Very few names can truly be called “iconic” in the world of hot rodding, but I can safely say that Mickey Thompson is one of them: A legend in racing, a pioneer of speed, and an all around good guy by everyone’s account. Challenger 1 was the radical streamliner Mickey and his team built for one explicit purpose: To beat the Brit John Cobb’s 1947 land speed record, that plenty of drivers had died trying to. Fifty years ago, Reaching 400 miles per hour was a serious goal, but Challenger 1 had evolved over eight years of racing, being built and rebuilt with new ideas and materials engineered along the way.
From Mickey Thompson TV: ‘Everyone who had worked on “Challenger 1″ knew that underneath the pretty blue paint was a mass of spare parts purchased from surplus stores and junkyards. After achieving 371 mph on his fourth attempt in 1959, Mickey knew that finances dictated it was now or never. In 1960 superchargers and wind scoops were added and Mickey took “Challenger 1″ back to the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The day was windy and driving at high speeds was too dangerous. Mickey was in and out of the car all day waiting for the wind to calm. Mickey remembers, “Roland Porter, a good friend of mine and a devout Christian rushed up to me with tears in his eyes. He’d had a vision that I went out of control and crashed. He pleaded with me not to get back in the car.”
By 3pm the wind had died down, and despite Roland’s vision, Mickey jumped into “Challenger 1″, put her into low gear and began his fifth and final attempt to break the land speed record. At the end of a measured mile, Mickey Thompson had set a new one-way land speed record of 406.6 mph (654.349 kph). He had broken Englishman John Cobb’s record of 394.2 mph and become the fastest man on earth. Those low section tires we had spent so long making had held together.”