Ford Model A Sadd Teague & Bentley Roadster
Salt. The human body can’t exist without it, but too much of it is fatal. It was Ab Jenkins, famed for his legendary single-handed 24-hour record runs, who introduced a whole new meaning to “salt” when he recognized that the immense lake bed between Utah’s Great Salt Lake and Wendover, Utah presented the ideal surface for sustained high speeds.
Early automobilists had used Pendine Sands in England and the beaches at Ormond and Daytona in Florida for their speed records but beaches came and went as smooth, reliable surfaces. They depended upon finding a window in the daily ebb and flow of the ocean that created a usable combination of composition and gentle erosion that left an elusive band of flat, smooth, firm surface between the dunes and the sea.
Bonneville and its counterparts in America’s arid southwest between the Rockies and the Sierras were dried up relics of ancient lakes. Formed from millennia of runoff, their vestige was a soluble composition of salts left behind when the waters ran off and the remaining moisture evaporated in the region’s relentless sunshine. The surface was blindingly white, but annually replenished by rains and mountain runoff which refreshed the surface. Gravity left it smooth, flat and immense in the summer and fall when the water level receded.
In the case of Bonneville, by far the largest of America’s dry lake beds, there are 159 square miles of flat, smooth salt, equivalent to a box over 12 miles on a side.
Ab Jenkins drove the first of his many 24 hour endurance runs there on a 10-mile circle in 1932. With Jenkins’ urging in 1935, Malcolm Campbell abandoned Florida’s Atlantic beaches for Bonneville, setting the first of many land speed records at Bonneville in Bluebird at 301.337 mph.
Al Teague first arrived on the Bonneville salt in 1967 as a spectator with George Bentley and George Morris, who were running a 259 cubic inch flathead-powered roadster. He was back only year later in 1968. He brought this car, the Sadd, Teague & Bentley 1929 Ford Roadster, which was less of a stranger to the salt than Teague. It was built on Deuce rails in 1956 by Gene Ohly for Nick and Ernie Sadd. First powered by a fuel injected Ardun flathead, it had made its first trip to Bonneville in 1957 and turned in a one-way speed of 211 mph in 1963.
In 1965 the roadster began to resemble its present self, receiving the red-orange paint scheme it proudly wears today, its famous 76 number and turning from Chevrolet to Mopar hemi power. It began a protracted campaign to capture the Fuel Roadster record which would not realize its result until the next decade.
The pursuit of speed records on the Bonneville salt is an exercise in patience and persistence. Most teams have to live within strict budgets set by their own determination and pocketbooks. Sponsorship is rare, and rarely involves significant dollars. There is no prize money. Often during days set aside for Speed Week water levels underlying the racing surface are high, rendering the salt unusable or restricting the length of the course. Sometimes it rains, which makes a year’s planning and preparation pointless. Other times it doesn’t rain enough to replenish the surface. A single faulty fitting or fatigued component can kill an engine before a run can be made. Even more often weather or equipment failure mean a record-setting run can’t be backed up to go into the SCTA record books.
On the other hand the sanctioning body, the Southern California Timing Association, has a class for everything, from reaction-powered jet cars and multi-engine streamliners to sub-100 mph Crosleys. Everyone has a chance to play, and play they do, every year in mid-August.
A change in the SCTA rules in 1970 allowed the team to build a bigger engine than the 300 cubic inch hemi permitted up until then. With the new engine they set an A/Fuel Roadster mark of 220 mph at El Mirage in July, then turned 232 one way and 229 on the return at Bonneville. It was still not the record, but came close, and it was done with the 300 cubic inch C/FR engine after the big engine was hurt on the first fast run. A year later in 1971 Teague clocked 241 mph one way, the first 240+ mph run for a roadster, but the old Cadillac gearbox that had been in the car since it was built in 1956 gave up under the strain of years on the drag strip and record runs on the salt.
The “Sadd, Teague & Bentley” number 76 was completely rebuilt for 1972. In qualifying runs it turned 252 mph. In the first record run an oil line fitting let go, but even after shutting off the blocky roadster was timed at another 252 mph run. Makeshift repairs got them back on the course with a speed of 249 mph for a two-way record average of 250.805 mph, the A/Fuel Roadster record the team had been pursuing for five years.
After an engine swap to a 354 cubic inch hemi, the “Sadd, Teague & Bentley” roadster went back onto the course, turning 235 mph in pursuit of the B/FR record. Then, coming back to the pits on the return road in the dark, it collided with a Ford Ranchero coming the other way. Both drivers suffered non-life threatening injuries but the roadster was bent and essentially totally destroyed.
A year later in 1973 the “Sadd, Teague & Bentley” roadster was back, completely rebuilt with herculean efforts from the team and some invaluable financial support from additive manufacturer Steed Industries. Powered by a blown 360 cubic inch hemi in search of the B/Fuel Roadster record cut off by the prior year’s accident, it cranked out an amazing 268 mph, then backed it up with a return run which set the B/Fuel Roadster record of 266.043 mph.
The physics of accelerating the brick that Henry Ford built to speeds like this is summarized in an observation written by Tom Senter in a December 1972 feature story on the Sadd, Teague & Bentley roadster. “To give you an idea just how much wind that car has to push, Al was timed at 252.98 at the four-mile board, where he shut off. Without using the brakes or chute, coasting out of gear, he was clocked at the five-mile board at 144.59, a loss of 110 mph in one mile. The thing is a house on wheels.” It took only about 18 seconds to coast that mile. It takes that long to read the preceding quote.
Meticulously rebuilt and restored by the team who built it over years and years of competition and incorporating parts like the blower and Hilborn injectors that were made in the mid-1950s, the “Sadd, Teague & Bentley” Roadster is a legend in American record-setting history. With a competitive career that spanned the better part of two decades in both drag racing and on the salt, it is one of the foremost examples of the craftsmanship, ingenuity, creativity and determination of the many talented individuals who made Southern California’s speed culture vibrant.
Al and Harvey Teague, George Bentley, Gene Ohly, Nick and Ernie Sadd, with the help of many other like-minded individuals, wrote a colorful, exciting history with this number 76 roadster, carefully rebuilt and restored by the team who built and raced her.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in September 2009 at the Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, California.
1,000+ hp 360 cu. in. supercharged, fuel injected Chrysler Hemi V8 engine, three-speed manual transmission, live axle front suspension with transverse leaf spring, rigid rear suspension, two-wheel brakes. Wheelbase 103.5"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel