Bonner’s Bad Berkeley: A 310 MPH Sports Car

Bonneville Salt Flats Race Car:

Land Speed Hot rod from Tucson

salt flats, speedweek, bonneville, bonner's bad berkeley, 1959 Berkeley, 300 mph, dovovan bbc, twin turbo, fwd …oh ya, and its FRONT WHEEL DRIVE.  Tell that to the “wrong wheel drive” haters!

Pikesan and I first met Dr. Bonner Denton, Professor of Chemistry and Geosciences at the University of Arizona, in the starting line at Speed Week 2009.  His crew was performing the final preparations for a speed run.  He gave us his whole land speed racing’s history in about 10 minutes.  The more he explained the workings of the Berkeley, the more interesting it got.

Racing on the Salt Flats is a funny thing.  Bonner Denton, owner/driver of this record bearing 1959 Berkeley sports car describes racing on the salt similar to driving on 1-2 inches of wet snow.  Try putting 2400-2500 HP’s of twin turbocharged 540 cu in of  Donovan V8 goodness to the salty ground.  Nope, he doesn’t need a push truck either.  This baby drives off the line under its own power.

Bonner's Bad Berkeley, Salt Flats, speedweek, bonneville, fwd, 1959 Berkeley, donovan bbc, twin turbo, 300 mph Going back to 2000 when Bonner first started running this particular Bad Berkeley, it replaced his Bocar.  The Bocar set the record at 264 MPH with an A motor in 2001.

The first thing you notice about the Berkeley is the super elongated nose, which gives it a streamliner-esque look. Rule changes allowed the wheelbase to be lengthened and the nose streamlined for the Modified Sports class.  Bonner describes in his own words: “That’s where science and technology comes in.  You have to be knowledgeable about aerodynamic forces.  What you have to do is build a car that will NOT fly.  We hope not to fly, but quite frankly, I never intended this car to go much faster than 300 mph.”

Salt Flats, Bonneville, Bonner's Bad Berkeley, U of A, 300 mph, air jacks, speedweek, fwd, twin turbo, bbc Although the Berk’ has run as fast as 310 MPH out the back door as its called, the 3 records held by the car are still in the 200′s.  They are A/BGMS (440ci – 500ci engine size, Blown Gas Modified Sports) at 264.007 MPH set in 2001, AA/BFMS (501ci and larger engine size, Blown Fuel Modified Sports) at 272.232 MPH set August 2009, the AA/BGMS (501ci and larger engine size, Blown Gas Modified Sports) at 298.983 MPH in 2008.  That’s fast.  “Bonner’s Bad Berkeley” is THE fastest Sports Car!  And he’s not done yet.  He has his sights on a record over 300 and the infamous Blue Hat.

540 cu in twin turbo Big Block Chevy gets the Berk' rolling

Check the engine specs Bonner sent me.  The car makes an estimated 2400-2500 HP at about 20 psi of boost with the AA engine.

Class AA 540 cu in Donovan 4.5 x 4.25
Heads Dart
Cam Crower (Custom Grind)
Rods Carrilo
Crank Lunati
Pistons Ross
Turbos Garrett Air Research Custom
Intake Modified Hilborn/Fast electronic
Headers Custom
Class A 493 cu in Donovan 4.5 x 3.875
Heads Dart
Cam Crower (Custom Grind)
Rods Carrilo
Crank Lunati
Pistons Ross
Turbos Garrett Air Research Custom
Intake Modified Hilborn/Fast electronic
Headers Custom
Frame 1-5/8 x 0.125 1020 DOM space frame
Differential Coleman quick-change modified for FWD
Transmission 4L80E Lockup Converter

Let’s take a look at some images that will show you the ins-and-outs of the car.

1959 Berkeley, chassis, 540 ci donovan, bbc, twin turbo, salt flats, speedweek, land racing, bonneville Here’s a pic of the Berkeley in its skinless state.  Pretty straight forward chassis design, at least from the untrained eye.  Looks very beefy.  Interesting to see the quick change in the extreme front end of the car.

Bonner's Bad Berkeley exhaust and wastegate dump tubes Close up of 1 of Berk's large turbochargers

Here’s a look at the large exhaust.  I love how the exhaust pics up salt from inside the body from the front wheels.  Those Garret turbo’s are Large and In Charge, that’s for sure.

Boost is the only way to get 2500 HP right?  I wonder if that exhaust aids in forward propulsion?  That’s gotta have some force behind it…right?  Maybe it works as a stabilizer, liked vectored thrust?

This is the main office of the Berkeley.  You gotta mean business when going 300 MPH, on the earth's surface! This shot was taken in the pits.  You can see the Laptop downloading run data sitting on the “dash”.  This interior is all GO.  You can see the Ignition switch with permanent marker to point you in the right direction.  The big tach right in front of your face.  Not sure how much you’re looking at that at the 3rd, 4th and 5th mile marker.  The Salt is smooth, but not that smooth.  I can’t imagine what its like to go 300 MPH!?  You can also see the blue Bonneville stickers from years gone by.  These blue stickers are proof that these guys have been around the Salt awhile.

More cockpit, shifter, fire extinguisher, fuel cutoff and seat Here’s a drivers view to his left.  You have the shifter engaging the 4L80E transmission.  Be careful not to bump the Fuel cutoff shift to the “OFF” position, also in permanent black marker.  Keep it simple right.  Looks like a fire extinguisher  at the ready in case of emergency.  Bare aluminum seat holding Dr. Bonner down during his runs.  Again, super spartan here, no cushion?  Crazy!  That is hardcore!  Throw in some ziptied roll cage padding and its off to the races!

Salt Flats Land Racing wheel and tire package So, with the body off the Berkeley, I found this view interesting.  First, you wouldn’t think this was a race wheel.  It’s different than the pic above in Bonners shop.  That’s a beefy 6 lug bolt pattern too.  Emphasis is certainly on strength and durability as opposed to lightweight or looks.

Check out that “salt flap” behind the wheel.  Can you image how fast that tire turns?  Then imagine the force at which the salt flings up off the tire and hits the salt shield/flap?

The pit crew each with their own task This last pic was taken at the end of the day.  Preparation for the following days runs continues until about 7pm when they kick everyone off the Salt.  You just leave your racecar and trailer on the Salt over night.  But back to this picture, Bonner is at the Laptop downloading data while his crew is nose-to-the-grindstone with their individual tasks at hand.  These guys have to be total Salt Heads and dedicated friends to come all the way out from Arizona to slave away in the heat and salt (its everywhere and sticks to everything) in support of Bonner’s Bad Berkeley.

There you have it!  A 300 MPH Sports Car!  Good luck next year and here’s hoping to seeing you with a Blue Hat in 2010.

Hechtspeed

300mph on the Salt at Speed Week

Click To Enlarge the Pictures

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