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Aston Martin is known worldwide for its high-profile successes in sports car racing. A famous outright win at Le Mans and a third consecutive victory at the Nürburgring 1,000km saw Aston Martin crowned World Sportscar Champions in 1959. Multiple class wins at Le Mans stretch from 1931 to this year’s multi-class victory which secured the GT Manufacturers’ World Endurance Championship. Numerous race and class victories over the years have cemented the brand as one of the great names in endurance racing.


Less well-known though, perhaps, are Aston Martin’s pre-WWII European Grand Prix and later World Formula One exploits. These may not be as famous, but they are equally notable. Indeed, from the very beginning of the Aston Martin business 107 years ago, founded by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford in 1913 in a small London workshop, top-flight motorsport participation was integral to the company’s very ethos and identity. Now, as the British luxury brand prepares to return to the F1 grid for the first time in more than 60 years with the former Racing Point team, it is the ideal moment to look back on the brand’s previous endeavours in the world’s most competitive and challenging motorsport class.

The Aston Martin name had been established on the hillclimb courses of Great Britain but from his earliest days at the helm of the fledgling sports car firm, Aston Martin co-founder Lionel Martin dreamt of putting the name of the business he had created with partner Robert Bamford into the headline-grabbing arena of Grand Prix racing.


At the start of the ‘Roaring Twenties’ that dream moved toward reality when Martin was introduced to a young racing driver, Count Louis Zborowski. This fabulously wealthy son of a Polish Count and an American heiress who had an unquenchable thirst for speed. With a fortune that in today’s money would comfortably class him as a billionaire, Zborowski had ample resources at his disposal which, allied to his existing knowledge of Aston Martin as a driver of some the brand’s earliest side-valve open wheel racers, gave him the confidence to commission and work with Lionel Martin and his team to build two cars to compete in the 1922 Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) event.


Zborowski supplied around £10,000 for the project – a small fortune at the time – with the money going toward not only the cars but also the creation of an entirely new 16-valve twin overhead cam four-cylinder race engine. The first Aston Martin Grand Prix car, featuring this 1,486cc unit, was good for around 55bhp at 4,200 rpm. It weighed in at 750kg, had a top speed of 85mph and carried two seats. One of these was offset, as per the Grand Prix regulations of the time. This was to accommodate the riding mechanic who was an essential member of the team back then - not least because part of his job was to continually pressurise the fuel tank via a hand pump. Incredibly, by today’s standards at least, the car was driven by road to the race meetings it competed in. As ever with Aston Martin, the engine itself has a story behind it. By 1922, similar engines had been successfully developed for a few years by the likes of Peugeot, Bugatti and Alfa but the genesis of the Aston Martin powerplant is believed to be considerably more colourful. Count Zborowski’s close friend and fellow racer, Clive Gallop, had an acquaintance with Peugeot engineer Marcel Gremillion. The talented Frenchman had been a pupil of the great engine designer Ernest Henry, now at Ballot. Gremillion persuaded Henry to let him have details of the 3.0-litre Ballot straight-eight engine and Henry did no more than essentially split his drawings in half which Gremillion then adapted into the Bamford & Martin four-cylinder, 16-valve motor in return for what was described as a substantial bag of gold coins. Thus, with a blueprint that had been divided in two, the Henry-designed 3.0-litre eight became the Bamford & Martin 1.5-litre four!

Count Louis Zborowski and riding mechanic, Len Martin – 1922 French GP

While chassis TT1 and TT2 were intended to race in the Tourist Trophy event on 22 June 1922, time was against the team and they could not be made ready. Instead, it was decided to give the cars their first outing at the 2.0-litre French Grand Prix on 15 July at Strasbourg – thereby marking Aston Martin’s debut in Grand Prix competition. Zborowski was at the helm of TT1, with Len Martin (no relation to Lionel) as his mechanic, while Clive Gallop piloted TT2. He was assisted by his mechanic H.J. Bentley (again no relation to ‘W.O.’ the famous car designer of the same era).


Perhaps unavoidably as a result of a lack of power due to the engine’s smaller-than-race-required capacity as well as their hurried development and a regulated need to carry ballast, both cars retired with engine problems. But the experience was sufficiently exhilarating for the fledgling team, based at Abingdon Road, Kensington, to continue the European Grand Prix adventure. Having been hastily constructed initially, the TT cars were developed over time and in the months and years that followed they secured several podium finishes including a second place at the 1922 Grand Prix de Penya Rhin, staged on the circuit in Villafranca, Spain. The team repeated the result at the same Mediterranean event the following year; and, also in 1923, took third at the Grand Prix de Boulogne on the northern coast of France.

The Aston Martin name was becoming well-known in continental Europe but the untimely death of Zborowski in 1924, almost inevitably at the wheel of a racing car, signalled the beginning of the end of Aston Martin’s first foray into top-flight motorsport. Many successful privateer appearances notwithstanding, it would be another 20 years before the brand made another serious impression in the world of Grand Prix racing.


St John ‘Jock’ Horsfall and Leslie Johnson won the 1948 Spa 24 Hours race in Belgium

In the meantime, there were some notable sports car successes, beginning with the 1948 Spa 24 Hours Race. Pre-war Aston Martin ‘Speed Model’ racers were still competitive, and so it was not surprising to see one on the grid for this event. At the wheel was one of the most colourful characters ever to be associated with the Aston brand: St John Ratcliffe Stewart Horsfall – or ‘Jock’ as he was widely known. Driving with Leslie Johnson, he took the chequered flag first ahead of a cluster of Frazer Nash, BMW, Talbot and Alvis competitors. The car was powered by a four cylinder 1,950cc overhead cam engine that produced around 125bhp, and weighed around 800kg. With Aston Martin Ulster style’ open bodywork, two seats and separate ‘cycle type’ wings it was capable of over 100mph.


Sadly, Horsfall was killed a year later in a crash at the 1949 BRDC International Trophy race, at Silverstone. His standing within the ranks of Aston enthusiasts can be measured by the fact that the Aston Martin Owners’ Club organises the annual St. John Horsfall Trophy race meeting in his memory.

The 1950s were an exciting time for Aston Martin. Company owner Sir David Brown, who had acquired the business in 1947 before adding the Lagonda brand later that same year, was steadily creating finely styled and fast British sports cars. He recognised the importance of motorsport to the brand’s commercial success and, in 1955, hatched an audacious plan to create cars that would take on the best competition in both the World Sportscar Championship and the still relatively new Formula One World Championship.


The history books focus on the famous achievements of the Le Mans-winning DBR1, and the DB3S that preceded it, but the company’s initial venture into single seaters, the prototype DP155, was a valuable learning exercise for the brand, and was the precursor to the later 1950s Grand Prix cars. Essentially it was DB3S sports racing car with single seater bodywork and its 3-litre engine reduced to 2.5-litres to comply with F1 rules, It was tested by Reg Parnell and he also took it to New Zealand as a way of earning some money in the UK wintertime. It did justify Reg’s start money with decent placings there but no wins. And while the development time was no doubt useful, there were bigger things happening back in the UK.


Alongside the DP155 project, Sir David Brown initiated work on a new engine, and a new road car design that would become the DB4. He also decreed that competition car development should be focused upon the DBR1 replacement for the DB3S sports racer. So it was then, that even though it had been tested as early as 1957, it was not until 1959 that the new DBR4, with its then conventional front-engine layout, made what was actually a somewhat promising debut. This was at the BRDC International Trophy event, run to Formula 1 rules, at Silverstone in May of that year.


Roy Salvadori (Aston Martin) and Jack Brabham (Cooper Climax) battle for the lead in the 1959 International Trophy F1 Race at Silverstone. The win went to Brabham but it was still the Aston Martin’s best-ever performance. The days of the front-engine GP car were essentially over. Two cars competed in the hands of Roy Salvadori and Carroll Shelby and the car driven by Roy Salvadori, came in a creditable second behind Australian Jack Brabham in a rear-engine Cooper-Climax as well as setting the fastest lap. Shelby was also running well up until an oil pump failed with two laps to go. He was credited as taking sixth place, two laps down. Just a month later, Salvadori and Shelby co-drove the Aston Martin DBR1 sports car to victory in the Le Mans 24 Hour Race, a win which led to Aston taking the World Sports Car Championship that year. Despite being driven by the Le Mans-winning pair, however, there was no further glory for Aston’s Grand Prix challenger. The front-engine DBR4 was out of step with the new rear-engine competition from Cooper and failed to mirror in Formula One what its DBR1 cousin famously achieved in the sports car arena.

Interestingly, the 1959 Silverstone International Trophy winner Jack Brabham had driven for Aston Martin in 1958 sports car races and for three years had driven for Cooper in Formula One and Formula Two races. Most notably he had been lying third until close to the finish of the 1957 Monaco Grand Prix until a broken fuel pump caused the engine to cut out in Casino Square. He was able to coast down the hill and on to the harbour front, from where he pushed the car home to officially place sixth.


Salvadori had also driven Coopers in those same years and was one of the most successful racers in the Formula Two class. So at the beginning of 1959, both he and Brabham had the choice of driving either for Aston Martin or for Cooper. Salvadori chose Aston Martin and Brabham chose Cooper. It was the right choice for the Australian as he went on to take the World F1 Championship for Cooper in 1959 and 1960. On the other hand, sticking with Aston Martin did lead to the Le Mans win and a share in the World Sportscar Championship for Salvadori.


Roy Salvadori teamed with Carroll Shelby to win the 1959 Le Mans 24 Hours race for Aston.


Shelby was also Salvadori’s teammate in the Aston Martin F1 Grand Prix squad

As for Aston Martin’s attempt at Formula One glory, that fizzled out in 1960 when the updated DBR5, which was lighter and faster as well as having better having better handling via all-round independent suspension, still failed to get on terms with the rear-engine opposition at either the Dutch or British Grands Prix. In terms of both development and their arrival on the F1 scene, for both the DBR4 and DBR5 it was a question of too little, too late.


For 2021 Aston Martin will again be seen on the Grand Prix grids as the team formerly known as Racing Point and Force India has been rebranded with the Aston name. Drivers will be former four-time World Champion, Sebastian Vettel, and Lance Strohl while the motive power will be provided by Mercedes Benz engines. In the Racing Point livery, the team’s cars took a win and a pole qualifying position in 2020 – so hopes are high for some good results as Aston Martin.

Feature by Alan Cathcart

Action Photograph by Kel Edge

Static Photographs by Kyoichi Nakamura


Few motorcycles ever built have enjoyed as mythical and fabled a reputation as Ducati’s legendary but abortive V4 Apollo project - the Italian marque’s failed attempt to produce a Harley-style cruiser aimed at the American market. As the largest motorcycle ever built by Ducati, this 1256cc behemoth is one which has remained something of an enigma because only two examples were ever built. The sole surviving known example of the two Apollo prototypes built back in 1963 is on display in the factory museum in Bologna. In addition to its rarity, it is a significant machine as it is the direct forerunner of all the 90-degree V-twins produced by Ducati during the past five decades, as well as of the current V-fours. Now it is on display for today’s generations of ducatisti to marvel at and to appreciate that Ducati’s dinosaur really does exist, other than in the pages of the history books. This is its story…


Back in the early ‘60s, Ducati was one of dozens of relatively small Italian motorcycle manufacturers, each struggling to overcome the savage attack on their crucial home market levelled after 1955 by the tiny Fiat 500 car which had sold in its hundreds of thousands and brought an end to the post-war boom in Italian biking initially brought about by the war-ravaged country’s need for basic transportation. This collapse in motorcycle sales not only forced first Gilera and next Moto Guzzi to withdraw from Grand Prix racing in 1957 but then a year later Ducati as well.


It was a sure sign of economic distress in such a sport-mad country, but it led Ducati to focus ever more closely on its export markets, especially on the USA which was at that time hungry for European products.



In Ducati’s case, production had declined to around 6000 bikes a year by 1960 and the company was only kept afloat thanks to state subsidies which were forthcoming mainly thanks to Bologna’s status as the bastion of Italy’s powerful Communist party. This meant an ever-greater dependence on the firm’s New Jersey-based US importer, the Berliner Motor Corporation. After its appointment in 1957 the Berliner company was selling no less than 85% of Ducati’s total production by the early 1960s. It meant that the brothers Joe and Mike Berliner effectively called the shots at the recession-hit Italian company.


Elder brother Joe Berliner was convinced of the potential of the US police market, especially since American anti-trust legislation required that police departments across the country at least consider alternative sources of supply to the prevailing Harley monopoly, In the wake of Indian’s demise, that now meant even the evaluation of foreign products. At the time, the Berliners were also importers for the German Zundapp marque, then primarily notable for a BMW-like 600cc flat-twin, the KS601. This was a shaft-drive tourer descended from Zundapp’s WW2 Wehrmacht machine and it was also available in a police version. Berliner had the bright idea of selling a batch of these to cities across the USA at a nominal price of one dollar each, for evaluation as possible future police equipment. But this potentially successful strategy proved abortive when Zundapp terminated production of the KS601 in 1958.


It was a decision made all the more unfortunate by the fact that several police forces to which Berliner had provided Zundapps had reported favourably on them and even been keen to place orders. There was also a second major problem that made American police sales difficult. Official US police department specifications were increasingly standardised across the country and naturally favoured the overweight, unsophisticated, large-capacity, home-grown product which Harley Davidson had been building since its earliest days. Specifically, the parameters for US police bikes required an engine capacity of at least 1200cc as well as a minimum 60-inch/1525mm wheelbase, and - worst of all - the use of 5.00 x 16 tyres: no other sizes were acceptable.


But Berliner was not easily daunted and, with Zundapp now a spent force, he contacted Ducati chief Dr.Giuseppe Montano to see if the firm was interested in producing a special machine for this significant market. This was despite the fact that the Italian company’s largest-capacity model in 1959, when Berliner first approached them, was the 200cc Elite! Montano and designer Fabio Taglioni readily agreed – especially after considering the design of the archaic 74 cu.in. Harley which was then effectively standard issue to US police departments. The Ducati management were certain that they could produce a more efficient and much more modern design which Berliner could sell at reasonable cost, even after payment of the quite steep US import duty.


Engineer Taglioni eagerly accepted the commission and relished it as a technical challenge – which was more than the board of Britain’s Associated Motor Cycles would do. That company also had a chance to make a bid for US police sales as its Norton, Matchless and AJS marques were distributed in the USA by Berliner from 1960 onwards. AMC would only consider building a parallel twin for the US police bike market to the same specification as they did in the UK and elsewhere. This effectively meant a maximum capacity of 800cc if vibration was to be kept within manageable levels. In other words, AMC were telling the customer what he ought to want, rather than what he has already decided you can try to sell him. It was an attitude so typical of the entire British motorcycle industry at that time and undoubtedly one of the factors in its demise.


Fortunately for Berliner, Ducati were much more flexible and obliging, though Montano encountered initial scepticism from the government bureaucrats in Rome who controlled the company’s finances, and this meant that negotiations with Berliner dragged on for a couple of years. Eventually a deal was finally struck in 1961 resulting in a joint venture, whereby Berliner would underwrite the development costs of the new model. The Apollo was the result - a name chosen by the Berliners to commemorate America’s manned space flights, which had recently begun. In return for their financial aid, Berliner Motor Corp. would be allowed to dictate its specifications but would be expected to make a further contribution towards tooling costs, if the prototype reached production. However, according to Calcagnile, apart from meeting the standardised US police regulations, the brothers’ only stipulation was that the bike should have an engine bigger than anything in Harley’s range, which was then topped by the 74 cu.in./1215cc FL-series Duo Glide models.


The remainder of the technical specification was left to Taglioni, who decided on a 90-degree V4 engine whose perfect primary balance meant that there was no need for a crankshaft counter-balancer to eliminate vibration. This was even the case with the 180-degree crank throws he opted for and which resulted in each pair of pistons rising and falling together.

Also, an integral part of the proposed engine layout was the use of separate, differentially finned, air-cooled cylinders. This was a design similar to the 250cc V4 that Taglioni had drawn up back in 1948 as his I.Mech.E degree project at Bologna University. The Apollo engine followed that design in utilising pushrod-operated overhead valve gear and a single gear-driven camshaft positioned centrally in the crankcase in the ‘vee’ between the cylinders. This was the same layout used on the big American V8 car engines and on the Harley vee-twins. Therefore, US police vehicle mechanics were well familiar with it and could work on that type of engine in their sleep.


The two valves per cylinder were operated via pushrods and rockers with screw-type adjusters, while the horizontally split wet sump engine featured a single crank running in a central support, with each pair of con-rods sharing a single caged roller-bearing big end. Ignition came via a 12v battery under the seat, with four sets of contact breakers, two running off each end of the camshaft, and four coils feeding the 14mm sparkplugs, one per cylinder. Taglioni had considered water-cooling the engine but rejected this on the grounds of complication and bulk, and likewise politely turned down Joe Berliner’s suggestion to incorporate shaft drive, which he mistrusted, in favour of a duplex chain final drive (the same as later adopted on the Benelli 900 Sei).


However, he did make space in the housing containing the Apollo’s five-speed gearbox and gear primary drive to accept a Sachs variable-speed automatic transmission. This option was never pursued by Ducati and, in fact, it would be Moto Guzzi which would finally bring it to the marketplace in its V1000 I-Convert, a decade later in 1975.


Even by today’s standards the ultra-short-stroke (84.5 bore x 56 mm stroke) Apollo V4 motor was by some way the most oversquare design that Taglioni ever produced for Ducati. The front cylinders of the mighty 1256cc engine were lifted 10 degrees from the horizontal to improve cooling to the rear pair when the engine was installed as a stressed member in a beefy-looking open-cradle duplex chassis with a central box-section downtube between the front two cylinders.


Even by today’s standards the ultra-short-stroke (84.5 bore x 56 mm stroke) Apollo V4 motor was by some way the most oversquare design that Taglioni ever produced for Ducati. The front cylinders of the mighty 1256cc engine were lifted 10 degrees from the horizontal to improve cooling to the rear pair when the engine was installed as a stressed member in a beefy-looking open-cradle duplex chassis with a central box-section downtube between the front two cylinders.


With specially developed Ceriani suspension, the Apollo’s handling was certain to easily outperform Harley (who had only recently discovered rear suspension in the early 1960s) though the full-width 220mm single-leading shoe brakes front and rear didn’t promise quite as much. A kickstart was provided for the brave to use, while for mere mortals a Marelli electric starter similar to the one used on a Fiat TV1100 car was also featured. A massive 200W generator was fitted on the right, opposite the seven-plate oil-bath clutch, in order to cope with the additional electrical load imposed by various police paraphernalia such as sirens, lights and radios.



At just 450mm wide, the all-alloy V4 engine was relatively compact in spite of its architecture and allowed the Italian bike to compare more than favourably with its Harley rival. The Apollo scaled 271kg. dry with a 1555mm wheelbase as against the American V-twin’s 1580mm stace and 291kg weight. So, even though Ducati test rider Franco Farne came back from an early test run aboard the Apollo complaining that it handled like a truck, this was accepted as being just ‘The American Way’.


And anyway the ‘Ducati Berliner 1260 Apollo’ (as the bike was officially known) more than made up for this with its straight-line performance. This came courtesy of a claimed 100 bhp at 7000 rpm as against 55 bhp for the Harley Wide Glide. Running on four 32mm Dell’Orto SS carbs and 10:1 compression, the Apollo was good for a top speed in excess of 200 kph – more than 120 mph – which was pretty impressive for the day. It was performance befitting what was in prototype form the largest capacity and most powerful motorcycle yet constructed in post-war Europe.


But ironically, that impressive factor was also a damning one. For its meaty performance was also the Apollo’s downfall - a fact confirmed by Ducati tester and former GP mechanic Giancarlo ‘Fuzzi’ Librenti, who was the first to suffer the heart-stopping experience of having the specially made 16-inch whitewall Pirelli rear tyre throw its tread at high speed on the Milan-Bologna autostrada, after ballooning under sustained 100 mph speeds and detaching from the rim.



The agreement with Berliner had called for Ducati to construct two complete prototypes and two spare engines, and the first of these, very evidently a Latin pastiche of an American motorcycle, was painted in a ritzy metallic gold paint job and complete with huge cowboy saddle fitted with a chrome grab handle.


All that was missing were the tassels and fringes when it was handed over to the Americans in a formal ceremony in March 1964! High-rise ‘ape hanger’ handlebars, deeply valanced mudguards, a semi-peanut fuel tank (seemingly hijacked from Ducati’s 175cc production line) and fat whitewall tyres specially built by Pirelli completed the Italo-American styling. The overall effect was so heavy (not improved by the fat, car-section tyres) that the Apollo looked much bigger and bulkier than it really was.


A second prototype built later, was displayed at the Daytona Show in Cycle Week in 1965 and looked more tasteful, with leaner mudguards, altered side covers, and painted in a more discreet black and silver - albeit still with the Wild West seat.



However, while initial tests proved the Apollo to have an abundance of power, it was soon discovered that the V4 engine was too potent for the 16-inch Pirelli tyres to cope with. Ducati and Berliner had always intended that the police Apollo should form the basis of a line of freeway cruisers, which would provide an additional means of recouping the outlay spent on development.


The prototype engines therefore had two specifications - the 100 bhp Sport version and a normale alternative employing a softer cam, 8:1 compression and a single smaller (24mm) Dell’Orto for each pair of cylinders, front and rear. This produced 80 bhp at 6000 rpm - but still the tyre problems persisted. The solution was to detune the engine yet further, making a twin-carb version, reducing the compression still more to 7:1 and installing even softer cams to switch the power delivery more to torque that outright speed. This lowered the power to 65 bhp, still adequate to meet police performance specifications, and still superior to the Harley, thanks to the V4 Ducati’s lighter weight. It also appeared to finally resolve the tyre problem.


Unfortunately, while still OK for police bike purchases, this reduction in power effectively ruled out the Apollo being sold as a luxury sports tourer since its power-to-weight ratio was now inferior to the BMW and British twins which would have been its ‘import’ rivals in the US market. Berliner had been so confident of the bike’s potential that he had already begun marketing the Apollo in the States and had printed a brochure quoting a price of $1500 for the touring version and $1800 for the Sport - substantially more than its European twin-cylinder competition and double the cost of the equivalent Harley.


At that price level, the Ducati would have had to boast an additional edge in performance to justify the extra cost but in detuned form, it could not. With the V4 set up to deliver the right kind of power to meet the demands of the marketplace it would unfortunately be lethal until tyre technology caught up with it.


This situation provided the perfect opportunity for the Italian government bureaucrats controlling Ducati’s finances to kill off a project they’d never had much faith in. They were able to cite as an excuse the fact that, with the model now suitable only for the specialist police market, its sales would be insufficient to justify the immense tooling costs involved in gearing up the Ducati factory for its production. Berliner, who had already successfully demonstrated the Apollo to selected police chiefs, was appalled. He had promised that production of the reduced-power version would commence in 1965, yet now the whole project seemed in danger of collapse. And so it proved. Further funding for the Apollo was withdrawn, and Ducati was reluctantly forced to cancel the project early in 1965.


The second of the two prototypes constructed was shipped straight back from the Daytona Show into the Berliner warehouse at Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, where it remained for the next two decades in a corner of the storeroom - a sad reminder of a motorcycle killed off by a mixture of government infighting and its own advanced specification. The Apollo was just too much, too soon. As an indication of how proud he was of the design, however, the spare engine sat on display in Fabio Taglioni’s office for 20 years until his retirement, a silent testament to his versatility and farsightedness.



Read more about the Apollo V4 in the e-book that is one of the range of titles in The Motorcycle Files. Go to www.brgmultimedia.com where you can click through to see all the available titles and then on to Amazon for a preview and ordering procedures.


Feature and Photographs by Tony Thacker/TorqTalk.com


Even the most ardent moto fan might never have heard of El Mirage Dry Lake or, El Mo as it is known to the cognoscenti. El Mo is located about 100 miles north east of Los Angeles, California, in the Mojave Desert. Used to be, it was way out there, nowadays the townies are creeping ever nearer with housing tracts, strip malls and the inevitable traffic. Nevertheless, the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), formed in 1937, continues to sanction land speed racing events every month from May through November except August when they decamp to go race at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, where its longer, flatter and even faster.



Unlike Bonneville, which is a salt lake, El Mo is a dry lake of alkali dust. Most every winter it rains and levels out the lakebed, more or less, to form a long, flat race track. Every spring a hearty and hard working band of pure volunteers arrives to lay out a 1.3-mile course that runs arrow straight west to east.


At each event a hundred or more racers, half of them on motorcycles, face Mecca and try to break a record. The fastest car so far on the lake is the Leggitt-Mirage Blown Fuel Lakester, an open-wheel, dragster-like device driven by Paul Prentice to a speed of 312.100 mph.


The fastest motorcycle speed, 266.399mph, was set by the late Ralph Hudson in November 2016. Sadly, Hudson died at the Bonneville Salt Flats on August 14, 2020 when a gust of wind sent him into a tank-slapper at a reported 252 mph—from which he did not recover. Hudson is the current FIM World Record holder for the all-time fastest non-streamlined motorcycle at 297mph.


Hudson was riding a highly modified turbocharged 2003 Suzuki GSX-R1000 but the SCTA has a class for just about every size and shape of bolide up to and beyond 3000cc. A rule book can be purchased for just $10 from their website and what racers do is study that rule book looking for what we call ‘soft’ records. Soft means that it’s an easy-ish record to take for whatever reason, such as an ‘open’ record or a record that nobody has gone after for a while or one that is just not very fast and is ripe for the taking.


Given that there’s a seat for every backside, the field at a typical lakes race is eclectic to say the least. At the very bottom of the totem pole is Rick Yacoucci who has a record at 39.648mph riding a Honda Express. But Rick also drives a streamliner car at over 400mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats! At El Mirage in November he went 284mph – the highest speed of the weekend.

Rick Yacoucci’s streamliner is in essence a full-bodied dragster


Unfortunately, between the weather and the pandemic the race schedule of late has been somewhat upset. As I said, annual rains flood the lake but in recent years the water has caused deep fissures in the surface that have proved difficult to repair. Consequently, there was no racing at all until October 2020. Annoyingly, the wind got up in October and obliterated that event too.


John Noonan posted fastest motorcycle time of the weekend at 211.815mph on a 1000cc Suzuki


Notwithstanding dust in places you’ve only ever seen with a mirror, we were all back for the season finale in November and it was a great event. Beautiful weather, hard surface and minimal wind. It total, there were 29 records broken of which 11 were motorcycle records. Fastest rider of the weekend was John Noonan riding the #9 RIP Glen Barrett 1000cc Hayabusa with a speed of 211.815mph.


Despite their long history of land speed racing, what you don’t see many of at the lakes events these days is Vincents. That said, Alp Sungurtekin of AlpRacingDesign.com, Los Angeles, was there with his ’48 Vincent Rapide. Check his website and you will see that Alp has a ton of records including, he says, the fastest pushrod engine, sit-on motorcycle in the history of land speed racing—175.625mph. Running unblown but on nitro Alp took the beautiful ‘Vinnie’ to 171.986mph. Pretty fast for a septuagenarian.

The Alp Racing Design Vincent which Alp Sungurtekin rode at 175.675mph


Talking about V-twins, in 2017, in preparation for the Burt Munro (World’s Fastest Indian) 50th anniversary, Indian Motorcycle set three new records at El Mo with Burt Munro’s great nephew, Lee Munro doing some of the riding. After completing his rookie runs, Lee recorded a speed of 186.681 mph—a new record.


Lee Munro set a class record of 186.681mph with a new-model Indian in 2017


John Hateley, a dirt track racing star in the 1970s, went 97.07mph on this vintage Indian.



David Davidson’s ’34 Roadster ran 254mph


Brandon Leggitt’s ’53 Studebaker is aptly named ‘The Beast’


Neil McAlister put in a 174 64mph pass in his ’32 Ford 5-window coupe