COVER STORY: COMMON GROUND
After sharing the salt in 1954, these two record-holders are now in good hands.
Standing on the cracked, hard-packed surface of El Mirage, it’s easy to get the vibe. The spirits of past racers seem like they’re right there, if only you could relax your gaze enough to see them, shimmering through the decades like heat rising off the hardpan. Turn your head fast enough and you just might catch a glimpse of the dust trail left in a lakester’s wake.
That weird time vortex is only heightened when these two icons of speed are parked on the lakebed. It could be 1954 all over again. The lake doesn’t know the difference. Neither do the surrounding mountains, ever present in photos then and now.
The telltale as to which decade you’re experiencing—for those of us too young to have been there in person, anyway—is the fact that these racing veterans appear before us in vivid color, not the muted gray tones of old magazine stories, scrapbook photos, or digital black-and-white scans. The Williams Bros. roadster is coated in Titian Red nitrocellulose, the Tommy Thompson streamliner in Wheatland Yellow, standing in for Thompson’s original Goldenrod Yellow.
“It was always yellow,” says Tom Mcintyre, “and the number was always 990,” chosen by Thompson because that’s how much money he had invested in the car when it first went to Bonneville in 1953.
Mcintyre owns both cars, though he doesn’t think of them that way. His role is more as a guardian, tending to these machines while they’re in his hands. “We need to be careful to preserve the car exactly the way it is,” he told us as we gingerly moved the
roadster around for our photo shoot. “The car will be around long after I’m gone, and the next conservator would want it that way.”
In the decade that the roadster has been with Mcintyre, it has been outside of his garage just three times, our photo shoot being the third.
We have paired these cars for several reasons. As part of Mcintyre’s remarkable collection, they’re kept with several other significant race cars, including the Penske Racing/sunoco ’68 Camaro that Mark Donohue drove to the 1968 Trans-am championship, and Mickey Thompson’s ’63 Z06 Corvette, which was prepped for racing by Smokey Yunick, powered by one of the first “Mystery Motor” 427s, and raced by Junior Johnson at Daytona (see HOT ROD April 2015).
The roadster and ’liner are both Bonneville record holders, though they achieved those marks decades apart. They also spent time in hibernation, tucked away for years in the garages of the men who drove them to fame.
They are salt-flat brothers in another way, too. They both participated in the Sixth Annual Bonneville National Speed Trials in 1954, the roadster for its one and only Bonneville race, the streamliner for the second time in a Bonneville appearance record that would span decades. We wish we had found a photo of the two of them together on the salt in 1954. Short of that, we felt pairing them on this hallowed ground in the Mojave Desert would be the next best thing.