When I think of the Bonneville Salt Flats my mind pulls up images of streamliners and wildly modified production cars. It is a place of mystique and heartbreak. A place where men go to set speed records. However, there is another Bonneville. It is one where everyone begins. You can’t go out and try to go 300 or 400 MPH without earning the right to do so by working your way up the speed charts. There are also Bonneville clubs for street legal cars that runs in September before the big record holders take the track.
When we think of fast, street legal cars to take to Bonneville few of us think of 1969 vintage cars especially a Mercury. In 1969 Mercury and Ford started the Aero Wars on the NASCAR tracks with their Aero Cars the Ford Talladega and Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II.
The Ford Talladega was a 428 CJ powered wind cheating NASCAR Champion in 1969. Its Blue Oval sister car the Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II was arguably better aerodynamically but could only be had from the factory with a much more modest 315 Windsor engine. Unfortunately, we usually think of highway cruiser when we think of the Spoiler II. WELL THINK AGAIN!
Approximately 35 years ago, our friend Lou Whitfield built a mildly modified custom Spoiler II for cruising around Southern CA. It was all black with slight modification throughout. It was not an expensive build but Lou builds good cars and is particular about quality. Fast Forward, Lou has more cars and his garage was not big enough and something has to go. The Spoiler II was sold to another Californian who enjoyed it for several years but he too sold the car and off to Ohio it went.
The new and current owner, Mike Callahan lives in Cincinnati and likes Fords. He bought the Spoiler II off eBay sight unseen but the price was right and he knew he wanted to make some modifications anyway. You see, Mike wanted to be in the Bonneville 150 Club.
I recently visited with Mike by phone to discuss his adventure to the Bonneville Salt Flats and his new membership in the 150 MPH Club. He started off my saying he has been to the Salt Flats several times and previously made it into the 130 MPH Club driving a former Jack Roush prepared 1999 Crown Vic. However, as good as the car was he did not believe it would ever do 150 without major modifications. That is what led him to Lou’s old Spoiler II. Mike knew that the faster you go the more important aerodynamics become so an Aero Car would be perfect.
After completing the purchase on eBay without ever seeing the car Mike did what you should never do; he flew to Southern CA with plans to drive the car 2,200 miles back to his home! I think most of us agree this is at least a very risky if not dangerous decision. Mike’s replay to this concern; “It’s a good way to get to know a new ride.” His first sight of the Spoiler II shocked and surprised him by how nice the car was. The trip home was mostly uneventful but did hint at some work that would be needed before going to Bonneville. However, it was a far better platform than he ever imagined.
Mike had a friend with a chassis dyno near his home so the Spoiler II paid a visit to get a baseline to know what Mike had to work with. On the first run at 5,000 RPM the car would do 132 MPH on the dyno. Obviously, that would not make it on the Salt Flats with a 150 MPH goal.
The engine was 35 years old and the valve springs were weak. The air cleaner was an open element type but only 3″ tall. After installing new valve springs, some much larger jets in the carburetor, making some other minor adjustments and tuning the car it came alive on the dyno. At 5,700 RPM it now produced 352 RWHP and showed a theoretical 168 MPH top end. Mike knew aero drag on even a Spoiler II would limit his chances at 150 MPH with those numbers. The car had also developed a vibration on this higher speed dyno run.
The vibration was quickly cured with a new one piece aluminum drive shaft. By going from 25.5″ tall tires to 27.5″ tall tires in the rear were installed to help get the old Aero Warrior over the 150 mark.
Certain safety modification were also required to make an attempt at the 150 MPH Club at Bonneville.
• To gain Membership into the 150-mph club, the vehicle must run the 2.25 mile long course twice in the same event at a speed no less than 150 mph. The two runs are then averaged.
• Drivers will be required to participate in a driver orientation meeting with a USFRA designated official prior to racing.
• An acceptable speed indicator (Speedometer, Tachometer or GPS) is required so the driver has an indication of the car’s speed at any point on the course.
• Maximum speed will be 159.999 mph – any vehicle exceeding 159.999 mph will forfeit any of the unused 6 runs will not receive a timing slip, and be disqualified for the remainder of event.
• The driver must wear a Snell 2005, ECE 22.05, or FIA 8860-2004 (or later) approved, full-face helmet with full face shield (no damaged helmets will be allowed).
• Drivers must wear a SFI 3.2A/1 or better rated fire suit including shoes and gloves and an approved neck collar. The driver must have SFI 3.3 arm restraints or the car must be equipped with one of the various types of window net available on the market.
• A four- (4) point roll bar approved by a recognized Racing sanctioning organization must be installed in the vehicle; driver is responsible to provide objective evidence of approval.
Integral Corvette-type roll bar is not acceptable.( As of Jan 2016 roll bars will be constructed of 1 5/8” Dia. with minimum .120” wall thickness mild steel or 1 5/8” Dia. with minimum .095” wall thickness E4130 chromoly tubing, with 5”X 6” X ¼” thick attach plates with a minimum of 4 3/8” bolts.)
• The seat assembly must be adequately braced to prevent rearward collapse by a portion of the roll bar assembly.
• The vehicle must have a 4 point or better seat belt restraint system ( as of Jan 2016 a 5 point or better SFI approved seat belt will be required).
• Cars must have a metal battery tie down. No plastic, wedge style, ratchet straps, or bungee cords, etc. will be allowed.
• A Driveshaft retention loop is required in the front 25% of each section of drive shaft on rear-wheel cars where adequate retention and control of a broken driveline is not assured by body/frame design.
• On non OEM fuel delivery systems dual throttle return springs are required, on each throttle shaft.
• All non OEM fuel lines must be constructed of rubber, braided, or steel hard line. No aluminum/copper hard line or clear plastic hose will be allowed.
• Fuel lines are not allowed in the drivers compartment.
• On unibody cars such as Corvair, VW, Porsche, Etc. the fuel lines must be higher than the lowest part of the pan or the unibody structure. They must be installed inside of a heavy metal tube or above a skid plate. The metal tube or skid plate must be positively attached (no sheet metal screws will be allowed). This is to protect the fuel system from damage if a wheel/tire failure should occur.
• Vehicles must have V or higher rated tires or acceptable racing tires which are rated for speeds in excess of 159 mph. No tires wider than 10″ will be allowed, unless the tires are OEM to the vehicle. (Narrow tires provide better traction and vehicle control on the Salt).
• Tires & wheels for all vehicles will have bolted in metal valve stems with metal valve caps. No OEM (T.P.S.) Tire Pressure Sensors will be allowed.
• Wheel covers will be positively attached or removed. No snap on style hub caps are allowed.
With these modifications made, Mike by himself, drove the Spoiler II 1,800 miles one-way to the Bonneville Salt Flats; prepared the car and went 154 MPH on a 2.25 mile strip of “table salt”! With a big smile on his face he took the long drive down the return road to give it one more try to back up his first run. On his second run he hit 153 MPH. With that it was official, he was a member of the Bonneville Salt Flats 150 Club.
If you are one of those skeptics that thinks it’s easy and says: “Oh, I have run that fast out on the interstate.” Then you don’t know SALT. The Bonneville Salt Lake is like ice, it is very, very slippery. It is not like running on concrete or asphalt. (Note the rule above regarding tires; narrow tires provide better traction and vehicle control on the Salt!)
Mike then packed the car up with all his gear and drove it another 1,800 miles back to Cincinnati. I know we talk about driving our car to the drag races, racing and driving home but think about this for a minute. Here is a street legal 1969 Mercury Cyclone Spoiler that ran 154 MPH on the Salt and was not trailered to the track. It made its run after driving 1,800 miles and then backed it up with another 1,800 mile trip home!