The Beautiful, Streamlined Cars That Set the World’s First Land Speed Records | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Bombshell Betty, a 1952 land speed racer and two-time World Speed Record breaker, tears across the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. (Christopher Wilson)
A car sits idle on the Bonneville Salt Flats as it waits for its turn to compete. The salt flats are slick and hard, ideal for racing. (Christopher Wilson)
(Christopher Wilson)

The Beautiful, Streamlined Cars That Set the World’s First Land Speed Records

One hundred years ago, the Bonneville Salt Flats became a racing paradise

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A century ago, in August 1914, Teddy Tetzlaff raced a 300-horsepower Blitzen Benz across the Bonneville Salt Flats at 142.8 miles per hour. He set the first land speed record at the Utah salt bed, which would become the premier location for speed contests—“as smooth as the proverbial billiard table and as hard as a cement highway,” Motor Age wrote that year. The record-setting continues at Bonneville, with wheel-driven cars clawing toward 500 miles per hour (jet-powered vehicles have topped 760). Photographer Christopher Wilson admires the purpose-built, aerodynamic streamliners and lakesters, but it is the highly modified production vehicles that he finds most visually appealing. “Bombshell Betty,” for instance, a 1952 Buick powered by a Straight 8 engine out of a Roadmaster. “Some are crazy contraptions,” says Wilson, “all are great departures from what you see on the street.”

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