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Fred Luther Tries for 300 MPH on a Plymouth - Powered Motorcycle at Bonneville

Fred Luther Tries to Go 200 MPH on a Motorcycle at Bonneville

* Updated * Thanks to reader John Root of GeekBobber we now have included more photos of Fred Luther’s motorcycle and the text of an article about the machine in the June 1950 Cycle magazine that can be found at the bottom of the post. 

Fred Luther was a motorcycle racer, who competed as early as 1909. Not much more is known about him other than at that time he was from Texas, and was listed as an entrant in a few other races on board tracks in the period. Twenty years later in 1934 Luther was in California where he built this motorcycle to try to go 200 m.p.h. and receive $30,000 worth of contracts from sponsors if he reached the goal.

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And what a monster the machine turned out to be. Into a stretched and reinforced Excelsior frame, Luther installed a 1934 Plymouth six-cylinder engine. He was assisted by Adolph Thuiller who helped him with the frame modifications and Jimmy McNeil who prepared the engine and raised the horsepower from 77 to 117. The engine drove through the original Excelsior transmission that was later replaced with a Plymouth unit.

Of particular interest is the braking system that was built for it. Both sides of the rear of the machine carried pivoting lever-controlled arms complete with steel skids that were used to slow it down and also keep it upright when stationary.

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After testing at the Muroc Dry Lakes and further refinements Luther took it to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1935 to try for the 200 m.p.h. goal. There he was only able to get in two runs with the machine. His first trip down the salt resulted in a speed of 140 m.p.h. On his second run The engine broke a connecting rod at 150-160 m.p.h. and his attempt was finished. The text from the June 1950 Cycle magazine article The Plymouth Monster below tells the complete story. Luther’s machine has survived and can be seen here.

Fred Luther Tries for 300 MPH on a Plymouth - Powered Motorcycle at Bonneville

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13 responses to “Fred Luther Tries to Go 200 MPH on a Motorcycle at Bonneville

    • Also read through that post for the following:

      “In 1937, McNeil developed a motorcycle featuring a six cylinder automobile engine for a Bonneville salt Flats record speed record attempt. Fred Luther attempted a motorcycle land speed record run-on the Salt Flats, but a high speed engine failure ended the record attempt. With his retirement from racing, James McNeil faded into history.”
      http://dlmracing.blogspot.com/2014/04/a-tale-of-two-mcneils.html

      Considering McNeil’s history with first Cyclone and then Excelsior (credited with the OHC Excelsiors) , and Luther’s involvement with Excelsior at the same time I find that quite believable but haven’t found any other verification of this yet.

  1. I thought so.
    Anyway,if you go by the words on the cover of P.M. mag. youd be under the impression that the bike had already achieved 300 mph.
    What a bunch of mularkey

  2. This machine and many others of similar ilk just goes to show that if you give a bloke a challenge he will use creative engineering(not a computer) and to try his best to achieve something special. where would we be today without people like this who fit ‘a quart into a pint pot’ – some more modern day creations would include Carol Shelby and some of the motor bikes built with a Dodge Viper engine, the one I believe BMW built with one of their V12 car engines and some of the creations Jay Leno financed his Big Dog Garage to build.
    To Old Motor and all your contributors – well done and keep up these amazing stories so our grandchildren can one day see what could be done with a ‘dream/challenge/ what if’ train of thought.
    cheers John

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