Land Racing Jeep Comanche, Yeah, You Heard Me, A Jeep!

Bonneville Salt Flats: Jeep Race Car

This story is: “My Ride is Me”!  Combine Bonneville Salt Flats Racing, a Jeep Comanche and a father and a son.  Perfect!

Meet Peter, a new member here at, he’s a Jeep guy, but not the off-road type  you might expect.  Here’s his story… It was too good for me to mess with.  ha ha  I asked him one question, that’s all it took to get him talking. -Hechtspeed

Written by: Peter Lechtanski

“The Inspiration?   Why do people do what they do?  What makes something (a car) so important to us?

I guess to answer your question, I have to go back 40 some years, it was 1963, and a saw a story on the evening news (on a black and white TV) about this 24 year old guy named Craig Breedlove. He’d just gone 400mph+ at the Bonneville Salt Flats, breaking a record held by the British since 1949.   He was the first man to go over 400mph in a car (and later the first man to go 500, and 600mph).

I was about 12 years old at the time, 2 years before we elected John Kennedy, the youngest President ever.  The Country was charged up.  We were challenged by our President to go out and do things, like go to the moon!  He also started the Peace Corps  and VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America).  Mostly young people joined these organizations.  We all believed our generation could change the world!

Craig Bredlove was charged up too, his car was the “Spirit of America” . His goal was to bring the Land Speed Record back to America, and he did.

Spirit of America, Land Speed Racer, Bonneville Salt Flats, Craig Breedlove

The 60’s was a time of endless possibilities (I guess you had to be there).   Craig Breedlove continued to go faster and faster, but a couple of brothers from Ohio started to challenge him,  The Arfons brothers.   It was mostly Art Arfons in the Green Monster.   The record would go back and forth between Breedlove and Afrons.

On Breedlove’s return run to break the 500 mph record,  both his chutes failed, they ripped right off.  His brakes were a joke, but he was going 400 some mph, no chutes, and his steering was not working correctly.  He did put on the brakes, and although all of Breedlove’s speed records have been broken, he still holds the Guinness record for the worlds longest skid mark (5 miles i think!) After 10 miles or so he finally ran out of salt, and ended up in a pond with just the tail of the car sticking out.  He walked away without a scratch!  Talk about the invincibility of youth!  This was reality TV back in my day.

Needless to say, this was exciting! Going fast on the Bonneville Salt flats seemed like a great goal. Of course life happens, and the great hope of the early 60’s turned to civil  rights riots and the Vietnam war.  Then I got married, had 2 kids and perused my career.

I had always liked Jeeps, My grandfather has a 1949 CJ on his farm I use to drive around when I was 10 years old or so.  When I first started to drive  at 16  I had a 1962 Jeep Wagoneer.    A little later I got a 1952 CJ3a that was badly rusted and restored it over a couple of years.  I also did cool stuff like an engine swap, redesigned the steering,  put an overdrive in it, etc.  But marriage and the career left little time to work on the Jeep. It set for 2 years in the driveway with a tarp on it, and I finally ended up selling it.

So fast forward about 15 years… My son is 16 years old and tells me about a deal on a Jeep CJ7.  It belongs to a friend’s dad.   It’s broke and they wanted it out of their driveway.  I went to look at it, it was VERY rusty, it had a Chevy 383 stroker in it, TH350, Dana 300 transfer case.   The output shaft of the Transfer case was snapped off, i guess that 383 had some torque! We bought it for a couple of hundred bucks and dragged it home.

I thought it would be a good father-son project, and maybe deep down I wanted to replace the CJ I had sold so many years before.  Well I started to look for a new transfer case on the internet, and my son started to pull the body off to see what kind of repairs were required and what the condition of the frame was.  Turns out the body was not worth fixing, and the frame was pretty bad as well.  We decided to keep going with it anyway, but it went from being a quick fix to a long term project.   My son still needed some transportation.   I went on Ebay and found a 1986 Jeep J10 pickup for $2,500.  Not a bad deal for a 4wd pickup.  Problem was that it was in Joseph, Oregon and Ilived in Barrington, IL.   My wife an I flew out and drove it the 1,800 miles home, but that’s another story.

White Jeep Commanche

So my son drove a Jeep pickup to High School.  The truck was made the same year my son was born.   People would ask him “what is that?” or “Jeep makes pickup trucks?”  The truck was in great shape, and I think my son liked being a little different then everybody else.

I guess it is not uncommon that when you have some special type of car, they tend to multiply.

One day a guy I worked with said “I have a friend that has a Jeep Wagoneer that’s been sitting in his garage for 10 years and he wants it out, you interested?”  My son and I went over and looked at it. Turns out it was not a Wagoneer, but a full size Cherokee in great shape.   It had a 360 V8 with a Holley, Edelebrock intake, headers, cam, etc.   I asked ” why is it sitting ”  the owner said,”After I put all of the performance stuff on, the transmission took a crap, I just never got around to fixing it.”  We bought it for $100 and dragged it home.  My son actually fixed it himself.  Turns out there was nothing wrong with the trans!  When the previous owner put the carb on he didn’t adjust the kick down linkage correctly so the transmission would not shift correctly.  In the mean time the J truck had engine problems (another story) so my son started driving the Cherokee.  After about 6 month of driving he hit some ice and slid into a tree.  The frame was bent pretty bad and he needed transportation to get to his job and school.  Back to Ebay to buy what else? Another Jeep.  Found a Jeep Comanche not too far away for $1,200.  My daughter wrecked her car about a year later and needed some transportation, I also bought her a Comanche for $700.

I guess kept buying the Jeeps because they were cool, cheap, reliable and just a little different. Maybe it all started when I was 10 years old driving the CJ around my Grandfathers farm.  It’s kind of like the guy who rode in the back of his dad’s 56 Chevy, and 50 years later he buys one of his own.  Maybe alot of this car thing is about reliving your youth, I don’t know if it is or it isn’t but  I do know I enjoy it and passing it all along to my son.

But a piece was missing, and it didn’t come to me until I saw a special on the Speed Channel about Craig Breedlove and the Spirit of America.   I recalled the days of my youth when my friends an I would follow what was going on in the late summer and fall at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  I guess it was a few months later, the spring of 2008  when I typed the letters S-C-T-A  into the Google search box.   It took me to the Southern California Timing association website.  I clicked on “Event schedules”  and scrolled down to Bonneville.  There it was,  Speed week.  I called up my son and told him we were going to Bonneville 2nd week of  August, he said, ” I’m in” and it was set: Our pilgrimage to the Mecca of Speed.

Bonneville is like no other event I’ve been to in my life. The place, the people, the cars, all just amazing!  But, to get back to the story, I think it was on Tuesday afternoon of Speed Week… I was looking at the program, and I noticed that the record for E/PP  (4.3L  Production Pickup)  was only about 115 mph.  Jeep had offered a 258 (4.2L) inline 6 in the J Trucks.  The Jeep pickup was designed around 1960, so it was not as large as current full size pickups, so it should have less wind resistance.  My son and I talked and agreed that running a truck would be way more fun that just watching.  We also still had the J truck my son drove in High School.

Jeep Commanche, salt flats racing, bonneville

When we returned from  Bonneville I started emailing several companies asking if they could build an engine for me, they asked, “What’s the application?”  I would say “Land Speed Racing.” Lee Hurley from Hesco in Birmingham AL replied back: “We already built an engine for a Jeep Land Speed truck.”  Huh? What? Another Jeep land speed truck?   What is this all about?

Well back to the internet. After some research, I found that in 1986 An engineer at JTE  (Jeep and Truck Engineering) came up with the idea to show the performance of  new 4.0L engine by setting a land speed record with a Comanche Pickup, they actually ending up setting 13 records.  They built the truck over 4-5 months and originally ran it at El Mirage as the LSR 1.   They destroyed the engine by overheating it.  They then took the truck to Bonneville with a new engine and relabeled it the LSR 2.  It was at Bonneville that they set all the records.

Jeep Engineering Crew, Bonneville, LSR

During my research I was able to locate the LSR2 at the Chrysler archives in Michigan.  My son and I were able to visit the archives and examine the truck.  After seeing the truck, we realized that a full size Jeep Pickup land speed vehicle would be cool,  but a Comanche (mini pickup)  would actually have some history behind it.   The decision was made. The project was begun.
I am out of time for now.

More in part 2.  Stay tuned!

To be continued.


Opt In Image
My Ride is Me Newsletter
Our Newest and Best Delivered to You: