What is Bonneville? You may have heard or seen this name a few times before. You probably seen the name on a Pontiac
and just thought it was some fancy name for a Sedan. Maybe you have
heard the name Bonneville on the History Channel, and because of this
you learned that Bonneville is the name of the Salt Flats in Utah where
scenes from Independence Day, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.
Little did you know that the Bonneville Salt Flats
are Americans Ultimate Proving ground, a place where machines built as
wild as you can imagine are tested, a place where you can run anything
to see how fast it will go as long as you have the guts to stay in it!
The Bonneville Salt Flats are the remains of what was the prehistoric
lake Bonneville. Thousands of Years ago, the lake dried up and has been
the Salt Flats. The flats are named after Benjamin Bonneville, who was
an Army Officer that explored the Oregon Trail.
Since 1914 Bonneville has been a proving ground for top speed and who
can ever build the fastest things on wheels. The First Bonneville Land
Speed record was set in this year by race car driver Teddy Tetzlaff.
In the 30s Bonneville gained nationwide
attention when American racer Ab Jenkins and British racer Sir Malcolm
Campbell went out to compete for speed records. This got the worldest
attention and by 1949 an official track and annual events where now
being held at Bonneville.
By this time, the Famed So-Cal Speed Shop had started building Coupes and Roadsters just for Bonneville. In 1948 So-Cal Speed Shop built the first bellytanker meant for top speed, it was a Belly Tank from a P-38 fighter aircraft and powered by a Mercury V8.
The 50s came and bonneville was now full of Hot Rodders and many of
which built cars just meant for the Salt Flats, usually 32 Ford Coupes
and Roadsters.Guys like the Pierson Brothers would run there record
breaking 34 Ford Coupe out on the Salt Flats which the 34 Ford Coupe
would become an icon to the Bonneville salt flats, being rebuilt by
different owners and breaking records over the years.
1951 So-Cal Speed Shop purchased a 34 Ford Coupe from the Pierson Brothers to be used as a Bonneville car and a Marketing tool for So-Cal Speed Shop.
The Car was built and modified as wild as it could get by a guy named
Tom Cobbs. The 34 Ford ended up becoming the other iconic car of
Racing at the salt flats was becoming more and more popular that in
the early 50s the company MOONEYES even made a wheel that is designed
for Bonneville and Top Speed in general. The Wheel in their MOON Disc,
the MOON Disc is made to help increase top speed. The MOON Disc is
still a popular wheel used today in Bonneville. By the end of the 50s
cars were approaching the 400 MPH barrier, slowly but sure man would
break this barrier.
In the 60s the envelopes where
pushed even further and more barriers were broken and man was going
faster on land then it had ever dreamed! Guys like Mike Thompson had
broken the 400MPH Barrier using a Streamliner powered by 4 Pontiac Motors. However Man wanted to go even faster and soon Jet and Turbine powered cars were appearing in the 60s at Bonneville.
From 1964-1965 Guys like Art Art Arfons, Craig Breedlove, and Art’s
Brother Walt to break 500 MPH, and 600 MPH Barriers using there Green Monster, Spirit of America and Wingfoot Express cars respectively. Craig Breedlove ending breaking the 600 MPH Barrier using Turbine powered 3 Wheeled vehicles known as Spirit of America.
600 MPH soon wasn’t fast enough for man and this record had to be
broken as well! This record was then broken by Gary Gabelich in 1970
with his Rocket Powered vehicle Blue Flame. Blue Flame would go 630 MPH and the record would stand or 27 years!(It still stands at Bonneville) .
In 1997 a team of British engineers built a vehicle known as Thrust SSC
which was powered by two Afterburner Rolls-Royce Spey engines broke the
sound barrier on land, but this was done in the Nevada Black Rock
Today Bonneville still exists and everything from Jet Cars, to Streamliners to traditional style roadsters to even diesel trucks,
still make runs at Bonneville. Once a year the Southern California
Timing Association still hosts the 6 day long event know as the
Bonneville Speed Week.
There is a lot more History to the Bonneville Salt Flats. From
Motorcycles like Burt Munro’s Indian, to generations of Hot Rodders and
Cars that have made passes on them. There is just so much about the
Bonneville Salt Flats that it is Hard to fit it all in one article!
I know some of you DIY guys and home garage
guys don’t like to see the big budget record breaking Salt Flat Cars
but you got to admit it is amazing seeing those cars go as fast as the
person who built them dream it. There are some home built guys like Al
Teague who still holds the Land Speed Record for piston driven Vehicle with his Spirit of 76 streamliner.
Bonneville is a name known by every Hot Rodder. It is a Historic Land
Mark and is part of mans desire to go faster than before. It was a
place where the Imagination can run wild with Ideas and dreams can come true.