In August, 2011 "Spirits of the Lakes" shattered the standing E/FMS land speed record while at Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The car was driven by John Staiger while under the constant care and guidance of Mr. Gary Hensley Crew Chief, Steve Germond, Nathan Wilke, Jack and Mike Harris, Rick Armas, Brittany Lippincott and John Staiger IV, Crew members at large.
The new E/FMS land speed record was moved from 218 MPH to 244.229 MPH for the flying mile. This record still stands today.
Opel nosed Berkeley
Our Project 300 began life at the hands of legendary builder Ron Benham in 1997. Benham was the Smokey Yunick of Bonneville – constantly pushing everything to the limit and with the gift of seeing what others missed – all in the name of the pursuit of speed. Benham built his many cars in his one car garage in Southern California or friends garages if they would let him. Even so, many believe his cars have put more people in the prestigious Bonneville 200MPH club than any other builder. The “2-Club” is an elite group of less than 550 folks who have set land speed records at over 200MPH. He originally built it to accomplish something he had never achieved – capturing the SCTA Dry Lakes points championship. The Opel-nosed Berkeley would turn out to be one of his crowning achievements before passing away in 2009.
To conform to class rules for Modified Sports (MS), the back half of the car (cowl back) had to be based on a real production two seat, 4 wheeled car for which a minimum of 500 were built. Benham choose the 1957 British built SE328 Berkeley as his donor car. Believe it or not – he considered the Opel GT too big. The Berkeley is a very small two seat roadster that was powered by a 328 cc Excelsior Talisman two stroke motorcycle engine offering 18 bhp and a top speed of about 80MPH - with a tail wind.
As the Bonneville rules allow for streamlining ahead of the cowl, Benham choose to use an Opel GT nose narrowed by approxamatly10 inches to fit the width of the stock Berkeley cowl. Benham choose the Opel nose because he believed that it was extremely aerodynamic. Years later, Hot Rod Magazine would be run the car through the Aerodyn A2 Wind Tunnel and prove his assumptions correct. Surprisingly, all of the proposed modifications to the Opel GT nose shape that were tested, including a flat NASCAR type nose, worsened the Cd and aero numbers!
To campaign the Opel nosed Berkeley Benham teamed up with driver / partner Leonard Carr, who, with the aid of their turbo-charged small block Chevy, would win the El Mirage Points Championship in 1999.
In 2002 Keith Turk purchased the car from Ronny and successfully campaigned it at Bonneville and the ECTA Maxton venue utilizing various Ted Wenz built small block Chevy engines. During Keith’s ownership it was known as the So-Al Special (a.k.a. the Hot Rod Magazine Special). The Opel nosed Berkeley would set three Bonneville records, eight ECTA records, and put four people into the Bonneville & ECTA 200MPH clubs.
Then in 2006, I found the Opel nosed Berkeley hiding in the back room of a defunct speed shop in Detroit, tired, rusty and in need of… well, everything. With race cars one really doesn't’t restore them unless it’s for a museum. Instead you lift off the body, throw away the old and build new. Then you drop the body back on a new race car. And that is exactly what we did. With help from Gary Hensley, my racing partner, and Steve Germond, we built a new race car under the Opel nosed Berkeley body.
Powered by a 213ci (3.5L), former INDY 500 Aurora/Chevy engine formerly coupled with the new chassis and drive train puting down 650 bhp on 100% Methanol. After renaming the car the Spirits of the Lakes in honor of his father and other past Land Speed racers whose final resting spot is the dry lake beds they formerly raced on, John and his team set back to back records in 2010 and 2011. Topping out at 252MPH during their second record pass in 2011 -- Bonneville Land Speed Records require a two way average speed over the same mile, their record for the small engine Opel nosed Berkeley came close to what had previously been accomplished using almost twice the displacement.
It is the teams plan to eventually take the Opel nosed Berkeley to 300MPH utilizing that same, small INDY engine, however our next stop is the gas class.
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