It holds the record for the fastest naturally aspirated piston-powered vehicle, a mark made 50 year after its debut and following two aborted attempts and an extensive renovation, and now it’s ready for a new owner. Mecum on Saturday will auction the famed 1968 Challenger 2 Streamliner, which Danny Thompson piloted to 448.757 mph on Aug. 12, 2018, at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Estimates say the Challenger should fetch between $900,000 and $1.5 million.
The 32-foot car has a pretty epic backstory. It was developed by Hall of Fame driver and engineer Mickey Thompson, with financing and engineering help from the team behind the Ford GT40 Mark IV Le Mans race car, as a successor to the four-engine Challenger, which he raced to 406.6 mph at Bonneville in 1960 in a run made unofficial because the car broke on its return run. Plans to make a go at an official record in the Challenger 2 in 1968 were dampened, literally, by rain and flooding, then scuttled again 20 years later when Thompson and his wife were murdered in front of their California home.
Thompson’s son, Danny Thompson, pulled the streamliner from storage on the 50th anniversary of the Challenger I run to begin an eight-year restoration and update the car to meet the requirements of the Southern California Timing Association.
Most notably, Danny Thompson replaced the old Ford 427 single overhead cam engines with a pair of Hemi V8s, each driving a set of wheels and running on a mix of 87% nitromethane and 13% methanol, juicing combined output from 1,800 horsepower to 5,000. It employs twin three-speed gearboxes to connect the engines through twin triple-disk clutches, two belt-drive engine connectors and a pair of specially built extreme heavy-duty magnesium quick-change differentials.
It retains the original suspension designed by Kar Kraft, formerly of Brighton, Michigan, with a one-off set of ultra-high-speed shocks, and it got aluminum wheels fitted with special tires made of rubber and prototype nylon weave with banded steel reinforcements to handle the heavy centrifugal loads. It also received four carbon-ceramic disc brakes and dual parachutes, new engine mounts, cockpit controls, steering system, fresh air tanks, steering wheel-mounted air shifters and a fire suppression system. Finally, it wears a new coat of blue paint on its aluminum body.
Awesome though the car may be, it’s difficult to envision much of a market for the 5,800-pound streamliner, which measures 32 feet in length, 36 inches wide and 37 inches high at the canopy. Prospective customers would seem to be either people with too much money and ego, or some mad scientist speed demon willing to take another stab at the land speed record and possessing financial backing. We’ll find out this weekend whether anyone steps up to the plate.