50 Years in the Making, a Restored Streamliner Claims the Land Speed Record

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For more than a century the Bonneville Salt Flats has drawn motoring enthusiasts to its vast open plains for its annual Speed Week, and for more than half a century one father-son duo has eyed a history-making run at the event. That dream has now come to fruition, with Danny Thompson setting a new land speed record in his dad’s refurbished streamliner.

With a total curb weight of 5,200 lb (2,360 kg), the Challenger 2 burns through around 50 gallons (190 L) of its nitro/methanol fuel on each run(Credit: Bubb Lannan)

Mickey Thompson first set his sights on the land speed record at Bonneville in the ’60s, going close with his Challenger 1 hot rod in 1960 but then breaking down on the return run. Another attempt in 1968 with the Challenger 2 was then brought undone by a rainstorm that turned the salt flats into a lake.

For more than a century the Bonneville Salt Flats has drawn motoring enthusiasts to its vast open plains for its annual Speed Week(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


Mickey retired from racing but kept the dream alive, partnering with son Danny to launch another attempt, though this collaboration came to a tragic end when Mickey and his wife were murdered in 1988. Now, on the 50th anniversary of the Challenger 2’s construction, Danny has completed the job, riding the very same vehicle to glory.

The Challenger 2 has set a new land speed record of 448.757 mph (722 km/h) (Credit: Bubb Lannan)


Well, mostly the same vehicle. After being left untouched for more than 40 years, Danny pulled the Challenger 2 out of storage and began the restoration process. This meant leaving the exterior mostly as it was, but making some modern upgrades to bring the car up to speed with today’s standards.

Veteran racer Danny Thompson takes a breather with a crew member(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


It uses the same chassis, aerodynamics and exterior madeup of 68 hand-formed aluminum panels as the 1968 version. The Ford 427 engines, however, have been replaced by two dry block nitro-fueled Hemi V8 engines that pump out 2,500 hp (1,800 kW) apiece, more than double the output of the original.

The Challenger 2 is a refurbished streamliner originally constructed in 1968(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


With a total curb weight of 5,200 lb (2,360 kg), the Challenger 2 burns through around 50 gallons (190 L) of its nitro/methanol fuel on each 5-mile (8-km) run, which sees it wind up 500 lb (227 kg) lighter than when it began. Another change is the addition of carbon ceramic disk brakes and dual parachutes with four-foot blossoms, which replace the outgoing braking mechanism: deploying parachutes by first blasting away a section of the rear wing with compressed air.

A triumphant Danny Thompson(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


Now all that hard work has paid off. At Speed Week 2018, Thompson kicked things off with a 446.605-mph (718.7-km/h) run on Saturday, followed by a 450.909-mph (725.6-km/h) run on Sunday’s return. The two-way average of 448.757 mph (722 km/h) outstrips the 439-mph (706-km/h) record set at Bonneville in 2012, and makes the Challenger 2 the world’s fastest piston powered car.

Source: Thompson SLR

The Challenger 2 streamliner is powered by two dry block nitro-fueled Hemi V8 engines that pump out 2,500 hp (1,800 kW) apiece(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


Crew members work on the Challenger 2 streamliner at Speed Week 2018(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


Record-setting speed ticket from Speed Week 2018(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


Veteran racer Danny Thompson in the cockpit(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


Veteran racer Danny Thompson in the cockpit(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


A triumphant Danny Thompson(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


Record-setting speed ticket from Speed Week 2018(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


The Challenger 2 streamliner is powered by two dry block nitro-fueled Hemi V8 engines that pump out 2,500 hp (1,800 kW) apiece(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


The Challenger 2 is a refurbished streamliner originally constructed in 1968(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


Record-setting speed ticket from Speed Week 2018(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


Danny Thompson has set a new land speed record in the Challenger 2 streamliner(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


Danny Thompson emerges from the Challenger 2(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


The Challenger 2 is a refurbished streamliner originally constructed in 1968(Credit: Bubb Lannan)


Inside the cockpit of the Challenger 2 (Credit: Bubb Lannan)