With the Corvette name comes a rich racing history, and that history extends far beyond the drag racing and road racing prowess Corvettes are most notably known for.
In Bonneville, more specifically the Bonneville Speedway, several Corvette drivers have chased, set, and broken speed records on Mother Nature’s high speed proving grounds. While Corvette enthusiasts that run the salt may be fewer in number than other Corvette racers that doesn’t mean their stories are any less worth telling and today we’re going to celebrate few of the more notable vehicles and drivers to triumph in the salt.
The C1 chassis Corvette is an American icon and its timeless design has solidified the cars standing as one of the best looking sports cars ever built. Not just a pretty face the 1956 model also holds the distinction as being one of the first cars to make one horse power per cubic-inch, a big deal in the 1950s and a performance figure still worth taking note of today.
Undoubtedly a collectors’ item many C1 owners would rather keep their car under a cover than covered in salt, Not K.C. Stawmyre and David Gray however, still sporting the 265ci motor their far-from-stock ’56 is one of a handful of C1s that run the flats.
In 2013 David ran the car up to 200 miles per hour, and the next day KC took it up to 206 miles per hour, marking 2013 as the first year the car bounded over the two hundred mile high hurdle.
The Original Land Speedster
Bruce Griesler is one of the most decorated drivers to ever travel down the salt setting 99 (yes one shy of a hundred!) different land speed records in his prime. Fifty of his records were set in an extensively customized ’53 Studebaker, but his land speed career started in 1957 behind the wheel of an SR-1 factory Corvette.
Bruce managed to take this car –which is one of only six ever built — to a top speed of 126 miles per hour which was not only a new record for the B/sports class, but Bruce’s first of what would be many.
Though he managed this particular record at the El Mirage dry lake in California, and not the salt flats, there was no way we could leave this top end racer off the list.
Triumphs Despite Its Faults
Though it may have looked incredibly aerodynamic for the time, and been a vast departure from the C1 and C2, the C3 Corvette is surprisingly less aerodynamic than the two cars that preceded it. In fact it didn’t succeed in having a lower coefficient of drag than the C1.
In most arenas slight deficiencies in aerodynamic design wouldn’t be a huge deal, but in the realm of chasing down top speed numbers this was a significant problem that needed to be overcome.
Instead of manipulating and otherwise changing the curvaceous factory lines Duan McKinney overcame the drag problems with raw power. To do so he enlisted the help of Bob Robe, Bob Kehoe, and the legendary Gale Banks. Christned the Sundowner this wicked blue ’66 went through several revisions over the years it was active.
Gale, who is known more today for his work in the diesel realm, has had his hand in an extensive list of very fast cars. Revision ‘A’ for the Sundowner was a Banks-built naturally-aspirated motor that was cooled by an intercooler set up that used C02 to keep things frigid.
Though incredibly innovative this configuration proved, at times, a little too effective and could only be used after third gear because otherwise the carburetor would freeze solid becoming a useless block of ice mounted atop a very cool motor.
The power plant that followed the first was a forced induction one utilizing a pair of AirResearch TEO691 turbos mounted to a 430ci motor. This configuration was cooled by a more standard water to air intercooler and propelled the car up to 240.738 miles per hour, aerodynamics be damned.
That number made the car the fastest stock bodied passenger car in the world in 1982 setting a AA/BGT record in the process.
The car continued to be successful in the years that followed and earned a well deserved induction into the Bonneville hall of fame in 2002.
The Future is now
One of the most radical Corvettes to ever tear down the flats looks very, very unlike any other Corvette in existence. Conceptualized by German industrial designer Luigi Colani — who has a serious resume of extremely unconventional designs under his belt — the Colani Speedster was built with one goal in mind, going fast.
Based on the C4 chassis Colani’s version of the Corvette debuted at SEMA in 1989. Underneath the elongated front end is a 1,500 horsepower supercharged motor. Having the supercharger protrude from the hood would have negated much of the other aerodynamic work so it was side mounted instead. In an effort to make the car perform even better a small spoiler was hidden within the snout like nose to keep the front wheels planted at speed.
Bonneville veteran Mike Strasburge took the car to a reported 230.928 miles per hour, though Colani himself states in this video that the car drove 300 miles per hour in the salt.
Since he was never really quite patient enough to wait around for official runs, or willing to modify the car to fit traditional classes, the car holds no official records but it is still one of the most unique Vettes to ever hit the salt.
The car eventually ended up on eBay and its current whereabouts are unknown, Luigi however is alive and well today at the age of 87.
A Little More Straight Forward
Coming back from the future Ed and Glenn Carter’s C4 looks more traditional in part because of the restrictions of the B-GT class it competed in.
Powered by a 440 cubic inch V8 Ed drove the car to 230.82 mph in 1995 which was a record for the B-GT class at the time.
Not Just A Man’s Game
Gail Phillips is no stranger to the Bonneville Speedway flats having raced the flats for over 11 years. She holds numerous records, one of the most prestigious being the 7th woman ever to be inducted into the 200 mph club.
In 2006 she piloted her patriotic 1999 Corvette to an average top speed of 190.15 mph, breaking the 28 year E/Grand Touring record. Surprisingly her car, despite coming with one from the factory, didn’t have an LS1 motor installed at the time of her record breaking run. Instead it had an ever dependable small-block between the fenders.
The SBC motor was chosen in part for its reliability and simplicity, but it was also utilized to meet class requirements. The E/Grand Touring class limits displacement to 260ci and her motor squeaked in just under the barrier. Still the motor made an impressive 445 horsepower which combined with the C5’s low coefficient of drag proved more than enough.
The car also still runs stock brakes and it’s the parachutes sticking off the back doing most of the work bringing it back down to more common speeds.
A Team Effort
Setting a goal to drive over 200 miles an hour at age 65 might sound ridiculous but that is exactly what George Michael did in 2012. An avid Corvette fan since the day he purchased his first 427ci powered Corvette in 1966 George he has owned 25 Corvettes over the years and as of 2014 he had five in his name.
In addition to being a Corvette fanatic George is a seasoned racer competing in several different disciplines of racing, most of that behind the wheel of a Corvette.
To fulfill his 200+ bucket list dream George chose a C5 Corvette which as Gail had already proven was a very aerodynamic base to start from. The motor for the car was built by friend Mike Bogan and the cage around the veteran driver was built by Roger Holmgren of Lazarus Race Cars. Since stability is such an important factor at the speeds he planned to travel his team of builders added 800 pounds of weight throughout the car to keep it stable on the salt.
George was able to take his black beauty up to 214.69 mph in 2012. Hoping to beat the previous year’s record of 236.93 set by fellow Corvette driver, Robert Duffin, Goerge was slightly dissapointed with his results. But, how disappointed can you be when you’ve gone 200+ miles per hour at age 65?
Salt flat racing Corvettes may still not be the water cooler talk of the week but there certainly are a number of racers worth taking a second look at. You never know, maybe the bug to go faster than fast will bite you and you will be the next one out on the flats!