The Moonliner Is An Amazing Land Speed Record Car Built By A Sculptor

In the Los Angeles Auto Show, the little hall between the two main sections of the convention centre is usually taken over by the Galpin Empire, a large network of dealerships and the famed Galpin Auto Sports. It’s also where Beau Boeckmann puts some of the really fun stuff from his collection out for lots of people to see. Stuff like this car, the remarkable Mooneyes Moonliner.

While Dean Moon built many race cars over the years, the Moonliner was special. Originally built by the eccentric hot rod builder and sculptor Jocko Johnson in 1959, the car started out as an experiment in aluminium streamliner design stretched around a colossal 3000 HP Allison V12 tank engine. After the car set one NHRA speed record for a gasoline car—193 mph—Jocko eventually sold the car to Moon, who replaced the V12 with a big-block Chevy V8.

Even though it now has a V8, the Moonliner retains the striking and unforgettable 24 “zoomies”—exhaust pipes coming directly from the exhaust ports. The original engine had two exhaust ports per cylinder, but now with the V8 they’re not literally connected pipe-to-port, but they still look amazing.

I’m not sure exactly how they are connected; I guess it’s possible each exhaust port trifurcates to three pipes?

After Dean named the car the Moonliner, paint livery changed, eventually ending up with Moon’s preferred yellow-and-black livery, but retaining Jocko’s striking intuitive aerodynamic design, with prominent front wheel pontoons, a fighter-jet-like canopy, and a long, tapered rear.

In 1974, Gary Gabelich drove the Moonliner on the Bonneville Salt Flats to an incredible speed of 285 mph. The Moonliner was painted in the red, black and white colours of Budweiser, who were using the car in an advertisement, complete with a drag chute bearing the whole Budweiser label.

What I really like about the Moonliner is that it’s a great example of what you might call gut-level aerodynamics—its shape doesn’t come from extensive wind tunnel testing or complex equations, but rather from what just felt fast to a sculptor.

The result is undoubtedly less efficient than an actually researched aerodynamic design, but is wildly effective at feeling fast, and having a powerful emotional, gut-level impact.

It’s a striking and dramatic car, and if you think about it as a drivable sculpture inspired by the very idea of speed, it makes perfect sense.

I hope I can take Beau up on his offer to drive this thing; it seems bonkers.

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