Fastest of the Fast: Land Speed Diesels
Land speed racing ranks pretty high on our prestigious meter. After all, it’s no small undertaking to design, build and eventually drive a vehicle into the record books. It’s something a lot of folks attempt, but very few achieve. In this motorsport, success is never guaranteed—and any accomplishment witnessed by an outsider is only the last sentence of a very long novel. A highly knowledgeable team, 20-hour days and a plethora of failures are all part of the record-breaking puzzle for successful land speed teams.
As with many other forms of auto racing, in recent years, diesel-powered vehicles have begun to enter the land speed fray on a more frequent basis. Fifteen years ago, Banks Power stuffed a 5.9L Cummins into a Dodge Dakota and proceeded to establish a new diesel pickup record that was nearly 50 mph faster than the previous mark. Not long after that, a new diesel-powered mini-truck arrived on the scene: the Power Stroke equipped ’01 Ford Ranger campaigned by SPAL and Hypermax Engineering.
Then there are the streamliners… With full factory backing, British-based JCB earned the title of fastest diesel streamliner in the world back in 2006. While JCB still holds the record, it hasn’t gone unchallenged, namely by Lynn Goodfellow and his Duramax-powered “Mormon Missile.” Last, but not least, there are smaller teams—such as Doug and Davidson Adler and their VW-powered racer— with hopes, dreams and an undeniable drive to get their names etched into the record books, too.
If you’re ready for the full backstory on each vehicle mentioned above, keep reading…
We begin with the fastest of the fast: the JCB Dieselmax streamliner. A multi-national corporation known for building construction and agricultural equipment, JCB set its sights on the 300-mph barrier back in 2004. Along with the obvious goal of being the fastest diesel-powered streamliner in the world, the project would serve as a way to showcase the durability of the company’s new JCB444 engines. While the two JCB444 mills that powered the Dieselmax were highly modified, they were JCB born and bred, nonetheless. Each power plant was bored and stroked to 5.0 liters of displacement, compression was dropped to 10.5:1, the common-rail fuel system was effectively placed on steroids and compound turbo arrangements helped each four-cylinder engine produce nearly 90 psi of boost.
Built by Visioneering, the Dieselmax’s chassis consisted of 2-inch mild steel square tube, a carbon fiber body and sandwiched aluminum honeycomb. Each engine was mounted on its side, with one positioned in front of the driver and the other located behind him. Both engines turned out 750 hp and benefited from dry sump oil systems and water-to-air intercooling. A JCB overdrive tripled the crankshaft speed of the engines before it was fed to an air-shifted, six-speed transmission and transaxle. The Dieselmax also made use of independent four-wheel drive, with no driveline connection existing between the front and rear sets of tires. Per the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), the Dieselmax’s 317.021 mph record has sat at the top of the diesel streamliner category for over a decade, having been achieved in August of 2006. The fastest speed ever recorded by the Dieselmax is 350.092 mph, which is an international (FIA-certified) diesel land speed record.
Directly on the heels of the JCB Dieselmax (even though technically in a different class) was the Mormon Missile streamliner put together by Lynn Goodfellow. Thanks to having a metal fabrication shop onsite at his Boulder City, Nevada, rock-crushing equipment business, most of the car was built in-house. Its body is polished fiberglass, the chassis was formed out of high-strength Domex 100 steel that’s 1/8-inch thick with the cockpit enclosed with a rollcage made from 2-inch diameter 4130 chromoly steel. After getting stuck in the mid-200’s for a short time, Goodfellow’s Mormon Missile rocketed to 314.98 mph in 2008, grabbed the number 2 spot at Bonneville in 2009 (305.145 mph) and obtained an FIA-certified speed of 341.167 mph that same year.
The Duramax that powers the Mormon Missile was built by Curtis Halvorson, a renowned engine builder in the Duramax world. The 6.6L GM V8 concealed X-beam connecting rods, 15:1 compression forged-aluminum pistons from Mahle, CNC ported heads, ARP head studs and a compound turbo system that was good for just shy of 70 psi of boost (while producing just 60 psi worth of drive pressure). The Duramax was controlled via a BSG standalone ECM and bolted to a five-speed Liberty transmission that transmitted power to a Dick Holt-built quick-change rear axle.
Doug and Davison Adler’s Volkswagen-powered streamliner is one of the freshest vehicles to grace the diesel streamliner class. Named the Double Eagle, a moniker their father created and that they use on all of their custom vehicle builds, it makes use of an ’05 model year 5.0L V10 TDI. Thanks to its body being primarily made from composite reinforced fiberglass, its engine compartment built out of formed aluminum and the Lexan polycarbonate employed on the canopy, the Double Eagle tips the scales at just over 1,800 pounds. The tube chassis and safety cage were constructed by Doug Adler from 1-3/4-inch mild steel. Davidson pilots the car, which has seen a top speed of 237.015 mph (exit speed) so far, effectively making Double Eagle the fastest Volkswagen racer in the world.
Starting with a 147,000-mile 5.0L V10 and six-speed Aisin transmission, AG Autowerks of Ventura, California, handled the engine and transmission integration, along with all wiring. Injectors equipped with Bosio Race 783 nozzles combined with Kerma TDI tuning help fuel the beast, while a pair of K16-based BorgWarner turbos from Apex Performance Turbochargers take care of the air side. To keep exhaust gas temperature at bay, a pair of water-to-air intercoolers are used and as a result the Double Eagle never sees EGT higher than 1,400 degrees F. With its light race weight and having plenty of room for growth in the power production department, the Adler brothers may eventually look to challenge the JCB Dieselmax streamliner record with their one-of-a-kind creation.
Back before Gale Banks introduced the world to his Duramax-powered Pro Stock S10 or his Spitzer-chassis’d Duramax dragster, the Banks Power camp broke land speed records with this Dodge Dakota. The original bearer of the “Sidewinder” name, a 5.9L Cummins was shoehorned under the hood (the firewall had to be moved back 18 inches), shifts were handled manually via a NV5600 transmission and a McLeod dual disc clutch, a roll cage was added and the truck’s suspension, brakes and aerodynamics were all considerably upgraded. Believe it or not, the engine was supplied by Cummins and made 393 hp when it arrived at Banks’ facility. Thanks to bigger injectors, a different ECM, extensive porting of the 24-valve cylinder head, a 70mm Holset HY55 variable geometry turbo (producing 48 psi of boost at 3,600 rpm) and a high flow intake manifold, the Banks team was able to glean a completely usable (i.e. safe) 735 hp and 1,300 lb-ft of torque out of the inline-six while aboard the dyno.
On October 17, 2002 the Banks Sidewinder arrived at the World Finals in Bonneville and proceeded to blow past the then-fastest diesel pickup record. After achieving an average speed of 217.314 mph the first day and 213.583 mph the second day, Banks had claimed both the FIA (international) title and the SCTA title for the world’s fastest diesel pickup. Better yet, when the truck wasn’t out at the salt flats running 200 mph it was driving around on the street. That’s right, it was street driven—even toting a small trailer while competing in the 2005 holding of Hot Rod Magazine’s Power Tour. In street trim, things were dialed back a bit (in the form of smaller injectors, a different ECM and an air-to-air intercooler), but in our minds it doesn’t alter the cool factor. In mixed street driving, the Sidewinder got a very respectable 21.2 mpg.
In 2007, another diesel-powered mini-truck, an ’01 Ford Ranger backed by SPAL and Hypermax Engineering, would get in on the record-breaking action at the Bonneville Salt Flats. With a 215.091 mph two-run average, the “Rocket Ranger” (as it was called) was recognized by the SCTA as the fastest diesel pickup truck. Interestingly enough, in a former life (and with a Roush-built, 371 ci NASCAR engine under the hood) the Rocket Ranger had already set the record for the Modified Mid/Mini Pickup class at 205.208 mph. Like Banks’ Sidewinder Dakota, the Rocket Ranger has also trapped a best exit speed of 222 mph while blazing the salt flats.
When SPAL got its hands on the truck, the company decided to set some records with an oil-burner under the hood—which brings us to what we believe is the best part about the entire Rocket Ranger project... It was powered by a 6.0L Power Stroke. It was a highly modified 6.0L with Hypermax forged connecting rods, low-compression pistons, Hypermax’s proprietary dynamic head gaskets, larger injectors and a Mach 7 power module, but it was—in one form or another—a rendition of the notorious, Navistar-designed 6.0L V8. The 800 hp Power Stroke was connected to a ZF-6 six-speed transmission and the truck was driven by the late Max Lagod of Hypermax.