Goldenrod

 

( 1965 - )

On the blinding white salt flats at Bonneville, Utah, in November 1965, Bob Summers towers over the car that would take him to a world speed record Goldenrod.
Bill Summers
The Summers brothers and the Goldenrod at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1965
Bob and Bill Summers
Driver Bob ("Butch") Summers secures his crash helmet during a demonstration run for the car's sponsors in 1965

 
At Goodwood
 
The Summers Brothers Goldenrod was powered by 4 fuel injected Chrysler 426 Hemi's.These pics were taken at a Custom Carshow in St.Louis MO. in early 1966.
This a shot of the front gearbox and driveline of the Summers Brothers Goldenrod.
Good thing Bob Summers was fit, because the driver's compartment was the definition of tight. Reports say it took both hands to shift the car. Imagine taking your hands off the wheel at over 200 mph.
Drivers cockpit at the rear of the Summers Brothers Goldenrod wheel driven Land Speed Record car.
Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
Comments
Nov 12, 1965 Bonneville Salt Flats, USA Bob Summers USA Goldenrod
4x - V-8 Chryslers
IC 409.277 mph   This car is now the fastest for wheel driven and piston engines.

Goldenrod is an American streamliner car which held the wheel-driven land speed record from 1965 to 1991. She was owned by Bob and Bill Summers, of Ontario, California. Bob Summers drove the car to set the land speed record. The Goldenrod is powered by four fuel injected Chrysler Hemi engines, mounted inline and created a total output of 2,400 bhp. The car was originally built in Southern California and the team included James Crosby.

Before finding their final success, the two brothers contacted a fuel specialist and racing equipment pioneer and inventor named Tony Capanna, owner of Wilcap Co. (at that time in Torrance California). They were having trouble getting the speed they wanted with the 4 engines set in 2 rows side by side. Capanna suggested they put the engines in line and have it streamlined. In this configuration she was christened Goldenrod. Capanna advised them to get aerodynamic advice from a Northrop engineer. The brothers did and found success on November 12, 1965, when Goldenrod set the wheel-driven record (a class introduced due to the controversy over Spirit of America)[1] at 409.277 mph (658.64 km/h) over the flying mile, an FIA record which was held for 27 years. It was broken in 1991 by Al Teague with his supercharged Hemi-powered Spirit of '76, which went 409.986 mph (659.81 km/h). Goldenrod was not supercharged, so she still holds the class record.[2]

The car went on tour for many years all across the U.S., then first ventured outside the country in 2000, when it was placed at where the cricket pitch is, in the Goodwood Festival of Speed with the other land speed record cars, the surviving Summers brother, Bill, attended (Bob died in 1992).

The Henry Ford museum bought the car in 2002, restored her, and had her on display as of September 2006.

Engine:   Quad Hemi V8
Power:   2400 bhp
Top Speed:   576.553 mph

Goldenrod - Cheating the Wind, Setting a Record


Midway through 1965, Bob Summers pauses briefly while putting his complex creation together in a building where people once bought vegetables.
Tests of a wood model of the car in the Cal Tech wind tunnel resulted in the addition of a tail fin for improved stability at 400+ mph. The lighter color of the added fin contrasts sharply with the dark paint on the original model.

Goldenrod was built by a pair of California hot rodders, brothers Bill and Bob Summers. For years they participated in the annual Speed Weeks competition at Utah’s vast Bonneville Salt Flats, where they went as fast as 323 miles per hour in a car they built themselves. In 1963 they decided to go after the absolute land speed record of 394.196 mph, set by John Cobb in 1947. Cobb was one of a succession of wealthy Englishmen who had held the record over the years, driving well-financed cars powered by huge airplane engines.

Before Bob and Bill could get started, another Englishman, Donald Campbell, broke Cobb’s record with a speed of 403.10 mph. In 1964 and 1965 other American hot rodders used cars powered by jet aircraft engines to push the record to over 600 mph. But many people, like the Summers brothers, thought using jet engines wasn’t quite fairthey believed that real cars were driven by friction between tires and the ground. So no jet engines for Bob and Bill.

The Summers brothers believed that the key to a successful car was minimizing the resistance of air flowing over the moving car--and that the best way to do this was to make the car as small as possible. To put it simply: it is easier to punch a small hole through the air than a large hole. After testing models in a California Institute of Technology wind tunnel, they designed a car lower and narrower than any land speed record contender in history48 inches wide, 42 inches high at the top of the tail fin, and only 28 inches high at the engine covers. Into this slim space they packed a quartet of 426 cubic inch Chrysler “hemi” V8 engines and the machinery necessary to power all four wheels. At the extreme rear sat the driver, Bob Summers. It was an amazing feat of engineering, and was so logical and successful that it set the paradigm for future Bonneville streamliner racers. Over 40 years later, long and slim is still the way these cars are built.

Financing Goldenrod was as big a challenge as actually building it. As land speed record cars go, Goldenrod was an economy car. Its $250,000 cost was well below the $3,000,000 Donald Campbell needed to build the car whose record Goldenrod broke. But $250,000 was far more than the Summers brothers had. So they beat the bushes searching for companies who would help pay the costs in exchange for having their corporate name on the car. The turning point came when George Hurst, maker of specialty gear shifting mechanisms and forged wheels, agreed to be a sponsor. Firestone Tire & Rubber then signed on to make the special low profile tires and wheels needed to fit inside the narrow envelope of the body. Chrysler Corporation agreed to loan the brothers four “hemi” engines, while Mobil Oil provided fuel and funding.

Construction on Goldenrod began in January 1965 in a shop that had once been a vegetable stand. By August the machine was done, and in September the brothers were at Bonneville working out the bugs that were inevitable in a car this innovative and complex. After two months of testing and modification all was ready. On November 12, Bob Summers blasted down the Bonneville salt with a run of 417 mph. International rules required two runs, in opposite directions, within one hour. After the car was thoroughly inspected, he set off on his return run with only five minutes to spare. His second run was good enough for a two-way average of 409.277 mph.

The brothers had their record. It would stand for over 25 years.

-- Bob Casey, Curator of Transportation

 

Saving a National Treasure

Goldenrod’s record was not broken until 1991, which is part of the reason the car never returned to Bonneville. No sponsors were interested in funding the Summers brothers in an attempt to break their own record. Chrysler even took back its engines, which had only been on loan. Rather than returning to the salt, Goldenrod hit the car show circuit, touring America and even Europe. Sadly, Bob Summers died in 1992, pretty much ending any chance that Goldenrod would race again. The Henry Ford purchased the car from Bill Summers and Bob’s widow Rebecca in 2002.

The years had not been kind to the car and salt residue was corroding the chassis. To preserve the car, we turned to the kind of people who built it--Southern California hot rodders. Part of the funding for the project came from federal government program to preserve nationally significant intellectual and cultural artifactsthe Save America’s Treasures program. Veteran Bonneville racer Mike Cook headed the team of craftsmen who took Goldenrod apart, cleaned or replaced corroded metal, fixed parts damaged over the years, and repainted the aluminum body the original color--1957 Chevrolet Anniversary Gold.

In September 2006, with Bill Summers, Bob Summers’ son and daughter, and Mike Cook in attendance, Goldenrod went on display at The Henry Ford.

American Treasure

Perhaps the Most Famous Land Speed Record Car of All Time, The Summers Brothers' Goldenrod, Gets a New Lease on Life Thanks to the U.S. Government, The Henry Ford Museum, and Some Enthusiastic Hot Rodders.
February, 2009 issue of Hot Rod
By Rob Kinnan
Photography by Randy Lorentzen

This author was about seven months old on November 12, 1965, the day Americans Bob and Bill Summers took the piston-powered, wheel-driven land speed record from Englishman Donald Campbell's Bluebird. Bob drove the duo's Goldenrod to a two-way average of 409.277 mph in the mile (and 409.685 in the kilometer) for an FIA record that still stands. Sure, Al Teague ran faster than that over a decade ago for his FIA and SCTA records (409.986 mph), but that was with a supercharged Hemi. Likewise, the Burklands' 417.020 we reported in March was also blown. The Summers Brothers did it naturally aspirated, albeit with four Chrysler Hemis.

The day after the record, the Goldenrod made another pass, that one at 425 mph, but for reasons unknown the brothers did not make a return run so it didn't count for the record. That was the last known pass for the Goldenrod. In the years that followed, it was towed to various shows, including Goodwood in England where it was on display next to Campbell's Bluebird. It then sat at the Wally Parks NHRA Museum for a number of years - outdoors as it had been since 1965. But about five years ago, the car was at the Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance in Rochester, Michigan, where it was spotted by Bob Casey, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford, Michigan's enormous history museum. Casey, a hot rodder and a fan of land speed racing (LSR), talked to Bill Summers about putting the car in the museum. One thing led to another and The Henry Ford bought the car. That's where John Baechtel came in.

You probably recognize Baechtel's name as a former HOTROD staffer now at Westech Performance Group, where a lot of magazines conduct their dyno-testing. JB, as we call him, had written a number of automotive publications and wanted to do a technical book on LSR cars. The Goldenrod was down the street outside the NHRA museum, so he called Bill and asked if he could photograph it. Bill told him that he had already sold the car to the museum, so JB called Casey, who agreed to let him disassemble the car and take pictures. That helped the museum out, actually, because then it could find out what kind of shape the car was in.

As JB soon found, outdoor storage all those years had taken its toll on the historic race car to the point where it needed a total restoration--we're talking every nut, bolt, and washer. Realizing the scope of the project, Casey did his research and applied for a Save America's Treasures grant from the U.S. government, a grant normally issued to preserve historic buildings and such. Surprisingly, he got it.

"We weren't sure we could convince people that a hot rod was an American treasure," says Casey, "but we were persuasive and we got the grant to help fund the restoration."

YOU CAN HELP
Hot rods, and especially race cars, historical or otherwise, are constantly undergoing various modifications, and updates, and over the years a lot of stuff just plain gets lost. Goldenrod is no exception. Though it only made a total of eight runs on the Salt, there were some modifications made to the car during that time, most notably the hoodscoops. On the record runs, the car had relatively un-aerodynamic mailbox scoops for the engines.

According to Chrysler's original program manager, Peter Dawson, these scoops were more effective at lower engine speeds and were intended to help the car accelerate quicker. These were swapped for much more aero scoops for the 425-mph pass, and those are the same ones on the car today. Where are the originals?

After some searching, the record scoops, along with the original wind-tunnel model and fiberglass parachute cover, were found in England. Bob Casey has already negotiated to buy these parts from the current owner, but he says there are some other small parts that people have obtained through the years, most likely as souvenirs, and they would really like them back. If anybody reading this has any of these parts, do the right thing and donate them to the project. John Baechtel is the point man on this, and you can contact him at westech@earthlink.net. JB says he is looking for four '65 Prestolite electronic ignition boxes and four stock coils, five stock 426 Hemi oil pans, and 12 Hemi oil pumps at the moment. That's right, 12. Goldenrod's dry-sump system was pretty innovative. Any photographs, memories, or other information you can provide that may help with the restoration would also be appreciated.

And if you live in Southern California and would like to lend a hand, feel free to drop JB an e-mail. He told us that there is only one full-time guy on the project, and federal grant funding is limited, so they need all the help they can get. If you can fabricate, paint, weld, or just clean parts, and you don't mind doing it for free, they need you. And how cool would that be, to be involved in the restoration of such a historic car?

 
 
 
This fuel tank (center) feeds the two center engines. Two smaller tanks fore and aft feed the front and rear engines, respectively. The tank with the Champion sticker is one of four dry-sump oil tanks
The big chunk of iron on the right side of this photo is the Spicer truck transmission laid on its side and connected to the clutch and hydraulic mechanism.
Goldenrod
This photo of Bob (left) and Bill Summers with a model of the Goldenrod in the Caltech wind tunnel was shot by Eric Rickman on November 18, 1964. The model is currently in England but has already been secured by The Henry Ford.
Goldenrod had four naturally aspirated 426 Hemis, two driving the front wheels and two driving the rears. The Jan. '66 story in HOT ROD says they were "stock except for the injection," and the total output of all four engines was 3,000 hp, so figure that out. The packaging is astounding even by today's standards. Noticeable here are the unique, low-profile Hilborn mechanical fuel injection manifolds and some of the missing parts. "We're searching for a manifold for the rear engine," Baechtel says. "Stu Hilborn says he might be able to make another one, but we'd like to get an original one if we can"
Looking back from the front of the car: The front transmission/transaxle is located ahead of the front tires. As reported in the original HOT ROD story, "The engines are coupled in pairs, back to back, with two of them installed in reverse in the frame. A transfer-gear case is provided between each pair of the engines, and the single driveline passes through the cases, the full length of the car, alongside the engines. Two transmissions are used, one front and the second at rear, and controlled by a Hurst shifter which was designed by Hurst Performance Products, one of the car's sponsors."
Goldenrod
Good thing Bob Summers was fit, because the driver's compartment was the definition of tight. Reports say it took both hands to shift the car. Imagine taking your hands off the wheel at over 200 mph.
Hooker headers hug the massive frame that ties the front and rear wheels together. The frame is stepped down as it goes rearward to narrow the car.
Firestone was one of the sponsors and developed these tires specifically for the Goldenrod. Because of the low shape of the body, these were the smallest-diameter LSR tires of the day, meaning the car had extremely high wheel speeds. Truck hubs support split-rim wheels turned from forged billets by Hurst Performance, a company the Jan. '66 HOT ROD called the car's sugar daddy.
 
Goldenrod
 
Goldenrod
May 1966 issue of Hot Rod, with Mobil proudly displaying the Goldenrod streamliner built by the Summers brothers from Ontario, California. Goldenrod set the wheel-driven record with a two-way average of 409.227 to take home the Hot Rod Magazine Trophy in 1965 to get their name engraved on brass plate alongside previous winners including Alex Xydias, Dean Batchelor, and Mickey Thompson.

Original Hot Rod magazine article from 1966

hot rod magazine 1966 hot rod magazine 1966
hot rod magazine 1966 hot rod magazine 1966
 

Notes

  1. ^ Northey, Tom. "Land Speed Record: The Fastest Men on Earth", in Northey, Tom, ed. World of Automobiles (London: Orbis, 1974), Volume 10, p. 1166.
  2. ^ "List of Records Category A" (in French) (PDF). FIA. 2008-06-05. p.12. http://argent.fia.com/web/fia-public.nsf/AB19CCBEAE22D41BC125745F00375686/$FILE/Liste%20Records%20Cat%20A.pdf. Retrieved on 2008-11-06.

External links