Today, the Bonneville Salt Flats are the domain of hot rodders. Serious men, many of them, but men competing for records in a variety of defined classes. Ultimate land speed record attempts have moved to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert and now, with the Bloodhound SSC’s crew gearing up to break their own record, the Hakskeen Pan in South Africa. There’s just not enough room at Bonneville to go 1000 miles per hour. But for much of the 20th century, the 3,000-acre salt pan in Western Utah was the mecca for ultimate land-based velocity.
Right there at the beginning was David Abbott Jenkins, a Salt Lake City contractor with a penchant for speed and endurance. In fact, Ab’s record runs on the salt weren’t what we think of when we consider competition at Bonneville in this day and age. Rather than two-way measured-mile blasts, his custom-built Duesenbergs made endurance runs, following a circle laid out on the salt. Bear in mind that factory support back then meant Augie Freakin’ Duesenberg was out on the pan with Jenkins, coming up with on-the-fly engineering solutions to make his cars go faster.
And once Jenkins set the ball rolling, John Cobb and Sir Malcolm Campbell came skipping across the pond to make use of Jenkins’ playground. The hot rodders whose cars had become too fast for the El Mirage and Muroc dry lakes made the 700-mile trek up from Los Angeles. Art Arfons came out from Ohio to run a series of his notorious Green Monster cars. This very publication has even taken vehicles out in search of glory, perhaps most memorably a 3rd-Gen Trans Am piloted by Csaba Csere to a speed of 200mph. On its roof.
Though other cars had run on the salt before him, the foundation of Mythic Bonneville, Temple of Speed was laid due to Jenkins’ efforts, and now there’s a documentary, Boys of Bonneville: Racing on a Ribbon of Salt, narrated by actor/racing driver Patrick Dempsey and featuring interviews with Jay Leno and RAF Colonel Andy Green—the man who broke the sound barrier in Richard Noble’s Thrust SSC. It premiered at the Sarasota International Film Festival last month and is now touring the country in fits and starts. (Screenings, of which only one is scheduled right now, will be listed here.) Needless to say, we’d like to see it on Netflix Instant or Hulu posthaste.
Boys of Bonneville Movie TrailerVimeo.