he had, but he had to really recreate the whole thing, mostly from pictures that we found in old magazines or that I found in dad’s shop,” Doug Herbert said.
To put the body back together and fill in the missing pieces, Webb turned to Craig Naff in Virginia. Webb, meanwhile, with the assistance of his daughter Ashley, sourced what period-correct pieces he could and – with help from Rob Ida – fabricated what he couldn’t. Darryl Hollenbeck then painted the car before Webb wrapped up the build in time for its reveal late last month at the museum, where it’ll go on display along with Beast III.
“That was really pretty neat,” Doug Herbert said of the reveal. “I think Dad would be really proud of what they did.”
In 1907, Bill Rishel and his business partners were the first to drive a Pierce-Arrow automobile across Utah’s vast Bonneville Salt Flats.
After Utah local Ab Jenkins set a new endurance record by driving a Pierce-Arrow in a continuous 10-mile loop for 24 hours at an average speed of 112.9 miles per hour, the flats became the go-to spot for speed freaks looking to smash records.
Drivers descended on the flats from around the world, bringing with them custom-designed vehicles with precisely streamlined bodies and extraordinarily powerful engines.
Various classes of competing vehicles emerged, including streamliners, roadsters, and by the early ‘60s, jet-powered cars. By the time of these speed trials in August 1966, jet cars were reaching land speeds of over 600 miles per hour.
Art Arfons stands alongside his jet-propelled "Green Monster."
The Hammon-McGrath-Appenfels "Redhead" streamliner #147B wins the class trophy with a speed of 331.46 miles per hour.
Bert Munro works on his streamlined Indian Scout with an Alex Tremulis-designed Detroit Triumph Gyronaut X-1 in the background.
The Summers Brothers "Goldenrod" C-Class Streamliner makes a run on the salt.
The Hammon-McGrath-Appenfels "Redhead" streamliner #147B.
The Alex Tremulis-designed Detroit Triumph Gyrnonaut X-1.
The Ratliff & Zook E/Gas Roadster, which posted a 158.45 mile per hour speed.
The Deeds and Saderup Studebaker, the class trophy winner in the D/Fuel Coupe and Sedan Division with 191.48 miles per hour.
Neil M. Thompson's gold-metalflake painted sports car.
J.R. Lufkin's #646 C/Modified Sports entry with sponsorship from Autolite and performance mods from AK Miller.
The rocket-powered Wingfoot Express 2 built by Walt Arfons, propelled by the use of 35 Jet-Assisted Take Off pods.
Bill and Bob Summers stand alongside their record-setting Summers Brothers "Golden Rod" streamliner.
A trio of streamliners from the H- and I-classes, with Wheel Centre Company #901H at top, "The Ball Point Banana" #555 at center and "The Orange Crate" #222 at bottom.
Donald Barr's H-Class Streamliner, which attained a speed of 145.92 miles per hour.
The Hammon-McGrath-Appenfels "Redhead" with the engine cowling removed to expose the supercharged Hemi powerplant inside.
The Larson-Cummins Streamliner, which took home the D-Class trophy for its 225 miles per hour run.
The Designers International Special, "Tempest in a T-pot" streamliner campaigned by team Ron Benham and Don Hurley.
(Images: Eric Rickman/The Enthusiast Network/Getty Images, via Mashable/Retronaut)
The need for speed: See history racing across the Bonneville Salt Flats
By Jackie Hicken, Deseret News
Deseret News Archives
It's Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats!
Throughout the years, the Bonneville Salt Flats have presented a unique landscape for everything from movies to television productions, but nothing has proved more potent than salt fever — the need for speed—that brings hundreds of thousands of daredevils to Utah each year.
Beginning with Teddy Tezlaff in 1914, who set an unofficial record of 141.73 mph in his Blitzen Benz, racers have come from all over the world to test their luck and skill on the salt. Since then, hundreds of records have been set and broken.
Here's a photographic look at Bonneville races throughout the years, from impressive records set in cars like the Mormon Meteor to the more unusual records set with speedy lawn mowers and unicycles.
Captain George Eyston, centre in helmet, with his entire crew standing behind his car Speed of the Winds at the conclusion of his record breaking runs on Bonneville Falts, Utah, on July 16, 1936, after he broke every intermediate record.
Captain George Eyston in his car Thunderbolt, the world’s most powerful car, travelled at 309. 6 miles per hour on the salt beds near Utah, Salt Lake City. This is the highest speed ever reached on land, but Thunderbolt broke down on the return run and the chance of an official record was denied Eyston. Captain George Eyston hurtling down the salt flats in his huge car, Thunderbolt, on Oct. 28, 1937, near Salt Lake City, Utah.
Deseret News Archives
This 1954 photo shows the plan parking strip at speed trials on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Deseret News Archives
In this August 1962 photo, Otto Anzjon and members of his crew pick up chunks of rubber from a racer's blown tire. The racer sits in the background of the picture, with the salt showing the black spin marks of the vehicle's passage.
Michael DeGroote, Deseret News
Former Salt Lake Mayor Abbott "Ab" Jenkins helped to establish the Bonneville Salt Flats as a racing location, but is best known for driving the Mormon Meteor into the record books in 1935. This early photo shows the original Mormon Meteor.
Deseret News Archives
Former Salt Lake Mayor Abbott "Ab" Jenkins helped to establish the Bonneville Salt Flats as a racing location, but is best known for driving the "Mormon Meteor" into the record books in 1935. Jenkins also set records on the salt in Pierce-Arrows.
John Cobb, of Surrey, England, plans to try to beat his own speed record of 369.7 miles per hour at Bonneville Flats, Utah, early in August, in this rebuilt, three ton, Railton Mobil Special supercharged racing car. The racer is powered by two 1,250 horsepower Napier Lion engines. Rounded turret in fore ground is Cobb's observation post shown July 3, 1947.
The Blue Flame is shown as it performs test runs just before 30-year-old Gary Gabelich set the new land auto speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, on Nov. 4, 1970. The $500,000 rocket-propelled car, which averages 622.407 miles per hour, was powered by liquified natural gas and hydrogen peroxide propellants.
Leo Villa, Donald Campbell’s Chief Mechanic, peers inside the wreckage of the Bluebird II on the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, USA on Sept. 16, 1960 after it had overturned at more than 300 miles an hour. Campbell, who was piloting the car, was injured and rushed to hospital. Officials said later that the million-pound car was a total write-off. It would be cheaper and quicker to build a new one.
Deseret News Archives
A car starts at run at the Bonneville Salt Flats in this historic photo.
Deseret News Archives
California driver Glenn Leasher, 26, was killed in 1962 in the first jet tragedy on the salt flat, when his jet car "Infinity" exploded and disintegrated while on a trial run that reached speeds in the high 300s. This photo shows the largest recovered piece of the wrecked car, with other pieces of it strewn across the salt flats in the distance.
Caesar Boswell rides his antique bicycle while Danala, a Brazilian macaw sits on her perch at the Bonneville Salt Flats on August 17, 2003.
Deseret News Archives
In this Sept. 1954 photo, people crowd around the body of the wrecked Vesco Body Shop racer.
An aerodynamic car speeds down the track at the Bonneville Salt Flats on August 17, 2003.
An aerodynamic vehicle speeds down the track at the Bonneville Salt Flats on August 17, 2003.
In 2011, BYU's Electric Vehicle Racing Team set an electric vehicle land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats by averaging 155.8 miles per hour over two qualifying runs.
British speed King Donald Campbell, who was injured when his 4,250-horsepower car, Bluebird II, crashed while travelling at 300 miles an hour on Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah on Sept. 16, 1960, poses in front of the sleek auto before carrying out a stationary engine test at Wendover Air Base, Utah. Campbell was rushed by ambulance to a hospital at Tooele, Utah. A members of his public relations staff said Campbell did not appear to be seriously hurt. Bluebird II apparently went into a spin and flipped over three times. Both wheels on the left side were ripped off and officials feared it may not run again.
Tom Smart, Deseret News
Don Mazzoni, takes his portable shade with him as he rides around the salt during Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats just outside of Wendover, Utah.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
The Terry Nish car competes on the Bonneville Salt Flats near Wendover, Utah Sept 28, 2006.
In a trial run over the measured mile on the salt beds at Bonneville, John Cobb reached a speed of 352.9 miles per hour which improved on his previous record 350.94 but failed to near the world record of 357.5 M.R.H. set up by George Eyston. Cobb made only one run. He is confident of beating Eyston’s record. John Cobb testing his brakes preparatory to his trial run over the salt beds at Bonneville, on August 18, 1939.
Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Lucius Lee of Livermore, CA rides the "One-Legger" Pro Street Unicycle on the Bonneville Salt Flats during the 20th Annual World of Speed in Wendover, Utah September 14, 2006. At the time, Lee held the unicycle speed record of 13.93 mph through the quarter mile. His unicycle can reach speeds of 20mph.
Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Bobby Cleveland takes his lawnmower for a run at the Bonneville Salt Flats in an attempt to reach speeds over 100mph on his lawnmower. For six months, Cleveland painstakingly built the snapper mower from scratch, 23-horsepower Snapper V-Twin modified engine charged with Golden Eagle brand 104+Octane Boost.