Like fast cars? Then how about the fastest piston-powered car in history, the Challenger 2 streamliner driven by Danny Thompson to a record 448.757 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats?
And yes, it’s got a Hemi. Two of them, matter of fact.
Arguably the world’s most-famous classic speed-record car, Challenger 2 will be offered for bidding during Mecum Auctions’ signature sale at Kissimmee, Florida, in January 2020.
Originally built by the legendary Mickey Thompson, Danny’s father, Challenger 2 took a half century before fulfilling its mission of smashing the highest official SCTA AA/Fuel Streamliner speed record for a piston-engine vehicle, recorded in August 12, 2018, at the Salt Flats, 50 years after its first test run.
The history of the blue projectile is marked by misfortune, even tragedy, before it was refurbished and updated by Danny Thompson to fulfill his late father’s dream.
Mickey Thompson was the first American to break the 400 mph barrier in his Challenger 1 streamliner when he hit 406.60 mph in 1960 at Bonneville to beat Englishman John Cobb’s one-way record of 402 mph. The car unfortunately had a breakdown on its return run, which robbed Thompson of the two-way record.
Thompson returned in 1968 with Challenger 2, a more-sophisticated version of the original Challenger, which was powered by four Pontiac V8 engines. Challenger 2 was rolled out with a pair of single-overhead-cam Ford 427 V8s, engineered with the help of Ford .
In its first tests, Challenger 2 was driven by Thompson to 365 mph, and eventually reached more than 400 mph. But rain caused flooding, which prevented a record attempt. Ford later pulled its sponsorship, Thompson put away Challenger 2 and moved on to other racing pursuits.
Mickey and Danny Thompson pulled the Salt Flats racer out of storage 20 years later, planning to pursue another run at the speed record. But that was not to be. Mickey Thompson and his wife, Trudy, were murdered in March 1988, gunned down at their home in Bradbury, California. A former business associate was convicted in 2007 of orchestrating the killings.
A heartbroken Danny Thompson put the car back into storage along with other pieces of his father’s racing career.
“But Danny never lost sight of the dream he shared with his father,” according to the Mecum catalog description, “and on the 50th anniversary of the original 406 mph run, he took the wraps off Challenger 2 and moved it to his Huntington Beach, California, shop to facilitate its resurrection, during which he restored, retrofitted and updated the car to meet contemporary SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) requirements.”
While the basic Challenger 2 stayed the same, under its skin was an all-new speed machine.
“Beneath the repainted aluminum envelope, Danny and his team executed a plethora of upgrades,” the catalog says. “The two Ford 427 SOHC engines that originally powered the car were replaced with twin Brad Anderson 500 CI dry-block, A-fuel-type Hemi V8 engines, each driving one set of wheels and running on a brew of 87% nitromethane and 13% methanol through Accufab throttle bodies, more than doubling the original output from a combined 1,800 hp to 5,000 hp.”
The long list of motorsport components that went into the reborn Challenger 2 is indeed impressive, and can be read about in the catalog description. Danny Thompson had succeeded in bringing the streamliner back to where it belonged.
Driving at nearly 450 mph on the Bonneville salt, Danny Thompson claimed the record, “vindicating his father’s faith in the streamliner and closing the circle on a 50-year quest to return the Thompson family name to the top of the Bonneville record books,” the catalog concludes.
The Thompson speed-record streamliner will be on the docket along with about 3,500 collector cars, trucks and motorcycles during Mecum’s auction in Kissimmee, Florida, held January 2-12 at Osceola Heritage Park. For more information, visit the auction website.