An Entertaining & Informative Vintage Automobile Internet Magazine

Bonneville Speed Week 1959 – Exceptional Photos by William Hewitt

On the third week of August, dedicated racers whose ultimate goal is to set a land speed record (LSR), descend on the Bonneville Salt Flats near the City of Wendover, located on the western side of Utah near the Nevada border.

Land speed racing began there in 1914 with a “Blitzen” Benz in which “Terrible” Teddy Tetzlaff set a land speed record of 142.85 mph over a distance of one half-mile. Racing became more popular at the Salt Flats in the thirties when Ab Jenkins, Sir Malcolm Campbell, and John Cobb set sensational records on the salt.

The Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), first formed in 1937, began sanctioned land speed racing on the dry lakes of Southern California in the pre and postwar years. In 1949 the organization expanded its operations to the Bonneville Salt Flats and held its first Bonneville Speed Trials there on the salt.

Racing photographer Bill Hewitt visited Bonneville in 1959 and took a series of images during Speed Week that we will be sharing with you in a series starting today. The photos are courtesy of the Revs Institute for Automotive Research. You can view the latest of the Institutes exceptional newsletter stories, this month authored by racing historian and writer Doug Nye. In the second half of his writing, he covers John Cobb and the “Railton Special” record run at Bonneville in 1939 accompanied by outstanding colored photos by John Dugdale.

Four Racing Teams Enroute to Bonneville 1959

  • Four racing teams from California traveled together to the “Speed Trials” in 1959.

Four Fuel Injected Pontiac Engines - Challenger I Bonneville 1959

  • The four fuel injected Pontiac engines in Mickey Thompson’s “Challenger 1.”

Mickey Thompson built the four-engined “Challenger 1,” with which he was able to attain speeds of over 360 mph at the 1959 Bonneville Speed Trials. A year later after further development of the car Thompson became the first to break the 400 mph one-way mark, set earlier by John Cobb at 402 mph. Mickey piloted the streamliner to a one-way speed record of 406.60 mph, outdoing John Cobb’s earlier 402 mph one-way record.

Mickey Thompson Bonneville 1959 III

  • Mickey Thompson at work on the Salt Flats doing the math.

Mickey Thompson's Challenger I Bonneville 1959

  • Thompson’s crew prepairing the sleek “Challenger I” for run on the salt. 

Mas Okumura 1932 Ford Three Window Coupe Bonneville 1959

  • Mas Okumura’s 1932 Ford three window coupe in front of a wide variety of other racers.

Bob Herda's Attempt I Streamliner III

  • Bob Herda’s crew burning the “Midnight Oil” to finish his car for the Speed Trials.

Bob Herda’s number 999c “Attempt I” streamliner was built over a six year period and first run at Bonneville in 1956. By the end of that event, Herta was able to reach a speed of 237.78 mph, and finished second in Class C. The streamliner powered by a supercharged Chrysler 300 c.i. Hemi was built by Doug Hartelt with the assistance of the legendary engine builder Fred Carrillo.

  • Herta straps on his helmet while the crews buttons up the car for a run down the course.

Bob Herda's Attempt I Streamliner I

7 responses to “Bonneville Speed Week 1959 – Exceptional Photos by William Hewitt

  1. I’m going to hazard a guess on the 4 cars lined up at the gas station. L to R
    57 Ford DelRio wagon (without hd springs for towing)
    53 Olds 88
    56 Chevy 4 door wagon
    57 Ford Hard to tell if it’s a wagon, but I only see 1 door handle. Another DelRio?

    • The cars are parked near the old A-1 Hotel in Wendover Utah. At the very far left of the image is the main entrance of the A-1, with the 4 vertical posts.

      Internet search “A-1 hotel””Spokane hot rodding” for some pictures from 1953.

  2. I have attended Speed Week only one time and that was back in 2003. Phenomenal time. These pictures are really incredible, representing a time the same and yet so different from when I went the Salt Flats. I don’t think I saw single sedan pulling a race car where in 1959 , only 44 years later, I remember only a few 1/2 ton pickups, let alone an abundance of sedans or station wagons. 350’s and up are the rule. Lots of changes yet Bonneville still is the hot rodder’s holy grail. And these great photos show why. Thanks for posting them here.

  3. That’s what is great about Bonneville, , 1932 3 window under a tarp, with a Chevy truck sporting Olds flipper caps as a chase rig, to the right a Corvette with a tow bar attached to the front, cars with taped on numbers. What a great photo. Thanks

  4. Mickey Thompson is holding another classic in his hand – a Cross mechanical pencil. I had no idea that model went back so far in time. Cross writing instruments were on the list of classic all-American products until they began importing their ink refills from China. For all I know the pens and pencils are made there now was well.

  5. A very long tow with cars loaded like they are. All the hoses on Challenger 1 look to be pre-molded…love to have the hose clamp concession for his cars. Always wanted to go for Speed Week, think I’ll go see if the Mrs is up for a road trip! Thanks for the pics!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *