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INSPIRE – Building a 400mph car in your garage

Californian hot rodder Mickey Thompson did so much in his all-too-short life, but setting a land speed record at 400mph in a car he built at home in his garage has to be one of the most notable.

Powered by four V8s supplied by Pontiac, Mickey took the car to the Bonneville salt flats in 1959 and didn’t get near the record. He came back, equipped with superchargers on each motor, the next year and ran 406mph. In a car he built at home. In his garage.

Think about that for a moment. It’s one thing to swap a transmission or build a table, but to create a vehicle of your own design that pilots you to 1.5 times faster than the fastest production car on the planet can do (which has been designed and built by a multi-billion dollar corporation with teams of scientists), that takes stones.


Photo: Hot Rod Magazine – this is the 1960 supercharged Challenger

Mickey is a motorsport legend for his many inventions and revolutionary ideas, from gas turbine and four-whee-drive cars entered into the Indianapolis 500, to designing the slingshot dragster, inventing stadium off-road racing, building one of the biggest aftermarket car parts companies. He was a west coast Dude who Got Stuff Done. mickey-thompson-01

Photo: Hot Rod Magazine – Mickey with the original incarnation of Challenger I

Land speed rules meant Mickey had to back up his run within an hour, which he wasn’t able to. As he shifted into top gear, one of his four fire-breathing engines gave out. But Challenger I was front-page news and helped build Mickey’s profile in Detroit.


Photo: Hot Rod Magazine – Mickey with the Autolite Special, which has been reborn

After Pontiac was ordered to pull out of racing in 1963 Mickey hooked up with Ford during their Total Performance era. In 1968 he built the Autolite Special (named after Ford’s recently acquired Autolite department) but shelved the project after only a few runs.

He had just dragged it out of hibernation when he was unfortunately murdered by a business partner in 1988. His son Danny rebuilt the car and ran it at Bonneville in 2016, capturing a class record at 406mph.

Iain "Marv" Kelly View All

G'day guys, my name is Iain but most people know me as "Marv", mainly because it is easier than explaining why my parents spelled "Ian" with two i's. I'm a journalist from Sydney, Australia who loves cars, dogs, making "things" and spinning yarns. The real thrill for me, however, is the story behind the object or person. I have a background in automotive journalism across vehicles new and old, stock, modified, and hand-built, and I love the whole process of making magazines. I am also a fan of diving into history and discovering the amazing things humans have done in the past. This blog will tell the tales of rad people who make cool stuff.

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