Racing is full of unfinished business. For Mickey Thompson, it was breaking the piston driven world land speed record. He came achingly close in 1960 with the Challenger I, but broke down on the return run. He struck back in 1968 with the Challenger II, but was foiled by a rainstorm which turned the track at the Bonneville Salt Flats into a lake. After his retirement from racing in 1988, he partnered with his son Danny Thompson, to make another attempt. Their collaboration was tragically cut short.
On the 50th anniversary of his father’s original run, Danny removed the Challenger II from storage and brought it to his Huntington Beach shop. Untouched for almost forty-five years, he began the extensive process of restoring, retrofitting, and updating the vehicle. Danny wants to lay his father’s business to rest. For him, that means taking the Challenger II, a vehicle that hasn’t run since 1968, to the salt flats at Bonneville and going at least 450mph. That’s what it will take to break the piston driven world land speed record.
Danny Thompson has his sights firmly set to break the Land Speed Record at Bonneville and has been feverishly working on the streamliner getting it ready for the attempt. Last month (May 2014) Danny successfully started both of the Challenger II’s engines for the first time in 50 years. The initial run throughs used methanol and after some function tests the engines were switched to 50% nitro. After this change over Danny proclaimed that the 4,000HP roar shook the ground. “It was a terrific feeling and one that my team and I have been waiting a very long time for” said Danny.
May 2014 also saw the unveiling of the Streamliner II’s new wheels, which will be fitted with specially designed Mickey Thompson Bonneville LSR tyres. The bright blue wheels were designed by aerodynamicist Tim Gibson and machined by S-K Specialists. Each wheel starts out as two separate 120 pound pieces of 2024 T-351 aerospace grade aluminium billet which are then machined down to two parts before being connected together by thirty reinforced aircraft bolts, which are torqued to exactly fifty-five pounds, resulting in 1,815 pounds of total clamping pressure. This compresses an o-ring, which provides the final seal.
Since the initial start-up Danny and the team have been firing the engines regularly, looking for any issues and experimenting with various mods and improvements. Click here to view a clip of the Streamliner II start up with audio commentary recorded by Danny himself.
From here Danny plans on stripping the streamliner down to the frame for final paint and finishing with any adjustments identified from the initial start-ups being incorporated during the rebuild. Danny will go on to test the streamliner in July at Bonneville and will make as many passes as possible (mostly at lower speeds) to gather course data for Speed Week, which is set to run between Saturday 9th August to Friday 15th August 2014. The final steps will be for Danny to participate in the FIA World Record Runs before attempting to break the piston driven world land speed record at the World Finals at Bonneville during September 2014.
- The skin of the car is made-up entirely of 68 hand formed aluminum panels. They are connected to the subframe via simple Dzus buttons.
- The streamliner has two engines, one on either side of the cockpit. The original 1960s setup delivered nearly 1,800hp. The new engines provide close to 4,000hp.
- The engines are dry blocks (waterless), which means all of the cooling is provided by the fuel. A single run will consume approximately 50 gallons of nitro blend fuel.
- The car ends its runs nearly 500 pounds lighter due to fuel consumption.
- The tyres are a prototype nylon weave backed with banded steel. There is only 1/32 of an inch of rubber. Any more would spin off due to heat and expansion. They are custom made by Mickey Thompson Tires.
- Primary stopping power is provided by dual parachutes that deploy four foot blossoms. They also have four carbon fiber disk brakes just in case.