Chalenger 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.
For a first hand account of one of the journalist’s involved in the Mustang part of the program, have a look at this 1968 Sports Illustrated article