Dubbed “Challenger 2,” this twin-Hemi-powered streamliner holds the certified record run as the fastest naturally aspirated, piston-powered vehicle in history—an automotive milestone that was 50 years in the making.
Designed and built by Hall of Fame driver, self-made engineer and prolific promoter Mickey Thompson in collaboration with Kar Kraft of Brighton, Michigan, Challenger 2 was Thompson’s second land speed car intended to break the overall piston record. In 1960, Thompson had become the first American to break the 400 MPH barrier, piloting his Challenger 1 streamliner to 406.60 MPH at Bonneville to exceed Englishman John Cobb’s one-way record of 402 MPH. Unfortunately, the car broke on its return run, robbing Thompson of the coveted two-way record, but it ultimately set the stage for his next attempt.
That came in 1968, when Thompson returned to the famed Salt Flats with the Challenger 2, which was originally christened the “Mickey Thompson Autolite Special.” In contrast to the somewhat heavy-handed approach taken in the four-engined, Pontiac-powered Challenger 1, Thompson’s new creation was a tour-de-force of elegant engineering, described by “Sports Illustrated” at the time as “a rolling textbook in sophisticated automotive design.”
With financing and engineering input from Ford, Thompson hand assembled an all-star team of California Hot Rodding and racing talents to handle the job. Drag racer and fabricator Pat Foster managed the project, and famed IndyCar constructor Quinn Epperly built a portion of the chassis in his shop with the remainder completed by the team at MT Advanced Engineering. Meanwhile, Tom Jobe of “Surfers” Top Fuel dragster fame and the ubiquitous Nye Frank massaged the aluminum panels used to form the car’s slippery envelope, with assistance from the talented Louie Teckenoff.