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Quiet Revolution at Bonneville


There's a quiet revolution taking place in the world of land speed racing, a revolution that is not immediately obvious.

Although people have been going fast on the Bonneville Salt Flats since the automobile was invented, organized racing under the sanction of the Southern California Timing Association and the Bonneville Nationals Inc. didn't begin until 1949 making this year the fifty-fifth year of continuous racing.

Alex Xydias, founder of the SO-CAL Speed Shop, was one of the original "49'ers" who made the 37-hour trek to the Great Salt Lake to run one of the few American-built streamliners. Campaigned with his late friend and author, Dean Batchelor, the SO-CAL Special ran 210.92 mph in 1950. However, the venerable Ford flathead V8, which had powered all the SO-CAL race cars, had reached its zenith as first the Chrysler Hemi and soon after the small-block Chevy dowsed its flame.

Just as the small-block Chevy put the flattie on the trailer so GM's new generation of modern "bangers," the Ecotec, is making an impact in the motorsports world, particularly Bonneville and NHRA drag racing. GM are not alone, however, two Dodge Neon powered cars, a Roadster and a production SRT4, both ran around the 200 mph mark while an almost stock Toyota Prius hybrid ran 135 mph. In essence, the bangers are back and it's GM's Ecotec that has the pits a-buzz.

Lakes racers study the rule book for so-called "soft" records. Records that have stood for a long time or that are slow and that can be fairly easily taken with up-to-date tuning techniques. And, if you study the rule book the big engine records, those taken with motors of 350 cubes or more, are typically in the 240 to 300 mph range. Hence, way expensive and difficult to attack. However, if you look in the lower capacity records, 3.0 liters and less, there appears to be room for expansion. And this is the window that GM is exploring with various Ecotec-powered race cars.


To cover the field, GM installed Ecotec motors in the Haas Racing '34 Roadster and Ron Main's Flatfire (the world's fastest flathead) now, ironically, powered by an Ecotec (once again, a GM motor surpasses the Ford flathead) and re-named Eco Fire.With Ron behind the wheel the new car, re-motored in just a few weeks, set a new 2.0L Blown Fuel Streamliner record at 309.607 mph (his fastest speed was 313.539 mph). The old record was just 250.235-that's a quantum leap of almost 60 mph and attests to the Ecotec motors potential. Incidentally, these Bonneville-prepped Ecotec motors only produce about 800 hp whereas the drag racing versions are pushing 1300 hp! Can you imagine one of those tuned for the salt?


Equally impressive, the Todd Haas Racing '34 Roadster achieved a top speed of  207.222mph using a supercharged 2.0 litre verison of the Ecotec engine and in doing so set a new record in the G/Blown Fuel Roadster Class of 193.231.

Also running, but for time only and not a record, was the new Chevrolet Cobalt saloon. In the hands of NHRA drag racing champion Nelson Hoyos, the Cobalt blistered down the salt at a best of 243 mph-more than 30 mph faster than the existing record. Proving that it is once again the age of the "banger." Revolution apart, there's still plenty of V8 thunder at Bonneville where petrol heads can soak up the fumes of 98 percent nitro charges and watch all manner of cars and motorcycles go in excess of 300 mph.

If you've never made the trip put it on you list of "must dos" before your lights go out. For more info, go to     

Story: Tony Thacker



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