Challenger II

The Challenger II project actually evolved out of a larger program originally intended to generate buzz for Ford’s introduction of the 1969 Mach I Mustang. Bunkie Knudsen, who’d recently stirred up controversy by jumping ship from GM, approached Mickey [Thompson] with a simple directive; make a splash.

Mickey decided to take three of the new Mustangs to Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats and break as many speed records as he could as fast as humanly possible (the number ended up being more than 250). To make sure the press paid attention, he invited journalists to be his co-drivers. Ford’s marketing team used the ensuing spectacle to establish the Mach I’s racing bona fides. 

Smelling success, Mickey pitched the idea of expanding the program to include a similar series of attempts with a group of funny cars, as well as a run at his personal obsession, the piston land speed record. The connection there (aside from the funny car bodies) was the new 427 SOHC engine, which all of the vehicles could share. 

Ford was closely involved with the design of the Challenger II through their Kar Kraft specialty shop (the liason on their end was Ed Hull, who was also involved with the GT40 Mark IV). The actual construction was done by Mickey's hand picked team (Frank, Epperly, Buttera, Jobe and others). The restored negative shows one of a very limited number of test runs undertaken by the car before the course was rained out and the project mothballed.

A rescued negative from the 1960's reveals Mickey Thompson's Challenger II streamliner during a test run at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Years later Thompson teamed up with his son Danny to make another attempt, but Thompson was murdered before an attempt could be made.

On the 50th anniversary of his father’s original 406mph run, Danny removed the Challenger II from storage and brought it to his Huntington Beach shop. Untouched for more than 40 years, he began the extensive process of restoring, retrofitting, and updating the vehicle.

Land Speed Racing America