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Heishman BMW model

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The Heishman BMW streamliner

Bonneville 1990

Speed Week 1990, the debut (photo Bob Hellmuth/Bonneville Racing News)

Steve Pieper and his father Will, owners of the Heishman BMW dealership in Arlington, VA, already had quite an experience as builders and racers when they decided to build a streamliner to run on the Salt Flats and they certainly did not expect the amount of problems they would eventually encounter, and particularly their varied and malign nature...

in the shop (photo Bob Hellmuth/Bonneville Racing News)

Bonneville 1990

the engine (below - photo Bob Hellmuth/Bonneville Racing News)

Bonneville 1990

Designing and building the beautiful car had only taken two years since their 1988 visit to Bonneville to collect knowledge and advice. Being BMW dealers, and quite respected, it was not difficult for them to get some support from BMW of North America, which took the shape of a low mileage M5 engine, a 3.5 liter, 24 valve 6 cylinder unit, to which an Indycar type turbo was added, putting the car into E/FS class. Five speed transmission was also stock BMW. The rear wheels had Goodyear tires, while the front had alloy one-piece wheels (and this choice would eventually put an unexpectedly early end to the car racing career). The chrome-moly frame was built around the size of the engine, with just a little allowance to possibly house a V8 in the future and a narrow, low and slick, pearl white fiberglass body gave it a beautiful appearance.
The car made its debut at Speed Week in August 1990, after completing a 2500 mile trip across the US to reach the Salt Flats. It made a few runs that, as is often the case with new cars, were plagued by all kind of teething problems, although Steve Pieper managed to make quite a promising pass at 244 mph in the mile (against a 273 mph record). Enough to prompt BMW in Munich to declare it officially the "World's Fastest BMW Race Car".

Bonneville 1991

Speed Week 1991(photo Bob Hellmuth/Bonneville Racing News)

The car was back in 1991, with a few minor improvements that should have fixed the bugs that affected it in 1990. They probably worked, in a way, since the car was running at 280+ of tach speed, the first morning of racing, when it suddenly lost stability and rolled three times before the chute opened and straightened it for a long slide. No consequences to Steve Pieper, but the car was severely damaged, with the body broken in hundreds of small bits scattered along the course and several mechanical parts also damaged, while the frame was basically sound.
The reasons were probably diverse: the lack of a stabilizing fin, the excessive tubocharger boost, coming on too suddenly and probably his own driving attitude.
Whatever the reason, it was only one of three streamliners crashing in a matter of minutes that moring: the only accidents occurring during the whole week, which, let's not forget, was the week when Al Teague broke the wheel-driven record, so at least salt conditions could not be blamed.

1994 car

1994 World of Speed (photo Bob Hellmuth/Bonneville Racing News)
1994 the Piepers (photo Bob Hellmuth/Bonneville Racing News)
1994 Pieper

Rebuilding took longer than expected, or the Piepers had other more urgent things to care of and it was September 1994, at the USFRA World of Speed, when the team finally made its return to Bonneville. Many important changes had been made to the car to make it run straight and smooth: a new nose and tail, now with a high stabilizing fin, front suspension, larger rear wheels and a new weight distribution.
The modifications worked and the two first test runs were troubleless. The third day the Haishman BMW made a qualifying run at 328.491 mph, well over the existing E/BFS class record of 308 mph, with an exit speed of 339.494 mph. On the return run, the next morning, everything went well and the record should have been broken, by some 30 mph but Steve Pieper went out of luck again: the chute did not open at the end of the run and the car went on, coming to a stop in a salt brine pond: again no consequences to the driver, but the cra was in pretty bad shape again...
This would have been a minor disappointment if the record had been confirmed but... either because of a malfunction in the timing system, or because the system did not "see" the white car, the measured mile was not timed: no record!!

1994 after the crash (photo Bob Hellmuth/The Bayerischer)

1994 crash

1994 suspension

1994 revised front (photo Bob Hellmuth/Bonneville Racing News)

Not surprisingly, for the 1995 Bonneville Speed Week the streamliner had been repainted yellow, with huge stripes on the sides in the BMW colors, just to make sure the timing eye would not miss it again... To no avail, as the car was not allowed to run that year, due to a sudden decision by the SCTA/BNI to ban billet wheels, which were supposed to damage the salt surface. It is still not clear to me why this particular car was not allowed to run, while other cars used very similar, if smaller, all metal wheels, but it is a fact that the beautiful Heishman BMW, the "World's Fastest BMW Race Car", the "record holder without a record" could not run that year, and would never run again, thus closing on a sombre note a very promising, but ill-fated career.

Heishman BMW 95

On display in the BMW Zentrum, Greer, SC (photo Michael Wendell)

In late 1996 the car went on display in the newly opened Museum in the BMW Zentrum by theZ-3 assembly plant in Greer, South Carolina.

The text above is based on detailed reports and photos by Bob Hellmuth published on "Bonneville Racing News" (Vol II, II and V, Vol V, IV) and "The Bayerisher" (Nov/Dec 1994). You should look for these magazines for more info and pictures. The color photo of the yellow car is by Michael Wendell.

Heishman BMW model

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