Hot Rod Magazine Goldenrod Article
American Treasure – Summers Brothers’ Goldenrod
Published in the Hot Rod Magazine
Written by: Rob Kinnan Photography: Randy Lorentzen
This author was about seven months old on November 12, 1965, the day Americans Bob and Bill Summers took the piston-powered, wheel-driven land speed record from Englishman Donald Campbell’s Bluebird. Bob drove the duo’s Goldenrod to a two-way average of 409.277 mph in the mile (and 409.685 in the kilometer) for an FIA record that still stands. Sure, Al Teague ran faster than that over a decade ago for his FIA and SCTA records (409.986 mph), but that was with a supercharged Hemi. Likewise, the Burklands’ 417.020 we reported in March was also blown. The Summers Brothers did it naturally aspirated, albeit with four Chrysler Hemis.
The day after the record, the Goldenrod is said to have made another pass, that one at 425 mph, but for reasons unknown the brothers did not make a return run so it didn’t count for the record. That was the last known pass for the Goldenrod. In the years that followed, it was towed to various shows, including Goodwood in England where it was on display next to Campbell’s Bluebird. It then sat at the Wally Parks NHRA Museum for a number of years-outdoors as it had been since 1965. But about five years ago, the car was at the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance in Rochester, Michigan, where it was spotted by Bob Casey, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford, Michigan’s enormous history museum. Casey, a hot rodder and a fan of land speed racing (LSR), talked to Bill Summers about putting the car in the museum. One thing led to another and The Henry Ford bought the car. That’s where John Baechtel came in.
As JB soon found, outdoor storage all those years had taken its toll on the historic race car to the point where it needed a total restoration-we’re talking every nut, bolt, and washer. Realizing the scope of the project, Casey did his research and applied for a Save America’s Treasures grant from the U.S. government, a grant normally issued to preserve historic buildings and such. Surprisingly, he got it.
“We weren’t sure we could convince people that a hot rod was an American treasure,” says Casey, “but we were persuasive and we got the grant to help fund the restoration.”
Currently, the Goldenrod is secreted away at an undisclosed Southern California location with JB and SCTA President Mike Cook overseeing the restoration and studiously photographing and documenting every step of the way for an eventual book on the car. Several shops bid on the restoration, but the job went to JB and Cook. Casey’s politically correct proclivities prevented him from disclosing details, but he did say he wanted the car done in Southern California, where it was not only originally built, but where many of the original engineers and suppliers are still located. “There are a lot of people [in So-Cal] who actually knew the car and worked on it,” he says, “and they know the process of building these kinds of cars.”
Why are we showing a car that has yet to be restored? Because it means so much to the world of hot rodding and also to HOT ROD magazine. For nearly 40 years, the Goldenrod has held one of the most significant records on anyone’s books, and its reward has been neglect that has withered it nearly to the point of no return. But now, through the help of genuine hot rodders like Bob Casey, John Baechtel, Mike Cook, and a slew of others (including Bill Summers himself), the mighty land speed racer will be restored to a like-new showpiece. No, it will probably never again set rubber to salt, but it will forever be enshrined in the Mecca of all automotive and American historical museums, The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. And how many hot rods are granted such an honor? None that we know of.
We will show you the restored vehicle in all its glory as soon as JB, Mike, and the boys bring it back to life. Until then, marvel at Randy Lorentzen’s photographs of the unbelievable engineering talent and ingenuity that Bob and Bill Summers put into their signature car, the Goldenrod.
You Can Help
Hot rods, and especially race car, historical or otherwise, are constantly undergoing various modifications, and updates, and over the years a lot of stuff just plain gets lost. Goldenrod is no exception. Though it only made a total of eight runs on the Salt, there were some modifications made to the car during that time, most notably the hoodscoops. On the record runs, the car had relatively un-aerodynamic mailbox scoops for the engines. According to Chrysler’s original program manager, Peter Dawson, these scoops were more effective at lower engine speeds and were intended to help the car accelerate quicker. These were swapped for much more aero scoops for the 425-mph pass, and those are the same ones on the car today. Where are the originals?
After some searching, the record scoops, along with the original wind-tunnel model and fiberglass parachute cover, were found in England. Bob Casey has already negotiated to buy these parts from the current owner, but he says there are some other small parts that people have obtained through the years, most likely as souvenirs, and they would really like them back. If anybody reading this has any of these parts, do the right thing and donate them to the project. John Baechtel is the point man on this, and you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. JB says he is looking for four ’65 Prestolite electronic ignition boxes and four stock coils, five stock 426 Hemi oil pans, and 12 Hemi oil pumps at the moment. That’s right, 12. Goldenrod’s dry-sump system was pretty innovative. Any photographs, memories, or other information you can provide that may help with the restoration would also be appreciated.
And if you live in Southern California and would like to lend a hand, feel free to drop JB an e-mail. He told us that there is only one full-time guy on the project, and federal grant funding is limited, so they need all the help they can get. If you can fabricate, paint, weld, or just clean parts, and you don’t mind doing it for free, they need you. And how cool would that be, to be involved in the restoration of such a historic car?
The Goldenrod has been completed and now resides in a dedicated location at the Henry Ford, www.thehenryford.com. The display stand seen in the background contains the original wind tunnel model constructed by Bill Summers, Bob (Butch) Summers helmet (on loan from the family) and one of the original record scoops that had been modified for more air flow at slower speeds. After an exhausting investigative effort I tracked the model and the scoops down from a collector in England and the museum ponied up an enormous sum to rejoin them with the car.
Bob Summers passed away in 1992, but the surviving brother Bill, remained with us until 5/13/2011. He was able to participate in and see the results of the restoration effort undertaken by the museum before his untimely passing. Rest in peace Butch and Bill; two landmark pioneers of landspeed racing.
– John Baechtel