Speed Freak: Mickey Thompson's Challenger I
A look at the milestone achieved by a special machine and it’s ambitious creator.
Marion Lee “Mickey” Thompson, an early follower of the hot rod scene who is hungry in the pursuit of speed since his early 20's. Together with his first wife Judy Thompson have set endurance records with GM products and became a very well received individual within the company.
With a record setting 266.866 mph under Thompson’s belt, Thompson want to become the fastest. So he set out to build a new car that will break all land speed record before it. With crazy ideas such as adding twice as much engine than his previous rig with two engines powering the front and two more powering the rear making an all wheel drive machine. However, his pursuit to go faster isn’t the craziest part, it’s how he got around to accomplish it.
With very little funding to build his new record machine. Thompson decided to invest his savings to start his own shop producing performance parts for GM products to raise revenue and on the side do what he does best. Setting records. Thompson went berserk on setting speed records across the country and for a very good reason, with such great achievements comes with great publicity and sponsorship.
Thompson’s pursuit to be the fastest is now back on track with his greatest project known as the “Challenger I” now mainly supported by sponsorship. Goodyear tires sponsored Thompson and developed special high speed tires for his new record car. GM vice president at the time Semon Knudsen supplied Thompson with four Pontiac 389 V8s each topped with supercharger from GMC 6-71 diesel engine along with a check for $1000. The car took shape with the help of a team of mechanics with nearly all of them volunteered to do the work for free.
The end result is a metallic blue streamliner with four heavily tuned engines each coupled to a Cadillac transmission with a special system developed by Thompson to link all four gear changes simultaneously, and to further save spending on the project, the windshield was fabricated from a wielder mask that is only 4 inches wide.
On Thompson’s first attempt, he made history of achieving 406.6 mph on September 6, 1960 and become the first American to break the 400 mph barrier on the 13 km wide, prehistoric dried up lake bed of Bonneville. Smashing the previous record of 394.19 mph by a British speed seeker John Cobb with an airplane powered car. The Challenger I could’ve easily gone faster but the sophisticated gear change system malfunctioned and as a result left one of the four engines stuck in neutral therefore blowing a motor before a second run can be attempted.
But even so, Mickey Thompson’s still went out and succeeded in his mission and it’s his greatest achievement as well as one of the greatest milestone in motorsport.