That Salty Old Itch
As I am writing this, August is looming large. For everybody in the Northern Hemisphere it is summer and it is HOT! Ungodly hot. It’s bad for people and good for salt. Salt addicts are stoked. Ever since the first SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) sanctioned meet in 1949, the Bonneville Salt Flats have been the proving grounds for speed. The SCTA is saying this could be the best salt in years and considering how hard the salt was on the racers last year, this is a blessing. For fans like me it is a blessing too. Like the racers, we fans are always pleased when conditions at the Bonneville Salt Flats are prime for speed. As a Mopar fan and land speed fan I am really excited about the possibilities this year.
Mopar engineering has had a long and fruitful relationship with the salt. The last “factory-backed” effort was by the late Dave Dozier who busted 300 mph with a 528 ci Hemi crate motor in his streamliner. Factories or not, Bonneville is all about the privateer. The racers are often out there on savings they worked double overtime to earn, and they run even harder than they worked.
We fans are the beneficiaries of that hard work. I cannot tell you how cool it was to hear Al Teague’s blown Hemi wind out on the salt. When you try to imagine the experience, create a picture in your head of a smiling man, a black needle on wheels, and the sound of a lone, blown, injected Hemi on fuel running for six miles up to speeds over 400 miles per hour. The perfect tune Charlie Hamilton put on those Hemis echoed of the range for miles. Just the memory of it beats the pants off “rare” heater delete options and date coded plug wires all day, and all year long.
If you still can’t fathom what I’m on then go back to the Summer’s brothers. Their home-brewed 1/4 million-dollar “Goldenrod” streamliner ruled the wheel driven land speed record at 409.277 mph from 1965 until 1991 when Al Teague broke it at 409.986mph. Their liner was beautiful, and it embodied the hot rod dictum of looking fast while sitting still. The car had four injected 426 Hemis and the sound must’ve been glorious. Bob Summers shifted the beast with two hands at speed and never even got the chance to grab the last gear. A mysterious one-way run was clocked over 425 mph and then the brothers packed the car and left the salt, effectively thumbing their noses at the five million-dollar Bluebird of Donald Campbell. (For the record, The “Bird” never caught the “Rod.”) Efforts are underway to restore the Goldenrod and let it bask in The Henry Ford Museum.
In 1966, Plymouth took a 426 “Street Hemi” Belvedere out there and put Bob Summers behind the wheel. The combination proved a winner and they took home the “B” production class record at 156.35mph. Back in ‘69 Bobby Isaac took his ’69 Daytona out on the salt and wreaked havoc on the books. Today, Lee Sicilio has hit 237.862 mph and regularly runs over 200 mph. At the moment he owns production class records from “AA” to “B” thanks to his slippery ’69 Daytona and Ray Barton-built Hemis.
In almost every class there are Hemis old and “new” running. As cool as the Daytona’s and ‘liners are, there is nothing that’ll raise the old neck hairs like a Ford roadster or coupe with a high compression, early Hemi chuggin’ refined sludge between the frame rails. Even the most utilitarian of motors, the “Slant Six,” has held records on the salt.
It all boils down to the fact that even if you ain’t gonna see no six pack Road Runner out on the salt or no “one of whatever” Hemi ‘Cuda ragtops, you’re still going to have a blast. If you are a Mope fan, then at heart you are a car fan and there is something out on that salt waiting for you. I guarantee the experience might change your life or at least your viewpoint on cars, forever. If you really need it, the Mopar factor is there if you look under the skin.