MGA Continues Long Tradition of MGs At Bonneville

Photo for MGA Continues Long Tradition of MGs At Bonneville

MGA driver, Dave Chapman, describes his feelings from inside his helmet for his first run at Bonneville.

"Over 3 hours in 90 degrees just thinking "don't stall it and don't spin it, and don't do anything daft!" After an age inching forwards in the truck, Richard leans in with "It's about that time". Suit up? Yeah.….Steve straps me in tight (thanks mate). (BTW, you can't see with a helmet on, and a HANS device stops you looking down at the belts and arm restraints, so you're best letting someone you trust do it right). Finally get a view down the salt and even later, get the signal to drop my visor and ……Off ....halfway through the mile and the inertia switch killed the motor. I reset and pressed on …...then did it again. Rolled through the mile, Effin' and Jeffin' inside my helmet, glad my Mum didn't hear! 121mph and not happy…."

The salt flats at Bonneville, Utah, has been used for motorsport since 1912, and became popular for land speed record attempts in the 1930s. Malcolm Campbell, John Cobb, and George Eyston set the world record between 1935 and 1940, each beating the other over the years.

George Eyston joined the Bonneville 300 mph Chapter in 1937 when he drove his Thunderbolt to 311.42 miles per hour. He later became team manager, and the inspiration, for many MG record attempts:

1939 – Goldie Gardiner drove MG EX-135 to 204.3 mph

1954 – George Eyston piloted MG EX-179 to 153 mph. Two years later, Johnny Lockett and Ken Miles took EX-179 to 170.15 mph

1957 – Stirling Moss drove MG EX-181 to 245 mph, and two years later Phil Hill got EX-181 to go 254.91 mph.

1997 – an MGF (EX-253) driven by Terry Kilbourne, achieved 215 mph.

2003 - saw the MG ZTT (X-15) drive by Pat Kinne, become the fastest station wagon at 225.609 mph.

2014 – Chris Conrad got his MG Midget to 122.539 mph

In 2016, the MGA built by Walker-Chapman Performance Engineering in Derbyshire, England, came to Bonneville to have a go. The team comprised Colin Walker, owner, David Chapman, driver, and Stephen Walker (Colin’s cousin), mechanic. In addition to their on salt roles, Colin was responsible for the data collection system, Stephen had built the car, and David had fabricated the roll cage. They first brought the car to Wendover near Bonneville in 2014, but did not get on to the salt as the surface was deemed unsuitable for racing. However, at that time they met Richard Stuhaan from California, who has raced many times on the salt, and he joined the team to provide local knowledge and his experience was invaluable. The team was also greatly helped by Steve Davies of the SCTA for the interpretation of the rules over the two years it took to build the car. They could not run in 2015 also due to lack of suitable salt.

Walker Chapman TeamStephen Walker, Richard Stuhaan and David Chapman (from left to right)

Derbyshire County Crest

A 1961 MGA was the basis of the car, and the original MGA chassis can be seen in the photos taken during the build. While purists may argue that some of the features of the car are incorrect, the finished body still has the recognizable flowing shape of the MGA. The car was originally intended to have an 1800 MGB engine fitted, but early computer calculations of the body drag coefficient clearly showed that the target speed of 200mph was unattainable with this engine. The team chose a FORD Coyote V8 five liter engine, and added a supercharger to it. The result was 640 bhp at 6,800 rpm, but this was raised to 675 bhp and 540 lbs/ft torque, with 11 psi, boost by Hennessy Racing in California by fitting a smaller pulley to the supercharger and remapping the computer.

The car weighs 1,700 kgs (3,740 lbs), with a 700/1000kg split front to rear. Some 400 kgs (880 lbs) of ballast have been added to the chassis, low down and just in front of the rear axle to provide more traction. The rear spoiler has been fitted as per the regulations. It is not for downforce, but causes air turbulence which reduces aerodynamic lift at speed. A parachute is fitted to keep the rear stable while slowing down. The car is painted “porcelain green”, a period color similar to that on EX-181, and touches such as the crossed flags above the grill have been carried over from the MG EX race cars of the past. (These cars can be seen at the BMIHT Museum at Gaydon).

Crossed Flags

The car was run in the D/BFMS class, which is for cars with engines up to 5,014 cc, with blowers, running on any fuel, with modified sports body. The record in this class is 222.9 mph.

This was the first time at Bonneville for driver, David Chapman, so it was necessary for him to take “rookie training”. This comprised 2-3 hours of on site lectures to familiarize new drivers with the track layout, emergency procedures, fire extinguisher and parachute deployment requirements, etc. He would have to work his way up from Rookie, to an E license, to a C license, to a B license, and eventually to an A license.

Bonneville Speed Week in 2016 ran from August 13th to August 19th. This year Bonneville had three different parallel courses – the Rookie course of three miles length, the Short course of 5 miles length, and the Long course at 8 miles length. The altitude at Bonneville is 4,219 feet, with extremely low humidity. Fortunately, a car fitted with fuel injection and an ECU automatically compensates for differing air densities.

The MGA started out on the Rookie course on the Saturday, and got to 121.478 miles per hour. A problem occurred when the bumpy surface of the salt caused the inertia safety cut-out switch to engage, and disconnected the engine. However this speed was enough for the driver to get a C license.

The following day, after remounting the safety switch, the car had two runs on the Rookie course achieving 142.095 and 160.138 mph. The car was thoroughly cleaned out and checked over on the Monday, but a high cross wind closed the three tracks that afternoon. Two runs on Tuesday got the car to 172.124 and 176.281 mph, enough for the driver to get his B license.

The salt gets everywhere!

On Wednesday, the car was driven on the long course for the first time, but a fuel delivery problem restricted the car to 181.907 mph. The team’s two runs on Thursday got them to 187.961 and 195.679 mph over the official timed mile.

Ready to Race

Bonnet, headrest and tonneau cover removed

The NAMGAR Internet Coordinators were able to get press affiliation, which allowed us to drive or walk to all areas. This was a blessing, because the pit area was about four miles long, and the cars and bikes were three rows deep. There were participants from across the US, and from around the world - Isle of Man, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, France, Holland, Sweden, Japan, Italy, and Switzerland, and all were eager to get on the salt again after a three year break. We could also drive and walk alongside the MGA as it was queuing up for the Rookie or Long courses. Anne was asked to become the umbrella girl providing shade for the driver, and Peter assisted by pushing the car up to the starting line – vehicles have to be pushed or towed from the pits as they are only allowed to run under their own power on the course.

Anne & Dave look at the course from the start

Colin WalkerAnne Tilbury talks to Colin Walker

Stephen and Richard wait in the queue

The MGA certainly created a buzz this year at Bonneville, and it attracted many admirers. Other drivers, crew members, and spectators were drawn to the car. Colin Walker, recently retired from being a consultant to oil companies, confirmed that the cost of building the car, not including transport, hotels or airfare costs, was around £250,000 (US$335,000). He would like to run the car again in 2017 to try to beat the current class record, but will need serious sponsorship to do this. David Chapman would also like to return to try to earn a red hat for breaking the record and bettering 200 mph.

NAMGAR member, Tony Cox, drove his 1961 MGA MkII some 2,000 miles from Vancouver, BC, to see the MGA run at Bonneville.

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Reader Comments (2)

Picture of David Chapman
David Chapman (Matlock UK)
on September 9, 2016 8:11am
664PPE Good to see it on the salt, oh yes
Picture of kn95
on April 1, 2020 10:49pm
Thanks for share this article it's quite helpful to me.

Best regards,
Lunding Raahauge

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Last updated on September 7, 2016.