WENDOVER, Utah - In Roman times, a soldier literally earned his salt with valor on the battlefield. Centuries later, GM Performance Division is earning its salt - and its reputation for engineering leadership - on the vast expanse of the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Shaped over millennia by the irresistible forces of nature, the Bonneville Salt Flats' crystalline surface forms a surreal speedway that stretches to the horizon. GM Performance Division first journeyed to this desolate landscape in 2003 with an Ecotec-powered Saturn Ion Red Line coupe, and earned both a 212.684-mph speed record and the respect of the tightly knit Bonneville racing community. GM is going back to the salt in 2005 with a quartet of cars to prove again the Ecotec's mettle in a demanding and distinctly American environment.
GM had a strong performance in 2004, with Ecotec engines setting class records in G/BGL (179.381 mph), G/BFR (210.881 mph), G/BFS (309.607 mph) and G/BGS (290.567 mph). This year's 57th annual Speed Week celebration will see GM Performance Division return to Bonneville with four vehicles attempting speed records, a partnership with two Southern California hot rod shops, and four female GM interns learning the business of land speed racing.
"GM has returned to the roots of American high performance with this Bonneville program," said GM Performance Division Executive Director Mark Reuss. "The cars we bring to Bonneville showcase GM's capabilities. We're building credible high-performance production cars and building record-setting race cars. There is a lot of synergy between the two.
"We're also demonstrating that the Ecotec is an extremely robust, high-integrity four-cylinder engine that provides racers with a great way to field an inexpensive, highly competitive race car," Reuss noted.
The Bonneville Salt Flats has been the home of speed since the first organized trials were conducted there in 1914. A deep foundation of tradition underlies the fragile salt.
"Working with Pete Chapouris and his So-Cal Speed Shop team has taught us so much about 'respecting the salt'," said Al Oppenheiser, director of Concept Vehicle Engineering. "We fully understand the historical significance of Bonneville in the roots of American performance. We strive to keep a low profile out of respect for those who have competed here for many years. We don't bring big rigs with GM banners ... in fact, we can be hard to find because we work on our cars under the same blue tarps as everyone else on the salt. Our hope is that Bonneville never becomes commercialized, or else this 'Last American Frontier' could disappear forever."
Headlining GM Performance Division's return to Bonneville is a vehicle unlike any seen before on the salt. GM engineers, working in concert with the So-Cal Speed Shop, have prepared a 2006 Chevrolet HHR to run in the G/BFCC class (G Class/Blown Fuel Competition Coupe). Radically chopped and stretched, the striking HHR race car will be driven by GM Performance Division engineer and Bonneville record holder Jim Minneker. The current record stands at 226.835 mph.
Aiming to raise the bar in the G/BFALT (G Class/Blown Fuel Altered) even higher than the 212.684-mph mark established by Minneker in 2003, GM Performance Division's Chevrolet Cobalt SS Bonneville speedster achieved an unofficial top speed of 243.127 mph in a demonstration run last year. GM Performance Division engineer Mark Dickens will pilot the car in 2005.
With a record-setting 179.381 mph run in the G/BGL (G Class/Blown Gas Lakester) class in 2004, GM hopes to raise the performance ante this year with the Ecotec Lakester. With its supercharged engine boosted to 312 horsepower, the Ecotec Lakester will attempt to push the record beyond 200 mph. Journalist Don Sherman, a Bonneville veteran, will drive the streamlined machine.
GM has partnered four female college interns with California Street Rods to build a new 2005 Cobalt that will run in G/GALT (G Class/Gas Altered) in an attempt to break the class record that stands at 160.103 mph - and in the process, develop the students' engineering and organizational skills.
GM Performance Division is earning its salt as racers have done at Bonneville for decades - with sportsmanship and record-setting performance.
General Motors Corp. (NYSE: GM), the world's largest automaker, has been the global industry sales leader since 1931. Founded in 1908, GM today employs about 317,000 people around the world. It has manufacturing operations in 32 countries and its vehicles are sold in 200 countries. In 2004, GM sold nearly 9 million cars and trucks globally, up 4 percent and the second-highest total in the company's history. GM's global headquarters are at the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit. More information on GM can be found at www.gm.com.