It's been said salt corrodes that part of the brain where the common sense is stored. I'll buy that. After a few trips to Bonneville, I got it in my head that I'd like to blast across the salt in my 10-second '61 Morris Minor street car, nicknamed the Son of Godzilla-just to say I did it. So, I did it. It was pretty easy, too, thanks to the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association, its 130 MPH Club, and an army of friends who pitched in with elbow grease of various grades to help make it happen.
The Son of Godzilla, aka Li'l Zilla, looks more race than street, but any car that's licensed and insured, and built with basic safety equipment-seatbelts, helmet, and the like-can qualify for the 130 MPH Club. Each entrant gets five runs, consisting of a checkout pass plus four tries at running between 130 and 140 mph. Once you run 130 mph, or faster, you must back it up with another 130-plus run to get in the club.
My friend, Chris Clark, is a young guy, but we've been wrenching together for years, and he's had some solid seat time in Li'l Zilla. The plan was for Chris and me to drive the Morris to Bonneville, run 130 mph, try our luck at the 150 MPH Club, and drive home. We'd do it with a tiny toolkit and the clothes on our backs, supported by a peanut butter and jelly budget. We prepped for the trip by whipping up a fresh drivetrain for the car and swapping the street/strip 3.91 gears to some leggy 2.76s. We threw in an auxiliary fuel tank for greater cruising range and an antiroll bar for the 'strip.
The reality is, we ran out of time and money, and the rest of our plans-aero body tricks, adjustable ballast, overdrive trans, and so on-are just words on a list. We built a little towbar, so we'd only have to pay for gas for one car. Then, we kissed the women goodbye and departed Medford, Oregon, an hour behind schedule and grinning.
Around Klamath Falls, we stopped to check things out and were alarmed to find most of the tread missing from the left front tire on the Morris. We pressed on, regardless. Deer, trees, and mountains gave way to burros, sagebrush, and flatlands. We spent a day in Winnemucca, Nevada, looking for tires. Tomcat Peterson, a stranger in Salt Lake City whose phone number we happened to have, found a pair of front tires and rendezvoused with my brother, Wayne, and his son, Jeremy, on the way from Nebraska with Freckles, the Porsche 944T coming to battle Li'l Zilla for Baddest Street Car status. The new tires were speed rated to 138 mph (H rated), so the 150 MPH Club was out. We arrived in Wendover that afternoon, found the only tire-mounting machine in the county at Crawford's Tire & Lube shop, and celebrated with pizza.
The next morning was tech inspection on the salt, and Tomcat came out to crew for us. We set up our pit next to Freckles and wallowed in the historical significance of Bonneville. We were a part of it now. The next morning, we'd be flying across this hallowed ground. We all slept pretty light that night.
Out on the salt at first light, we attended the drivers' meeting where we learned, among other things, that, "at best, the salt has 60 percent of the traction found on asphalt." The instructions ended with, "Oh yeah, we set up the 130 course over there. Hope it works OK. Let's go racing."
The "130 people" found our way to the course, where we were joined by a USFRA official. After an hour-long question-and-answer session exploring every inch of the course and procedures, it was time to line up in the staging lane.
The officials waved Li'l Zilla to the line, and the salt stretched out before me. After what seemed like an hour of staring down-course, I heard these magic words: "The course is yours." I took off easy, feeling for traction; I didn't find any. It was like driving on snow. Once up to speed, the car wanted to drift, and I gave it plenty of lead with the reins, letting it wander more than I cared for before trying to gently correct. I passed the half-mile marker and realized there wasn't much time to build speed for the finish. I didn't want the embarrassment of a sub-100-mph run (the point of that first run was to establish that we knew where 100 mph was, for reference), so I pushed it a little harder than I was comfortable with. It felt agonizingly slow until I crossed the finish, when suddenly the turnoff was coming way too fast. Braking and downshifting only gave me the nervous giggles as the car took its own erratic course, depositing me somewhere out in salt space.
I got back to the course with a red face, redder when I read the timing slip: 105.355 mph. The naysayers were right-this was going to be a lot of work on these wide, 10-inch tires; they were just skittering across the high spots on the salt.