Bonneville, Part 3: Inline Insanity

1934 DeSoto Airflow.


I might have given the impression in my last Bonneville posting that I eschew non-conformity. Au contraire! As far as I’m concerned, the weirder the better. I’m particularly partial to inline engines, like the 1939 Chrysler L-head straight-eight in this 1934 DeSoto. By the way, the red hat on this team member means that his team (but not necessarily their car) belongs to the Bonneville 200 mph (322 kph) club.

1934 DeSoto Airstream.


This car’s engine previously resided in a streamliner. As I recall, it ran 240-plus mph (386 kph), which got Chrysler’s attention. When the new street Hemi came into being, Chrysler sold the team a crate Hemi (for one dollar) to install in their car. Since they abhorred a vacuum (in this case, an engine and no body), the team plugged the straight-eight right into the DeSoto.


1934 DeSoto Airflow.


The engine had a Rootes-type supercharger that made deliciously mechanical and tech-y sounds on the starting line. Although the car was impeccably prepared, a few teething problems kept the team from running much faster than 140 mph (225 kph) in 2001. I didn’t see the car after that, so I’m not sure what it ultimately ran.


1937 Chevy Business Coupe.


Another immaculately prepared car,  this one a ’37 Chevy Business Coupe that looks like the recipient of a mild chop.


Ain’t no Blue Flame Six.


All I can say about this engine is that it’s a six. Whether a Chevy or GMC six, I’m not sure, but one thing I am sure of is that Chevy sixes didn’t come with cross-flow heads. Closer inspection reveals a Wayne head.


It’s a fuelie!


In addition, they certainly didn’t come with fuel injection; these look like Hilborn units. Stu Hilborn, who was born in Calgary, Alberta, served in the US Air Force in WWII. He was a chemical engineer, and after the war he started manufacturing fuel-injection systems that became a fixture at Indy, the dry lakes, and at Bonneville. In 1952 nearly every car in the Indy 500 was running Hilborns, including Alberto Ascari’s Ferrari. Hilborn is still in business, in Aliso Viejo, California.


Nice tochas.


The long rear deck tells you that this car began life as a Business Coupe. The Sport Coupe had a rumble seat and an exterior spare tire.


A “fabulous” 1951 or ’52 Hudson Hornet.


In 1951 Hudson upped the cubic capacity of its six to 308 cu. in. (roughly 5.1 liters). Hemmings stated that Hudsons with the Twin H-Power carb setup (dealer-installed twin 1-barrel carbs) could do 0-60 mph (95.6 kph) in 12.1 seconds (muscle-car territory in 1951). The Hornet pictured above had run 140-plus mph (225 kph). The car number and class designation hint at the 308 cu. in. engine underhood. In this case, ‘X’ signifies an inline flathead engine, while ‘Pro’ denotes production sheetmetal without aerodynamic enhancements.


1950 Buick Roadmaster Straight-Eight.


Gary Hart, of Springfield, MO, runs a Buick straight-eight with a GMC 4-71 Rootes-type supercharger (4.7 -liters/284 cu. in.).Hart has run this car in a number of different classes and set records, among them a one-way fast pass of 143.9 mph (232 kph).


Gary Hart’s huffed Buick straight-eight.


The XXO designation indicates that the car is running an inline overhead-valve engine with a specialty cylinder head. Hart has run over 240 mph (386 kph) in a 1953 Studebaker with a big-block Chevy.


1951 Buick Straight-Eight with blower.


Another vintage Buick with a huffer. An homage to Madonna?


1949 Olds Club Coupe


Probably my favorite car EVAH at Bonneville. This show-car quality Olds would show up with a different engine every year it ran; this year’s engine was an inline. Since I didn’t want to disturb the crew, I didn’t ask them what it was. The fact that the car sported a parachute on its ass end indicates that it either ran very fast or had bad brakes.


Gee, what year was this car made in?


This car’s markings gave me, as a graphics junkie, a major chubby. They’ve been hand-painted–no sticky vinyl here. Period gray (Olds called it “Metal Gray”) paint under a cream-colored number with dark blue (not black) outline. By the way, the owner runs a race car shop, called Rocket Science, near Sun Valley, ID.


1949 Olds Club Coupe


No mystery here. The only question is what kind of engine. My guess is a GMC six.


1949 Rocket Science Olds interior.


This guy has style–an original ivory steering wheel with the De Luxe horn ring! Unfortunately, some fan saw the car at Bonneville and bought it. The car was returned to street drive-ability and now cruises the streets of San Francisco, or so does rumor have it.


1950 Jaguar XK 120.


Damn! This car is beautiful. I built a Pinewood Derby car for my younger son and this is what I sculpted. Yeah, I know. No Jaguars in Pinewood Derby.


1950 Jag XK 120.


This car was (sorry if I repeat myself) show-car quality as well. I’ve always loved 120s in spite of the fact that they were trucks–sort of like beautiful women that barked in bed. (Suzie-Q, this was long before we were married. I enjoy your, ah, enthusiasm).


Jag inline, DOHC six.


A friend of mine owned one of these, and later a 140. But once he drove a Porsche 356 it was bye-bye Jag. Sorry for the soft focus.


Mid-Fifties Mercedes 300 SL.


Bonneville participants are hardcore. Here’s another impeccable car. By the way, do you know what these things (and in thiscondition) sell for? Try $750,000. This one even has a set of fitted luggage.


Three-liter SOHC fule-injected inline six.

Mercedes 300 SL.


The owner/driver of the Mercedes was a real dickweed. He walked up the line of cars waiting to be inspected and loudly criticized the shortcomings of each. What a putz.


1938 Buick Special Model 46 Business Coupe.


In his Circle Track magazine columns, the late Smokey Yunick wrote nothing but bad things about inline sixes and eights, specifically citing crankshaft flex and failure. But judging from the number of Buick eights at Bonneville, somebody must have found a way to run these things in anger, at least for seven miles (11 km), without blowing them up.


1938 Buick eight with huffage.


These Buicks were fast cars in their day. In fact, the Century model designation signified the 100-mph (161 kph) speed that car could reach.


BVGC, ie, Blown Vintage Gas Coupe, I think.


I don’t have my SCTA rule book with me, but I think that this is what “BVGC” means. These guys towed all the way from Savannah, GA. Many teams make Bonneville their annual vacation (or holiday, metrically speaking).

Next up: Bonneville, Part 4: Pickups & Motorcycles.