Automotive

50 years in the making, a restored streamliner claims the land speed record

50 years in the making, a rest...
The Challenger 2 is a refurbished streamliner originally constructed in 1968
The Challenger 2 is a refurbished streamliner originally constructed in 1968
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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
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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
For more than a century the Bonneville Salt Flats has drawn motoring enthusiasts to its vast open plains for its annual Speed Week
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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
The Challenger 2 has set a new land speed record of 448.757 mph (722 km/h) 
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The Challenger 2 has set a new land speed record of 448.757 mph (722 km/h) 
Veteran racer Danny Thompson takes a breather with a crew member
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Veteran racer Danny Thompson takes a breather with a crew member
The Challenger 2 is a refurbished streamliner originally constructed in 1968
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The Challenger 2 is a refurbished streamliner originally constructed in 1968
A triumphant Danny Thompson
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A triumphant Danny Thompson
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
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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
Crew members work on the Challenger 2 streamliner at Speed Week 2018
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Crew members work on the Challenger 2 streamliner at Speed Week 2018
Record-setting speed ticket from Speed Week 2018
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Record-setting speed ticket from Speed Week 2018
Veteran racer Danny Thompson in the cockpit
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Veteran racer Danny Thompson in the cockpit
Veteran racer Danny Thompson in the cockpit
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Veteran racer Danny Thompson in the cockpit
A triumphant Danny Thompson
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A triumphant Danny Thompson
Record-setting speed ticket from Speed Week 2018
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Record-setting speed ticket from Speed Week 2018
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
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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
The Challenger 2 is a refurbished streamliner originally constructed in 1968
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The Challenger 2 is a refurbished streamliner originally constructed in 1968
Danny Thompson has set a new land speed record in the Challenger 2 streamliner
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Danny Thompson has set a new land speed record in the Challenger 2 streamliner
Record-setting speed ticket from Speed Week 2018
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Record-setting speed ticket from Speed Week 2018
Danny Thompson emerges from the Challenger 2
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Danny Thompson emerges from the Challenger 2
The Challenger 2 is a refurbished streamliner originally constructed in 1968
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The Challenger 2 is a refurbished streamliner originally constructed in 1968
Inside the cockpit of the Challenger 2 
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Inside the cockpit of the Challenger 2 

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.

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.

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.

Veteran racer Danny Thompson in the cockpit
Veteran racer Danny Thompson in the cockpit

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.

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
The Challenger 2 is a refurbished streamliner originally constructed in 1968

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.

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.

You can ride along with Thompson's record-setting run in the video below.

Source: Thompson SLR

Danny Thompson's 450mph Speed Week Record Run

5 comments
Nik
Dedication and perseverance wins,....sometimes. Must be very satisfying.
VincentWolf
Gets my perseverance award and then some. Kudo's.
Gormenghastly
Great story; kudos to the son. Now, why did we have to read almost the entire article in order to confirm that the headline was incorrect? It was not "a new land speed record", it was a new "piston-powered land speed record."
DavidB
My lord, that looked like an awful lot of steering (roughly 0:55–1:15) for what I've always assumed was pretty much a straight-line event. O.o
Gregg Eshelman
Now how about refurbishing the Budweiser Rocket to see if it can go supersonic? How about pulling the Goldenrod out of mothballs, giving it a rehab and modernization similar to the Challenger 2, and see how fast it can go? Could be lots of fun to be had in pushing vintage LSR vehicles past what they reached when built.