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The Cars of Bonneville Salt Flats gallery

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Fast Cars are an art form of their very own. They represent art in their mechanical design and in their form. No two race cars are exactly the same, even in the same class, and in each car the builders express themselves both through form and function of the design.

On this page we take a tour of the race cars of the Bonneville Salt flats, "The fastest place on earth" for wheel driven cars. It used to be the uncontested fastest place on earth for autos of all kinds but during the 1970's began a push to go over 400 mph. Only a handful of wheel supported vehicles have ever accomplished this task, but to achieve these speeds the fastest needed to switch from wheel driven power to "thrust" from rockets or Jet engines. As they approached the speed of sound these cars ran out of room on the salt flats.

The glory days of 12 miles or more of smooth flat hard salt that existed back in the 1930's to the 1960's, gave way to deteriorating course conditions that today rarely provide more than 7 miles of salt of high enough quality to support these mind numbing speeds. As a result the thrust powered cars are no longer run at the Bonneville salt flats.

Today there is an active restoration program called "Save the Salt" which is trying to restore the Bonneville Salt Flats race course to its former conditions by a cooperative agreement and planned pumping project that pumps salt brine onto the salf flats from the nearby potash harvesting operation run by Intrepid Industries. Intrepid Industries with funding from public donations is graciously helping the BLM and concerned citizens bring back the world famous salt flats to their historic conditions, that once supported 13.5 mile race courses for the unlimited streamliners to go for 400+ mph records on a regular basis.

Save the salt project




All images copyright Larry Ledwick unless otherwise noted in caption



Today the fastest wheel driven cars in the world, can reach speeds of over 350 mph with some breaking into the 400 mph range.
In most cases these 400 mph capable cars can consistently run in the low 400 mph range with only a very small group having ever run even one pass
over 420 mph. The number of cars currently actively raced and capable of these 400+ mph speeds number less than a dozen world wide.
Below are listed the 400+ mph streamliners which have run since the year 2000 at the Bonneville salt flats. All these cars are powered by conventional piston engines.


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Nolan White
Autopower special streamliner #131 AA/BFS Powered by two big block Chevy engines
Destroyed in a fatal accident October 17, 2002 at the SCTA World Finals, as the car exited the timing traps at 422 mph
Nolan held the SCTA land speed record for piston engine streamliners ( AA/BFS ) at 413.156 MPH at the time of the accident.
Cause of the accident was due to a parachute failure.

I do not have a picture of this car.

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The Burkland #411 streamliner pictured below broke Nolan Whites AA/BFS record.



copyright Betty Burkland
The above picture kindly supplied by Betty Burkland of the 411 car in an earlier configuration prior to an accident which forced a rebuild of the car

Below the car at speed at Speed Week 2008.




The Burkland 411 streamliner has run over 400 mph on multiple occasions.
400 + runs I am aware of (exit speed):

On Sept 20, 2000
450.225 mph -- top speed of the meet

Sept 22, 2001 421.844 mph
435.434 -- top speed of the meet

On Oct 16 2004
436.161 -- top speed of the meet
430.988 -- new AA/BFS record at 417.020

Aug 15 2006
410.997 mph

Sept 2006
403.198 mph

Sept 2008 FIA meet
415.896 mph
403.328 mph
416.644 mph
427.723 mph


It currently holds the FIA Category A, group I, Class 11 flying mile record for cars with supercharged piston engines with displacement greater than 8.0 liters.
The car had an exit speed of 427.723 mph on the second "return run" of the required back to back runs to achieve the record.
This record of 415.896 mph was set Sept 26,2008

Sept 22, 2001 they ran 421.844 in the 5th mile and an exit speed of 435.434 for top speed of the meet. Unfortunately at the end of the run the car was badly damaged
when it hit debris buried in the track and rolled. The top picture above is the car prior to this accident. The car was completely rebuilt between 2002 and 2004.
On September 26 2008 the car set a new FIA Cat. A, Group I, Class 11 flying mile International record at 415.896 MPH!

This car has not been retired it is simply waiting for good enough salt conditions to achieve its potential.


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Below the Spirit of Rett streamliner #1122 is another legitimate mid 400 mph car capable of running over 420 mph.



The Spirit of Rett streamliner holds a number of records in multiple classes.
In 2010 at the Mike Cook Shootout the Spirit of Rett streamliner #1122 driven by Charles Nierberg took the 45 year old record established by the Summers Brothers.
That record set by Bob Summers of the Summers Brothers in their Golden rod at 409.277 mph was set on Nov 12, 1965.
On Sept 21,2010 Charles Nearburg established both the flying Kilo and flying mile records in the FIA Category A Group II, class 11 (non-supercharged piston engine with displacement over 8.0 liters)

Spirit of Rett 400+ runs I am aware of:
Sept 21 2010 Top Speed Shootout (exit speed).
416.903 mph
411.600 mph
417.600 mph
414.316 mph
422.645 mph
417.659 mph


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Below is the Poteet and Main Speed Demon streamliner as it appeared on Aug 15, 2007, at Bonneville Speed Week.


This car holds several records in the 300+ mph range, starting in 2006 with a record of 325.934 mph.

In 2008, Speed Demon set a record of 343.494 mph with a best one-way run of 365.941 mph for the SCTA (Southern California Timing Association record) for the flying mile during Speed Weeks at Bonneville
On Sept. 22nd, 2008, at a special private meet for FIA certified records, Poteet and Main upped the FIA record to 345.552 mph with a best one-way run of 390.560 mph.


Speed demon 400+ runs that I am aware of (exit speed)

Shoot out 2011
446.057 mph
462.345 mph
445.500 mph
Speedweek 2011
421.009 mph
426.91 mph
411.836 mph
Shootout 2010
422.546 mph
405.196 mph
413.256 mph
415.649 mph
Speedweek 2010
416.097 mph
417.596 mph
418.486 mph
Speedweek 2010
404.562 mph
B/FS record
Shootout 2009
435.868 mph
Speedweek 2009
401.285 mph



During the 2011 Mike Cook Shoot Out the Speed Demon ran a spectacular one way run of 462.345 mph (breaking the Burkland 411 single best pass speed record) but was unable to backup the run for a new record.
This is a car to be watched! I personally feel it has the potential to run in the high 400's if they can keep the drive train together.

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Pictured below the speed by spectre Cadillac powered streamliner.


Above is the worlds fastest Cadillac powered streamliner named "Infidel", the black Speed by Spectre streamliner car number 451. The engine is a 1973 528.5 CID Cadillac engine, running twin turbos. It has clocked a 415.791 mph exit speed at the Mike Cook Shootout in 2010
400+ runs that I am aware of (exit speed)
Sept 2010
415.791
414.400
414.400


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Below the Nish Royal Purple streamliner number 998 is another legitimate 400+ mph streamliner.



Running a 640 cid big block chevy engine, Driver Mike Nish ran 3 400 plus passes in a single day at the 2010 Mike Cook Shootout. They ran exit speeds of 412.515 ,409.110, and 404.562 mph.
Following a bad performance in 2011 they have decided to switch to a 564 CID Chrysler Hemi running 50% Nitro built by Jerry Darrian.

400+ runs I am aware of(exit speed)

sept 21 2010 Mike Cook Shoot Out (exit speeds)
409.110 mph
404.562 mph
412.515 mph


Their intention is to run over 425 mph this year (2012).




=================== From the 400+ mph cars we look at some other interesting streamliners =====================



This is the streamliner affectionately known as "the punkin seed" for its unique shape.It has been running at Bonneville for decades.
Going this fast is a dangerous game, and although the salt is one of the most forgiving racing surfaces in the world, physics is not always your friend!
A minor error by the driver, a failure of a component or just bad luck can lead to accidents.


This was the outcome of an abortive attempt by the punkin seed to fly during a spin, at about 200 mph!



 ==========   Land speed racing is a difficult challenge and even with the best planning sometimes things go wrong   ========== 

This is why safety is the most important priority for all the participants, and that thought is embodied in their moto.

 ===================   Be safe, go fast, have fun!   ===================== 

This car caught fire as the engine blew! Following an explosion in the intake manifold that lifted the blower, the oil mist created a flame plume
that burned through the cars parachute tether. Luckily the parachute held long enough for the driver to get slowed down and turn out off the race course.



Sometimes things go wrong as a car spins, and for streamliners and the long narrow lakesters, a "pencil roll" is a situation that seldom ends well for either the car or the driver.
Below is a picture sequence of a streamliner rolling at speed.

Spins are common due to the low traction of the salt, and high aerodynamic drag trying to turn the car around its center of pressure.

Cars can also get blown over like hydroplanes if they hit a bump or they get the nose up for some other reason, and "pack air under the car".


The other hazard to the high sustained load on the engines is that many engines give up after a minute or so of continuous wide open throttle under max load. Sometimes it is an oiling issue as the engine pumps all its available oil into the valve covers, or sometime it is a burnt piston or other mechanical failure due to the high physical and thermal stress.



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