The Mad, Mad Machines Of Bonneville

With all of the history, the camaraderie, and the beautiful vistas that come with Bonneville Speed Week, it’s actually pretty easy to forget about the star of the show – the race cars. There are some truly incredible vehicles that make up the hundreds of entries at Speed Week, and for this volume of my 2012 Speed Week coverage I’d like to showcase some of the machines I’ve come across during my time on the salt.

Spread across the miles of pit space on the salt flats are countless mindblowing machines created in different corners of the United States and the world. There is absolutely no shortage of pure automotive porn to be found here.

Bonneville is actually a bit like the Gatebil festival in its overall automotive insanity and its high number of off the wall car builds. The main difference is that each machine comes to Bonneville with a specific and universal goal – to go as fast as possible.

It’s the manner in which they try achieve that goal, and the type of machine they choose to do it in where things really start to get interesting.

As a newbie, the number of classes at Speed Week is overwhelming – encompassing everything from lightly modified production cars to purpose-built streamliners.

Things seem to be random at first glance, but in most cases each chassis and powerplant combo is carefully selected and built to fit in one of the many classes. Because of this, you come across many engine swaps at Bonneville that you’d never see in the “real world”.

Take this S13 for example. It’s actually powered by one of GM’s “Iron Duke” four cylinder motors from the 1980s – not an especially popular engine among the racing community but the potential key to setting a new class record.

Everywhere you look, there’s a crazy car to check out. I was standing near the tech inspection area on Friday when this Plymouth Superbird out of Arkansas rolled up.

Well it’s not actually a genuine Superbird but a Road Runner with a full conversion. Not that I’m complaining.

Under the hood? A Viper V10. And to think this is actually pretty mild as far as engine swaps go at Bonneville…

One of the more high profile machines to run at Bonneville in recent years is the “Blowfish” – a radical Plymouth Barracuda built by famed showcar creator Rad Rides by Troy. You can definitley see some Daytona/Superbird influence in the nose area.

Matching its heavily aero-tweaked body is an equally wild blown Dodge V8.

Some of the most exciting (and some of my personal favorites) are the vehicles from the Modified and Competition classes. Here you can see one originally based on a 1959 Fiat 600.

Unlike a lot of full race cars that are “styled” from production cars, these are a bit different. Looking at their profiles down the side, they seem to begin as one car and end as something completely different.

From the tail, it’s pretty clear to see the roots of a Triumph Spitire here. Beneath the bodywork is a 1000cc Suzuki GSXR motor.

If I had to pick a favorite of these cars, it may be the DFQ Racing machine, based on a 1972 Honda Z600. The Honda mini-car roots are pretty obvious from the rear, and you’ll see it still has the factory taillights and bumper.

The front half of the car is a completely different story, with a stretched out sports car-esque nose covering the chassis.

In case you can’t recognize the motor, that’s a VH45DE Nissan V8 sourced from an Infiniti Q45.

Here are the driver’s quarters on the Frankenstein Honda.

I even spotted a few entries that were essentially NASCAR stock cars re-tuned for land speed racing.

Other cars are much more production like, such as this Audi with almost completely stock bodywork.

The Hondata team are Bonneville regulars with both their 1,500cc CRX and their two liter RSX seen here.

One of the most popular platforms for land speed racing seem to be the third generation Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird.

It makes sense thanks to the third-gen’s aero-friendly shape and its ability to accept nearly any powerplant.

Many are powered by massive V8 setups, but others are a bit different. That strange looking thing is a blown 320 cubic inch GMC inline six.

First generation F-bodies are also plentiful on the salt, just as they are in drag racing, pro touring, or any other corner of American car culture.

Aerodynamic are important at Bonneville but that doesn’t stop trucks from getting in on the action There are classes dedicated specifically to both diesel and gas pickups at Speed Week.

When on the salt, oddball cars are really not so odd, like this Iowa-based 1968 Saab Sonnett…

…and it’s hopped up 750cc motor sitting well forward in the chassis.

It’s stretched out yes, but you can still catch the unmistakeable profile here of the the Datsun 240Z. This one is powered by a variant of GM’s Ecotec motor.

There are quite a few Japanese chassis with American motors at Bonneville, but you may be surprised at the number of entries running Japanese motors. This Fuel Roadster for example…

…running a version of a Toyota 3SGE four cylinder.

Few cars are tied more to the history of Bonneville as the Belly Tankers. Now, 64 years into the event they are still very common on the salt.

Based out of New Zealand, this 1964 Morris Mini Cooper S known as “Project 64″ is another one the unique international entries running at Speed Week this year.

It’s running the original engine block, but with a four-valve head from a 1,200 cc BMW motorcycle. The team is hoping to set a class record, somewhere i the 130-140mph range.

Another Mini? Nope, that’s it’s Japanese counterpart the Honda N600.

The Opel GT is another one of those cars that’s very rare on the street but seems to have a decent following among land speed racers.

If you are used to other types of motorsports, you may be surprised to see that the cars run such narrow tires in both the front and the rear. It’s something that stands in contrast to almost every other type of motorsport where “wider is better”.

One could dedicate countless posts just to investigating all the various machines that compete at Speed Week, but I hope this gives a reasonable idea of the automotive circus that comes to the salt flats each year. Don’t forget that I’m also leaving out the motorcycles, which provide an equally amazing display of engineering should you be interested in two-wheeled thrills.

I’ll back soon with a few more thoughts from Bonneville, but right now the Hot Rod gathering at the Nugget is calling my name once again.

Stay tuned.




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If you just posted a picture of every car there, competing and not competing (hot rods, rat rods, etc.), I'd be happy. I don't care how many pictures it would be, I would look at every single one equally. Either way, Gatebil and Bonneville are two places I will get to.


See if you can spot the dark blue S14 with an RB26.  The class record is only 203mph, so he should get a red hat.  They're geared to go 220MPH.  Love all the crazy cool builds and variety at B'ville.


The 3SGE Toyota motor you mention towards the bottom, I think you'll find its actually a 3TGTE..


 @D4W  yes. thats a 3T-GTE.


Is the green car a Tatra?


 @KBR Anyone know my it is running two distributers and what looks like two spark plugs per cylinder?
cannot be that much to gain from running two


Posts are way too short!You need to stock op on redbull and energybars and work harder!
Awesome, just awesome, keep it up!


@D4W Indeed you are correct. Definitely not a swap I've seen too often in these parts.


looks like a saab 96 to me


 @PSC It originally has 2 sparkplugs per cylinder to improve and to get more even ignition and burning of air-fuel-mixture. But it doesn't have two distributors as standard, suppose its more difficult to find such distributors as aftemarket parts which have dual outputs per cylinder..


 @PSC  twin plugs shorten the flame propagation period


Like if you wanna see those mentioned motorcycles.. :)


Love The green Saab 96!


the 3tgte is running dual mags not distributors. They create their own spark. It has twin mags and plugs because it is powered by nitromethane. Please visit our youtube channel eshenbaughracing. Thanks for the interest! -Kevin Eshenbaugh


 @PSC the 3tgte is running dual mags not distributors. They create their own spark. It has twin mags and plugs because it is powered by nitromethane. Please visit our youtube channel eshenbaughracing. Thanks for the interest! -Kevin Eshenbaugh


 @PSC We switched to this new engine combo after setting two still current land speed records in G/FR and D/FR. -Kevin Eshenbaugh


 @PSC We switched to this new engine combo after setting two still current land speed records in G/FR and D/FR. with this same chassis -Kevin Eshenbaugh


 @ClaytonPayton Not when driven by two separate magnetos.  NEW PERIOD