Gene Burkland

( 1936 - 12/08/2009)


Gene Burkland
Gene Burkland
Gene Burkland
Bonneville Speed Week 2006. The Burkland crew, from left to right: Gene Burkland (with the HOT ROD trophy), Tom Burkland, Betty Burkland, Mel Sudweeks, Rex Svoboda, Steve Hunter, Bill Hunter, Al Maynard, Herb Ferguson, and Nicky Ferguson. Not shown are Keith Hunter, Gary Stauffer, and Bill York. (Photography by David Freiburger)
Gene Burkland
Gene (R) with wife Betty and son Tom. (Montana State University)
Date Location Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile

October 16, 2004

Bonneville Salt Flats, USA

Tom Burkland

Burkland's Streamliner
2xChrysler Donovans




Not recognized by the FIA

September 26, 2008 Bonneville Salt Flats, USA Tom Burkland Burkland 411 Streamliner IC
supercharged hemi
(669.319 KPH)
Piston-engined record Group I, Class 11: 2 or 4 stroke engine with supercharger, cylinder capacity > 8000 cm

After years of hard work and struggle Tom Burkland, the Burkland streamliner and the Burkland family finally made an important step towards the final goal of breaking the wheel-driven record.
During the September Top 1 World Land Speed Shootout, an invitational meet organized by Mike Cook, they took the FIA International mile record from Al Teague, who held it for seventeen long years, since 1991.
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.

(10 December 2009) - Very sad news. Gene Burkland is no longer. His long struggle with his lung disease finally came to an end. According to Betty, his wife and main supporter in life and racing, he said to her a few days earlier that "It's been a wonderful life . . . skidding to a stop isn't so bad."
He was a great car designer and constructor and, with the help of Betty, his son Tom and a bunch of friends, has achieved with the means of a normal guy, much hard work and a huge quantity of visionary enthusiasm something that would have cost (and did cost in the past) a fortune to a big company to achieve: the fastest mile LSR for a piston engined vehicle. A distinction he shares with only a handful of people, Al Teague, the Vescos, the Summers, the Whites. And Campbell, Cobb, Eyston...
You can see him in the picture below, with Betty, Tom and the whole team celebrating that achievement. That was great day for him. Yesterday was a very sad one for all of us.

Burkland Family Race Team - Speed Breeding

The Burkland Family Uses Two Hemis, Aerospace Technology, And Pure Hot Rod Savvy To Set The New SCTA Piston-Driven Land Speed Record At 417.020 MPH

By John Baechtel, Photography by Jeffrey Conger, Ryan Hobbs Hot Rod Magazine, October, 2009

On September 16, 1947, Great Britain's John Cobb established a 394.196-mph land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in his Railton Mobil Special. He overshadowed that achievement the very same day with an astounding 403.135-mph one-way blast that marked the first-ever penetration of the 400-mph mark by a wheel-driven vehicle.

In the nearly 58 years since, men have battled for the favor of the 400-mph maiden, and while thrust-powered vehicles have broken the sound barrier (team ThrustSSC set a 763.035-mph record in the Nevada desert in 1997), hot rodders still battle for the wheel-driven records over 400. Those records are further broken down by piston engines versus turbines, and whether the event is sanctioned by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) or by the more hot rod friendly Southern California Timing Association (SCTA) at Bonneville. Either way, a record demands that the average speed of two runs must exceed the old record.

Cobb's one-way pass denied him a 400-mph record in the '40s and fellow Brit Donald Campbell struggled mightily before setting the first actual 400-mph international record at 403.10 mph on Australia's Lake Eyre in 1964 using turbine power. Mickey Thompson used four Pontiac V-8s to scorch a 406.60-mph one-way run at Bonneville in 1960 but failed to back up the record due to driveline failure. In 1965, the Summers Brothers crammed four injected Hemis into their Goldenrod and posted a 409.277-mph international class record that still stands.

In 1990 Nolan White's 401-mph run marked the first piston-engined, wheel-driven excursion past 400 in over 25 years. A year later, Al Teague ran 425 mph one-way and established a new SCTA record at 409.986 mph as well as a similar international record. On October 18, 2001, Don Vesco took his turbine-powered Turbinator to a new FIA land speed record for wheel-driven vehicles at 458.440 mph. Knowing the potential for automotive engines to run equally fast, Nolan White attacked the record again in 2002, setting SCTA AA/Blown Fuel Streamliner record at 413.156 with two big-block Chevys.

Now Tom, Linda, Gene, and Betty Burkland own the fastest piston-powered SCTA record in history. On October 16, 2004, Tom Burkland climbed into his family's PPG Auto Finishes Orange AA/BFS streamliner at Bonneville and cranked a new two-way average of 417.020.

Both Nolan White and Burkland have surpassed that speed on one-way passes, with Burkland running 438.815 mph with a terminal speed over 450 mph. Tom Burkland expresses high confidence that a piston-powered, wheel-driven car can achieve 500 mph under optimum track conditions.

Burkland's streamliner was originally designed to run F-16 main-landing-gear tires, but spin testing proved them unsuitable for ultrahigh speeds. From 1991 through 1993, the Burklands embarked on a tire-development program with Mickey Thompson Tire Company. Complications with the engines further delayed the car's debut, so the streamliner first hit the salt in 1996. Overcoming various problems and track conditions, they gradually worked the car up to serious speed in the late '90s.

In 2000, Tom ran off the end of the course by a couple of miles when the 'chute risers failed after a 450-mph pass. He then set a top speed of 421 mph at the 2001 USFRA World of Speed, but the car was virtually destroyed when it struck a partially buried oil drum as Tom exited the course. The car rolled multiple times and the chassis broke apart as it was designed to. The cockpit remained intact, but Tom suffered a broken arm and the car's body was ruined. It took three years to rebuild the streamliner, and many changes were incorporated.

Actual construction of the streamliner took approximately one year. Thanks to Tom's aerospace engineering background, it is highly sophisticated but still very much a hot rod. At 24 feet, the car is a little shorter than most streamliners, but with a frontal area of only 7.4 square feet and a drag coefficient of 0.119, it's one of the slickest. It measures 38 inches wide and 41 inches tall at the top of the air intake. Burkland designed a slender body much like an aircraft fuselage. The shape is slightly bulbous at the front while tapering at the rear with twin hydraulically actuated clamshell speed-brake doors. The nose is built from a modified F4 Phantom wing tank holding nearly 57 gallons of engine-cooling water. A full bellypan deals with boundary-layer air passing under the low-slung vehicle.

Tom designed the chassis for loads up to 20 g's, building it from 4130 chrome-moly tubing with a fully armor-plated driver's compartment with a wrap of 0.125-inch plate over the top of the rollbar and 0.090-inch for the side panels. The front track width is 26 inches and the rear is a mere 15 inches-barely 4 inches separates the rear tires. Stainless steel fuel tanks on either side of the driver hold a total of 76 gallons and are designed to break away in an accident.

Sandwiched inside the 195-inch wheelbase frame are two 452ci, alcohol-burning, aluminum Donovan Hemis connected at the crankshafts, with one engine driving the rear wheels and the other driving the fronts. The rear engine is standard rotation, while the front is reverse rotation with a dual-disc clutch at each end. Each clutch drives through air-shifted Liberty five-speed transmissions to rigid-mounted 1:1 final drive axles. Tom spent considerable time discussing design concepts with the late Bob Summers, who planned to supply the gearboxes before his untimely passing.

The early 392-style Donovan Hemis are force-fed by 8-71 Mooneyham superchargers with early Crower eight-port upright mechanical injectors feeding alcohol through 16 nozzles. On its initial trial, the car melted much of the wiring due to heat in what was then a common engine bay. That led to ducting revisions, partitions aft of the cockpit for cooling purposes, and HPC coatings on the entire exhaust system. Spring-loaded exhaust doors that close at speed were added to the upper engine cover. Splitters in the air-intake scoop direct air to the appropriate bays in carefully determined amounts. Separate stainless steel header-bay baffling keeps heat off the engines. Header and engine bays receive separate cooling airflow based on the heat loads observed.

With declining course lengths, stopping the car is a critical function. Tom designed a hydraulically actuated speed-brake system that opens the rear clamshell doors to provide stable high-speed drag. A nitrogen-charged accumulator provides pressure-balanced continuous drag while slowing. The single cockpit control slide allows the doors to partially open from air drag, deploying the initial 4.5-foot drag 'chute. Next, the accumulator opens the doors farther and farther as the car slows to about 350 mph, then the 6.5-foot mid-speed 'chute is released, slowing the car to a point where the four-wheel disc brakes can take over. Parachute number three is a 6.5-foot backup and number four is an 8-foot "Hail Mary" anchor to stop the car quickly from 250 mph or less in an emergency. Stroud Safety supplies the ribbon-style parachute canopies and riser lines.

The car is a showcase of innovation, and the Burklands' unerring attention to detail and selective application of aerospace design principles have created a car with far greater potential than has been shown. It's clear they want to crack that 500-mph barrier with a piston-powered hot rod.

But for now, they're enjoying the success of 2004. The day the record was set was typical Bonneville. The starting line is a tense environment when a streamliner is getting ready. A "heads up" call is made to all the course workers and safety officials: "Burkland's on the way." Along with the elaborate preparation of strapping Tom into the car and arming the safety devices, the Burklands station vehicles every few miles down the course, each fully equipped to aid rescue crews in the event of a mishap. When the call goes out in the pits, everyone drops what they're doing and rushes to the edge of the return road to watch the run.

The Burkland bullet drilled the timers with a new record speed, prompting an emotional celebration at the far end of the course as Tom exited the car. In the jubilation, important human details are not forgotten. A closer examination of the 411 numbers on the back of the car reveals the number 131 painted in smaller digits on one of the numerals, a gesture of respect for the late Nolan White, and the Burklands' way of giving their friend one more record ride. After congratulations all around, Tom Burkland and Rick White (Nolan's son and partner) strolled a short distance down the course together in private reflection. No doubt, Nolan was with them.

Tom Burkland
Gene Burkland
Here's the chrome-moly frame under construction in Burkland's small shop. Note the plating surrounding the driver compartment to shield Tom from debris if an accident occurs. You can also see the breakaway gas tanks on either side of the cockpit.
Gene Burkland
Gene Burkland
Supercharged Donovan Hemis power the 'liner. Each has 2,300hp potential at WOT and 38 pounds of boost, but they have only been run at 53 percent throttle opening and 21 pounds to avoid excessive wheelspin. At that throttle angle, the combined engine output is about 3,000 hp.
Gene Burkland
The land speed supercrew from left to right, Rex Svoboda (Missoula, Montana); Betty and Gene Burkland (Great Falls, Montana); Herb and Nicky Ferguson (Columbia Falls, Montana); Alan Maynard (Apache Junction, Arizona); Gary Stauffer (Brigham City, Utah); Mel Sudweeks (Centerville, Utah); Bill York (Missoula, Montana); and Bill, Steve, and Keith Hunter (Great Falls, Montana). Tom Burkland is in the rear.
Gene Burkland
The Burklands received support from Auto Meter in the form of complete instrumentation packages for each engine. If you're claustrophobic, it'll freak you out to know there are less than 5 gallons of airspace around Tom when the canopy is closed.

The Burkland family's earlier Bonneville cars

Ugo Fadini

The Studebaker Competition Coupe

Gene and Betty Burkland's first Bonneville car, and the first to wear the now cherished number 411, was a 53 Studebaker Gene first ran in 1971. It was powered by a Chrysler hemi, while aerodynamic treatment included a chopped top, a streamlined nose (hand made using Volkswagen rear fenders) and full belly pan.
In 1978 Gene set the A/BFCC record at 255.863 on this car, with the same 372" iron Chrysler hemi he and Betty had run on the drag strip on a Ford Roadster and a dragster and became Montana's first member of the 200 MPH Club.
The car then spent many years in the now closed Wendover Speed Museum. It was recently bought by another couple from Montana, Ron and Gail Tesinsky, who run it regularly since 2000 with a hemi.

Gene Burkland
The Studebaker in 1978, the year Gene set the A/BFCC record (Photo Burkland)
Gene Burkland
Bonneville 2001
Gene Burkland
On the set of The Worlds Fastest Indian

The Datsun Competition Coupe

This radical ground effect Competition Coupe was the brainchild of Tom Burkland. He designed it during his senior year at College in 1980, and it appeared at Bonneville the following year, still unpainted, powered by a 180" Chrysler 4 cylinder with front-mounted Potvin blower and had nothing but problems.
In 1984 it was back with a 392" hemi with top-mounted blower and still had problems, but then in 1985 Tom entered the 200 MPH Club with a AA/BFCC record of 294.863 mph.
The next year the car was back with a new driver, Betty Burkland, and a new "4-cylinder" engine: actually a Chrysler V8 on which only 4 cylinders were used.
In 1987 Betty qualified for the D/BFCC record at 209.144 mph, but missed the record by 1.5 mph. She kept driving the car till 1989 with her best speed being 247 mph with a 300" Donovan.

Tom drove the car with the Donovan in 1987, in preparation for using the engine in the new streamliner and he qualified three times for the B/CC record, with his best as fast as 268 mph (against a 237 mph record), but did not make any return runs.
The car was later sold to Dan Webster who set several records using flathead engines.

Tom and Gene Burkland had built another streamliner before the now famous 411: originally known as "Big Jake's Spl." or "Montana Magic", it was built for Nick Mays from Great Falls, was then sold to Jack Harris who remamed it "Mountain Rider" and is now known as the Jaz streamliner, owned and raced by the Zimmermanns of Jaz Products.

Gene Burkland
front view (above, from Auto Bild) in 1984
Gene Burkland
side view (from Hot Rod Magazine) in 1984
Gene Burkland
The Datsun in 1987 (Photo Steve Garcia)

Gene Burkland Obituary
Published in Great Falls Tribune on December 10, 2009

Cremation has taken place under the direction of Croxford Funeral Home and Crematory. His memorial service is 2 p.m. Sunday at First United Methodist Church.
Gene left us on Dec. 8, 2009. We expect he's gone racing with his departed friends, or is beginning another great project.
Gene was born in Great Falls on Nov. 1, 1936, to Carl and Phyllis Burkland.
His brother Jack died in 2004, and his sister Bonnie Flanagan lives in Missoula. In 1959, he married Betty Hunter. They have two sons; Tom and his wife Linda and daughter Carly from Ogden, Utah, and Bill and his wife Barb and sons Nick and John from Clancy. Gene grew up in Great Falls, and graduated from Great Falls High School in 1954.
Gene began his career with the Montana Air National Guard in 1956 and worked there for nearly 30 years, welding everything from titanium aircraft parts to tricycles and red wagons. When he retired, he moved into race car production and welding/repair work at his home shop. His love affair with cars began in 1951, when he bought his first car for $7.50. After investing in a $10 piston, he was ready to roll!
During the 1960s, his was a familiar face at drag races across Montana, first with a 1932 Ford roadster, and then with a dragster. Classics Car Club, custom show cars, stock cars and dragsters grew into a Bonneville land speed racer produced and run with the assistance of hundreds of friends. In 1971, he took his home-built Studebaker and many friends to Bonneville for the annual Speed Week. He set a national record in 1978 at 255 mph, becoming the first Montanan in the exclusive Bonneville 200 MPH Club. His next car put his son Tom into the 200 MPH Club. Since 1986, Gene, Betty and Tom have been building and racing their streamliner. They set a National Speed Record in October 2004 at 417 mph and a World Speed Record in September of 2008 at 416 mph.
Gene's life revolved around the love of his family and the friends he accumulated through his skill and creativity in welding, his love of cars and curiosity about everything. He was a magnet who drew people to his garage and he had that stubborn streak needed to see an idea through to the end.
He began battling his lung disease in earnest in 1997. We're glad he's finally breathing easy, but we'll miss his ever-present smile.
In lieu of flowers, please bring or send your favorite picture of you and Gene to Croxford Funeral Home, 1307 Central Ave. Great Falls, MT 59401.
Donations can be made to "Save the Salt" c/o Russ Eyres, 3673 Millikin Ave., San Diego, CA 92122.