Ah, the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, an alien terrain on earth steeped in mystique, legend and awe. It’s a bizarrely barren and flat landscape seemingly designed for wheeled vehicles to push harder and faster in the pursuit of higher and higher speeds. The odd part of the design is that the surface is sodium chloride – salt – pretty much the same stuff that’s in your kitchen cupboard.
Set amidst this geologically remarkable panorama of salt every August are a nutty cast of characters brandishing a cornucopia of gearhead fantasies. Racing at Bonneville encourages creativity among participants, unlike many other forms of racing that have sharply defined specs, so innovation and imagination are integral elements of vehicle construction.
There were more cool vehicles on the playa than you could imagine, and this list could’ve been much longer, especially if we were including four-wheeled vehicles. But it’s a Top 10 list, so here we go!
What you’re looking at here is the cutest little badass V-8 I’ve ever seen, shipped all the way from New Zealand. Motorcycle aficionados might recognize half the engine, as it’s from a BMW S1000RR. The clever folks at Synergy took two of those cylinder banks and mated them to a billet crankcase to create a 2000cc V-8 that revs to 14,600 rpm, the same ceiling as the S1000RR. The team’s Nick Rogers says the motor produces a stout 420 hp rated at its billet crank, and he says you could have one of your own for about $50-60k.
Taking a cue from MO’s more is more attitude, the CMR Bonneville effort brought two cars powered by the Synergy V-8 to the salt flats: Cookie and Wairua. Cookie is an early-1990s Nissan Sunny (NX2000, pictured above) that went 184 mph on Bonneville timing before it destroyed its Honda K20 transmission. Wairua is a slippery streamliner that reached 260 mph to set a new record in the G/FS category.
This little beauty was unknown to me until I saw it at Bonneville. The PC50 first debuted in 1967, according to our friendly neighborhood expert at American Honda, Jon Seidel, and this version is from 1969-70. It uses a step-through pressed-steel frame design like Honda’s popular Super Cub line, suspended by a leading-link fork and a swingarm rear end with dual shocks. This one has the optional leg shields. It has pedals for when the 49cc engine, rated at 1.8 hp, isn’t enough.
Lightning Motorcycles has been impressing us for years. In 2012, former editor Troy Siahaan gave its electric-powered superbike a spin, and he probably still giggles like a schoolgirl thinking about its phenomenal acceleration, as he did in this article’s video. Later that year Lighting brought the bike to Bonneville and came away with a 218-mph top speed, making it the fastest production motorcycle in the world and giving the streetbike its LS-218 monicker.
This year Lightning has upgraded its e-bike, bringing its power output to 246 hp measured at the wheel, and Lightning CEO Richard Hatfield told us he thinks there’s at least 20 hp extra to be unleashed. A pre-Bonneville shakedown run at El Mirage saw rider Jim Hoogerhyde take this streamlined version to 212 mph. The trip to the salt was next, but the loose and bumpy surface supplied inadequate traction. Telemetry showed a maximum ground speed of 209.8 mph, which is slightly higher than the 207.8 mph timing slip it earned. What’s astonishing is that tire speed reached more than 230 mph and telemetry revealed the throttle achieved a maximum of only 58%! Much more to come…
We were invited to Bonneville to see the exploits of The Spirit Of Munro, a streamlined modern Indian Scout piloted by Lee Munro, the great-grand-nephew of Bonneville legend Burt Munro, an Indian Scout racer immortalized by Anthony Hopkins in the film, The World’s Fastest Indian. The full report and video of that effort can be seen in the link directly below.
Lee Munro rode this Indian Scout to 191 mph during Bonneville Speed Week. Take a close look at the picture to see the bizarre surface at Bonneville. (Photo by Indian.)
Erin Sills, on right, is a multi-time land-speed record holder and shines as an example of how females can inspire riders of all kinds. This year at Speed Week she took her S1000RR to 200.7 mph on Bonneville’s short course but then was stymied by just 196 mph on the slushy Long course. Interestingly, Sills’ tuner, Curtice Thom, told us the BMW’s swingarm is filled with 80 pounds of lead shot to help it hook up on the salt!
Meanwhile, Erin’s friend Trev Richter, an instructor at Rawhyde Adventures, rode his R1200GS to 135 mph, then this week went 145 mph at the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials. His efforts are made on behalf of Race For Relief, an organization supporting veterans through motorcycling.
This beauty was built by Jim Mosher of Performance Indian, and the craftsmanship is eye-poppingly brilliant. After considerable motor mods, he once had the pair of engines displace 1900cc. This year he brought the size down to 750cc each so he could compete in the 1000cc class (flathead motors like these are allowed a 33% displacement advantage), with somewhere near 105 hp reaching the rear tire. Rider Craig Murray piloted the bike to a new class record of 136.9 mph. Amazingly, Mosher says his twin-engined bike is licensed and insured for the street.
This aluminum-bodied partial streamliner was built around a 1950 Triumph 650, that has had a million modifications. Let’s begin with the cylinder head that has been reversed to flow air into the front, with exhaust headed out the rear. Again, the level of craftsmanship is extremely high and far beyond what is reasonable to most anyone who isn’t a Bonneville racer. Fantastic!
This machine, shorn of its aircraft-inspired bodywork, is an accurate representation of the 1920 Indian Scout that Burt Munro rode to a world record at Bonneville in 1967. This replica was constructed for use in the film, The World’s Fastest Indian. In the center background is Burt’s son, John Munro, and to his left is Lee Munro, who rode Indian’s new Spirit Of Munro.
The fastest speed Burt Munro ever clocked at Bonneville was 190.07 mph in 1967, but that was on a one-way run that didn’t qualify as an official record. Lee’s fastest speed this year on a one-way run was 191.29 mph.
Burt was credited with an official record speed of 183.59 mph, an amazing feat for a motorcycle engine originally constructed in 1920. In 2014, John Munro noticed a calculation error made when determining the bike’s actual top speed in 1967, which upped Burt’s record slightly to 184.087 mph.
Another aluminum-bodied streamliner, this one an oddball all the way from Sweden! To be different, it uses a 650cc Jawa speedway engine for power, a minimalist mill that has propelled the bullet-shaped motorcycle to more than 140 mph.
As if transporting a quirky streamliner across the Atlantic doesn’t adequately display the dedication of owner Anders Johnsson, the sign hung in his pits hammers home the point. It lists the results he’s had at Bonneville since first attending in 2008, and the sign also includes upcoming years stretching to 2025!
Earning the top spot in my list is this unassuming Indian Chief. First, I love how it’s entered in the Modified Partial Streamliner class (MPS). You’ll notice the only streamlining efforts are its headlight turned around backward and the wind deflectors ahead of the frame rails and the forward cylinder’s exhaust header.
But the best part of the bike’s story is its rider, Bob Lewis. Bob is a lovely gentleman whose poor hearing can be forgiven because his age is nearing 80 years old and he’s still competing on the bike he bought in high school! Lewis, who still kicks over the Chief’s 82 c.i. motor on his own, tells us he has ridden the bike to 128 mph, and he was shooting for 130 mph this year!