Mickey Thompson is a legend for many things. History, though, will remember him as the first American to break the 400mph barrier.
It was 1960, and Mickey Thompson was headed to the Bonneville Salt Flats with an unusual car in tow. Called the Challenger 1, this custom-built land-speed record chaser carried the hopes of the American hot rodder on its sleek shoulders.
Under its large hood, Mickey and his crew had fitted four supercharged Pontiac V8 engines into a chassis specially fabricated to accommodate them. Each one was coupled to a gearbox from a 1937 Cadillac Lasalle, and the goliath of elements drove all four wheels. Just let that sink in for a minute; imagine the engineering required to make each of these components work simultaneously, and now remember, this was 1960 in his home garage.
One of the most fundamental elements of his success was undoubtedly the attention he paid to aerodynamics. In the 1950s, engineers paid no mind to how air affected performance, and there was no such thing as a wind tunnel. Instead, Mickey and his cohorts taped pieces of string to the car and then used video and images captured during test runs to make changes to the body.
He was quoted in Time magazine years later as saying, "The most important factor in automotive speed is aerodynamics. If your aerodynamics aren’t good, your car will take off and fly."
Needless to say, his genius/madman engineering worked, and on September 8th, 1960, he achieved a speed of 406.60mph. Unfortunately, on his second run, to make it official, he had issues with the car. Some say it was a broken driveshaft, while others have said it was a gearbox that hadn't engaged its next gear and caused the engine attached to it to overrev and blow.
It didn't matter to Mikey Thompson, though. He had achieved his goal of becoming the first American to break through the 400mph barrier, and was, for a short while, the fastest man to travel on four wheels.
David Freiburger from Roadkill tells us more about this terrific feat in the MotorTrend video below. Tune in to find out more about Mikey Thompson and his famous Challenger 1 land-speed record-breaker.
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