Salt Flat Classic: 1917 Ford Bonneville Racer

For someone who grew up in Australia, there are three motorsport venues in the US that are immediately identifiable as the icons of the sport. Those are Indianapolis, Daytona, and the Bonneville Salt Flats. This old classic, which the owner refers to as a 1917 Ford, is a former Bonneville competitor, and it looks like it is in great condition. If you fancy taking a run on the famous Salt Flats yourself, you will find this classic located in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, and listed for sale here on eBay. The owner has set a BIN price of $18,000 for this beauty.

It isn’t clear when this cool custom was built, but the owner does indicate that it was some years ago. The owner used a default model year of 1917 because the build date is an unknown factor. The car has been to Bonneville twice, but I haven’t had a lot of luck tracing its competition history. However, I did locate a poster here on eBay, which shows the car parked on the Salt Flats during Speed Week in 2012. The presentation of the vehicle is very impressive, and it is pretty hard to find anything to fault on it.

Powering the Racer is a 1931 Ford Model A 201ci flathead engine, and I believe that it is hooked to a standard Model A 3-speed manual transmission. Those individual header pipes poking out the side of the body indicate that this old girl would be quite loud when it fires up. Performance is said to be pretty impressive, with a top speed in excess of 90mph. The owner says that the vehicle runs and drives well, and he even floats the idea of adapting it for road use. I’m not sure how practical and economical that process would be, but if it was able to be done, it would certainly make a distinctive road car.

The interior of the Racer is pretty bare-bones, with little more than a wheel, a shifter, and a single seat. I thought that I’d include this photo instead, which shows the very neat fuel tank and rear end setup. It is worth noting that the quick-change setup that you see on the rear end is a dummy unit, but I do have to agree with the owner that it does look pretty cool. I’m also taken by the elegant simplicity of the rear suspension, which should also be reasonably light.

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, the time comes in our lives when we must make the decision to part with our toys, and for the owner of this classic, 76-years-of-age has proven to be that magic time. I get the impression from the listing that he is not that keen to sell it, so I really hope that it goes to someone who not only appreciates the car for what it is but has the opportunity to take it to Bonneville for at least one more run.

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Comments

  1. 86_Vette_Convertible

    Interesting ‘toy’ there. Without a title and likely no vin, unsure how hard it would be to change ownership and possibly title it in the future.
    This is the 2d vehicle that it looks to me like they used a grill from a farm tractor (though I’m guessing it isn’t).
    Hope it goes to someone that appreciates it.

    3
  2. Dave at OldSchool Restorations

    you can be sure, the poster picture is NOT of this car making a competitive run at the Flats in 2012 …… nor is it eligible to do so now.

    2
    • Steve R

      The seller is deceptive. Been to Bonneville doesn’t mean it ran there, or that an attempt was ever made. This was built to cruise around the pits or display, not for competition. This car would instantly fail tech, everywhere. When I helped do tech at the local track and a scary looking car came through, like this one, you would start the inspection by looking for a few critical safety items that were almost guaranteed to be missing. That way you could fail the car quickly and move on to cars that were actually there to race.

      The seller is fudging his description to maximize the sale price, on its merit, how much would a non-street legal single seat creation without a title, sell for? Probably, significantly less than the BIN price.

      Steve R

      9
  3. ken tilly

    I think it was more than likely built in 2012 when the picture was taken.

    3
  4. Dave

    When I watched “World’s Fastest Indian”, I was probably the only person in the room who thought “there’s no way someone could just show up at the Salt Flats and run today” . There’s no excuse.

    But if you didn’t get goosebumps when Burt grabbed second gear and left the station wagon in the dust then you probably wouldn’t let someone run this. Legal stuff, you know?

    2
    • ken tilly

      That was one excellent movie Dave.

      3
      • Art

        All safety rules are written in blood.

        2
    • Rube Goldberg

      Before I watched that show, I thought it was about some Native-American track star, I had no idea it was about a motorcycle. That was a great movie, that was cool when he finally got to run. The part that got me, was his disappointment when he was told he could not run, after all he had been through. It said a lot for that tech guy to have the compassion to let him run. Like you say, I highly doubt that would happen today.

      1
      • Steve R

        That’s because too many people have died, and now their families will sue and win if something happens with a car that was not technically “legal” according to the rulebook. Tracks are doing this to protect themselves. Waivers do not mean a thing if if tech misses or intentionally overlooks something.

        Serious racers nowadays know the rulebook and make sure their cars pass. Some tracks are intentionally lenient, those are the ones that have the most accidents and oil downs. They tend to draw marginal cars and drivers that lack judgement. Most of the rules, at least in drag racing, aren’t strict for slower cars, they get progressively harder as the speed increases.

        Steve R

        1
      • Dave

        True that. Witness the published letter from NHRA to FCA, informing them that their 9 second Challenger is not legal under their rules.

        Only problem is that this unfortunately gives racers only one place to go: Paradise Road.

        3
      • Steve R

        Dave, only that one Challenger used in the advertisement was banned. The average driver will not get anywhere near the 9’s with the Demon Challenger. They can run at any NHRA sanctioned track until they break that barrier, which is highly unlikely. There have been a couple at my local track and the best the owners have been able to run is mid-10’s. Which is about what you would expect. Magazines and the internet is full of lies when it comes to ET’s of new performance cars. Many are capable, but it usually takes a seasoned driver and a dozen or more runs to get close to what’s posted. Even then, many of these online results are with cars that have modified software and running DOT soft compound tires or slicks, which are conveniently never mentioned.

        Steve R

        2
  5. Rube Goldberg

    Clearly made before aerodynamics were considered. Pretty cool, I don’t get what’s fake about the rear axle, on a banjo style quick change, looks like from the 40’s, if those aren’t gears in the back, how does it move? I doubt this is from the teens. I think it’s a toy someone built after the war.

    2
    • Dave Mazz

      Rube Goldberg did sagely point out “Clearly made before aerodynamics were considered”

      I would add that it looks like this “land speed record” car was made before aerodynamics were invented!!! :-) :-)

  6. Bill Wilkman

    A crucial fact omitted by the seller is the build date of this car. The fuel tank suggests it is a recent build. Its value is greatly dependent on whether it is from the early 20th century or of recent vintage.

    1
    • P.T.CHESHIRE

      The “fuel tank” is from a B-24, B-17, B-26 WWII bomber it is a high pressure oxygen tank, one of 15 or 20 the aircraft had for crew oxygen. Also a side note the “tractor” radiator is a late Model T someone added slats to.

      1
  7. Bullethead

    This seller (or an associate) is clearly building these ambitiously-priced fantasies from a mix of old farm equipment and model A scraps… the previous “Bonneville” special featured here had Harley power. It’s still for sale too.

    https://barnfinds.com/harley-powered-custom-bonneville-racer/

    They’re clever and look like fun toys, but that’s all they are.

    3
  8. Bryan W Cohn

    Having been to Bonneville its quite common for people to build pit vehicles that look like vintage Bonneville racers. I’ve never seen one that had any real safety equipment or represented itself as anything but a cool toy, so to speak.

    Now where this car could run is the RoG in New Jersey. No safety equipment required, 1/8 mile or less sand drags in period cars and safety gear.

    I wouldn’t say the seller is misrepresenting anything though. The ad says the car has been to Bonneville two times and that there is a poster (which I saw and looks more like a photo as it has no wording). He doesn’t say it raced there or anything of the like. Don’t infer “raced there” with “been there”, they are two different things. When I tell folks I’ve been to Bonneville no one automatically thinks I raced there, but when I roads race at Road America I say, “I raced at Road America.”

    You know who is misrepresenting the car? Whomever wrote the article title/byline, calling it a Bonneville Racer. Its a Bonneville Cruiser.

    As for the 90 mph claim, anyone who’s been to Bonneville knows the distances are so vast that its not uncommon to go bloody fast in any vehicle to get from A to B. When I was there we and everyone else routinely ran 100 mph for the 10 mile run from the boat ramp to the paddock area for the BUB Speed Trials.

    The scale of Bonneville is staggering. That 10 mile drive only gets you to around the mid point of the speed traps. From the paddock its 5 miles or more to the staging area for the long course. Hence why people build cool, fun cars to get around the salt in, such as this Ford.

    3
  9. Jim

    Will it pass the tech inspection?

    • ptcheshire

      No tech needed for a pit car.

      1

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