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Tom & car 1996

The Burkland streamliner

Tom Burkland at Speed Week 1996
(Photo by Jean Ferguson)

There are not many wheel-driven vehicles that have been clocked at over 400 MPH over the measured mile since 1965, when the Summers brothers set their record.
In fact, there are only four.
Three of these are piston-engined (the current holder of the wheel-driven LSR, Don and Rick Vesco's Turbinator, is turbine-engined).
Each one of the three has a special distinction: Nolan and Rick White's Spirit of Autopower was the first to break the magic barrier after 25 years, with a one-way run at 401+ mph in 1990; Al Teague's Spirit of 76 became the wheel-driven LSR holder in 1991 at 409+ mph (425+ one-way), and still holds the fastest record for a piston-engined car; the Burkland, the last to join this exclusive "club", did the fastest ever one-way run for a piston-engined car at 438.815 mph in 2000.
Having run for the first time in 1996, the Burkland family streamliner is by far the youngest of the trio (the two other cars are both over 20 years old), and has completed a pretty small number of miles altogether. This means that its developement is still in a relatively early stage and its full potential has not been explored yet: if we should expect something new to happen to the record over the next few years, this is certainly the car to watch!

The Burklands

Tom, Betty and Gene Burkland with Top Speed of the Meet trophy (photo by Wes Potter)

A hard-core racing family.

Gene and Betty Burkland, from Great Falls, Montana (the first SCTA members from that state), have been active in racing, and at Bonneville in particular, for over three decades: their first Bonneville car was a chopped-top, Chrysler-powered '53 Studebaker Competition Coupe, with which Gene set a record in A/BFCC at 255+ mph in 1978 (this car was recently restored to racing condition and ran at Speed Week in 2000 and 2001).
As soon as he grew old enough, their son Tom joined the team, and promoted the building of their next car, a Datsun-based, Chrysler-powered, ground-effect Competition Coupe, which allowed him to set a AA/BFCC record at 294+mph in 1985.
Around that time came the idea of building a streamliner, which took all of the next ten years to become a reality.
As much as the finished car looks like a fairly sophisticated, high-tech, million-dollar job, it is in fact strictly a family effort: in true hot-rodder tradition, it was home-built using generous supplies of the most precious materials available at no cost: skill, hard work and enthusiasm, plus a little help from their friends!
Then of course, Tom's experience as an aerospace engineer (he worked on F-16's) was a key factor in the design of the streamliner...

front view rear view

Front and rear views
(photos by Herb Ferguson, jr.)


(The technical notes that follow were supplied for this page by Gene, Betty & Tom Burkland)

The car is 24' long, 38" wide, 41" tall at its highest point, with a 195" wheelbase. Its frontal area is 7.4 sq. ft. and its drag coefficient is .119. It is powered by two 450+ cu. in. supercharged alcohol-fueled Donovan (aluminum Chrysler) engines (bought second hand), with crankshafts bolted together nose-to-nose. One is normal rotation and the other reverse rotation and they use Howardıs Cams. Theyıre each connected to a Liberty 5-speed transmission with electronically-activated air shifters. Then comes a specially-ordered 1-to-1 gear box that would usually be found supporting a very large sign rotating on a tall post. This is a four-wheel drive machine, so the front end steering parts are all hand-built, except the huge bearing. The front track width is 26" and the rear is 15", with Mickey Thompson high-speed tires (24.5 x 7 x 16) mounted on 4.5" wide, 16" diameter steel wheels.
The body is shaped quite a bit like an airplane with no wings or tail. The nose is formed from a spun aluminum aircraft tip tank and carries 57 gallons of water to cool the engines. Stainless steel fuel tanks (holding a total of 76 gallons) are located one on each side of the driverıs compartment and are designed to break away in case of an accident.

Speed Week 96

First public appearance of the Burkland streamliner in 1996. Note that there are no vents over the engine compartment
(Photo by Pork Pie)
The top section of the body is steel and the bottom, enclosing the exhaust headers, is stainless steel. The tail is a speed brake which is opened by a hydraulic accumulator mounted behind the rear engine. Inside that speed brake are two high-speed (300+ mph) parachutes and a low-speed (200+ mph) parachute. The car has disc brakes at both ends. A computer on board tracks fuel pressure, blower pressure, exhaust temperature of each cylinder, percentage of throttle, rpms of motor and wheels, etc.
The whole package weighs in at 4,200 lbs. with driver, but no fuel or water and is painted candy-apple orange.

run 1998

Out for a run in 1998. Note new vents over engine compartment, in open position, and white paint loss around exhausts
(photo by Ugo Fadini)

The story so far

The streamliner was virtually complete by 1991, when the Burklands discovered they had made one mistake: they had designed the car around F-16 aircraft landing gear tires, but when they finally tested them on the spin-testing device they had purpose-built, they found that the aircraft tires were too prone to exploding to be safely used on the car. They had a car, but no tires...
Eventually Mickey Thompson Tire Co. agreed to custom build tires to fit the car, in exchange for spin-testing work for them: in the end they had to provide over two years of testing work before MT Tire Co. supplied the tires!
Problems with the engines further delayed the debut of the car, which finally took place at Speed Week in 1996, with a single, very promising 3-mile test run, at the end of which Tom reached an approximate speed of 350/370 mph. Unfortunately the engine bay overheated during deceleration, damaging the wiring inside the car and they had to call it a day. When the car reappeared, there were new spring-loaded vents on the sides, designed to close automatically during the runs, and reopen while decelerating.

Speed Week1998

On the starting line at Speed Week 1998
(Photo by Ugo Fadini)

Three more years of testing and frustration followed, in typical Bonneville style (just one run in 1997, three in 1998 and no runs at all in 1999!). Then in 2000 things started to work properly: with a couple of runs at around 375 mph they were second to Al Teague's Top Speed of the Meet at Speed Week in August. Then at World of Speed, in September, they made their fastest run to date (and the fastest one-way run for a piston engined vehicle ever) at 438.815 mph over the mile (Top Speed of the Meet, of course!). The terminal speed was over 450. Unfortunately the risers of the chutes broke and the car kept going for a couple of miles after the end of the course in the mud and the rear fenders were damaged, so the car could not run any more.

open tail

The tail opens to allow chutes out (Photo by Jean Ferguson)

In 2001 they could not run at Speed Week, but Tom set Top Speed of the Meet again at World of Speed (421.844 mph in the mile). At the end of this run, though, as Tom was pulling off the race course, the upper edge of a partially-submerged oil drum hit the car's tail brake, tore it loose and caused the car to turn sideways and roll over and over a dozen times, finally coming to rest on its side and headed back towards the starting line.
Tom's only injuries were a broken right arm and two very bloodshot eyes. The driver's compartment was undamaged while the chassis broke in three of the four places it was designed to break, but the body was basically destroyed.

run 2000

Burkland's fastest run to date, at World of Speed 2000, 438+ mph! (Photo by Pork Pie)

World Finals 2004

The rebuilt Burkland streamliner at the World Finals in October 2004 (Photo from www.landracing.com)

It took three years of hard work to Gene, Betty and Tom Burkland to rebuild the streamliner after the crash, making just minor changes, mainly in the cockpit area to improve stuctural strength and safety, after the frightening experience in 2001.
The car reappeared at the USFRA World of Speed in September 2004, looking pretty much the same as before, except for a less stylized eagle on the sides, the air outlets now painted in the body color and a few other subtle detail changes.
Unfortynately by the time they were ready to run the weather got too windy and the next day the meeting was ended by rain.
At the SCTA World Finals in October things went quite differently! After aborting a run on the 14th, Tom made just a parachute test run the next day. Then on October 16 started for what was supposed to be just the first proper full test run but... the speed in the third mile (418+ mph) was fast enough to qualify for Nolan White's record! Three hours later Tom made a troubleless return run at 416+ and set the new SCTA AA/BFS record at 417.020.
This record came in such an easy and even casual way that it makes it hard to believe that, although not an International FIA record, nevertheless this is the fastest record ever set by a piston-engined vehicle to date.
Given the right salt and weather conditions, Tom Burkland and the Burkland family streamliner have the potential to be a serious contender for the FIA Wheel-Driven Land Speed Record, currently held by Don Vesco's Turbinator.

2005 was not an exciting year for land speed racing: the Burklands had decided that the salt was not good enough to run at Speed Week and it was a wise decision as it only lasted four days before it was rained out; then both World of Speed and the World Finals were cancelled...

Speed Week 2006 saw the return of the Burkland streamliner on the salt. And quite a sensational return it was: Tom made a single pass, just to test if everything was working fine after two years of immobility and... took the Hot Rod Magazine Top Speed of the Meet Trophy with 398.807 mph on the mile and a terminal speed of almost 411 mph. Salt conditions were good but not ideal and the Burklands had already booked the salt, together with the Nishes and Ron Main for private attempts at FIA records in late September, so they decided this single run had told them what they needed to know and whatched the other cars race for the rest of the week.

FIA 2006

September 2006, private FIA meet (Photo from www.landracing.com - go there for many more photos!)

The September private meet opened with great expectations, the salt was hard and mostly dry, and the three cars looked up to their respective goals: Main's EcoFire was after 2 and 3 liter class records, Nish aimed at the Goldenrod unblown unlimited record and Tom Burkland chased Al Teague's blown unlimited record.
Alas, they all had mechanical trouble, and only the EcoFire eventually managed to secure the 3 liter class records. Tom made a most promising pass at 407+ mph on the kilo and 404+ on the mile but burned a piston and damaged another one in the process. The team rushed to change the damaged parts (pistons had to be shipped to them quickly!) and Tom attempted a new run two days later, but this time the front trasmission broke and was damaged beyond any on site repair. As Betty Burkland said to Jon Amo while working to fix the problems, the Bonneville Witch had been out on the salt!

Salt conditions in 2007 did not allow the car to run, but 2008 would be quite different!
Speed Week was planned just for checkout, and eventually the car only made one shakedown run, in view of the serious attempt to be made in September at the Top 1 World Land Speed Shootout, an invitational meet organized by Mike Cook. As it turned out, Tom Burkland made LSR history, taking the FIA International mile record from Al Teague, who had held it for seventeen long years, since 1991.
True, the speed, 415+ mph, was not fast enough to break the kilo record, but the relative ease with which the record was broken, and the speed on the mile in the return run (427.723 mph) makes everyone comfortable that the kilo record will follow soon, and eventually, given the right salt conditions, the outright wheel-driven record might be within reach at long last.
Just wait for 2009!

Records set by Tom Burkland driving the Burkland streamliner

venueyearsanctioning bodyclassdistancespeed (mph)standing
Bonneville World Finals2004SCTA/BNIAA/BFSfl. mile417.020YES *
Bonneville TOP 1 World Land Speed Shootout2008, Sep 26FIAA, I, 11fl. mile415.896YES *
* This is currently the fastest record held by a piston-engined" vehicle, irrespective of sanctioning body

Click here for a chronology of the Burkland streamliner with details of every run to date (2008)

Click here for photos of the earlier Burkland cars

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