The eleventh day of the BMW CCA Celebrate BMW Tour has begun! The Roads to Monterey group is headed to Sonoma, California and a private car collection, but in the meantime, check out our progress and video blog from day ten. For all the rest of the updates, click here!
Across the last four thousand miles, we’ve had the distinct honor of watching how the landscape changes across the United States. We’ve driven out from East Coast forest and New England rolling hills, into the great plains and the midwest, through the surprising greens of Oklahoma and down into the tall grass of Texas. But even after all that, the Bonneville Salt Flats felt like something from another planet.
The approach into the Bonneville is something equally out of this world. The salt flats stretch for miles—including warning signs at either end about the extensive lack of services—and when driving from the east, you have to cross nearly all of it to reach the Bonneville entrance. On the drive, you begin to realize how close you are as regular SUVs hyper-miling on the highway become intermixed with classic hot rods and abstractly-engineered camper trucks.
As you ease off I-80 into the access road to the Flats, you immediately pass a gas station with a makeshift car wash station. Beside it was our second taste of Speed Week: a collection of cars that ranged from a pair of Twenties rat rods to a roof-rack-equipped E30 and a variety of trucks of all ages. And all of them were caked in salt.
Salt, of the Flats variety, behaves much like thick snow in the northeast. It builds up in wheel wells and on rocker panels, depositing itself in larger and larger towers. There were a number of wash stations outside the flats in an effort to preserve the vehicles that had to one day return to wetter climates. But for some of the crew vehicles, which live and exist for the salt and the California sun, the salt is no issue—and being road legal and daily-drivable apparently isn’t either.
The most interesting vehicles at Bonneville were arguably not the streamliners and lakesters that roared across the salt and echoed off the mountains miles away. What was most notable—and most fun—were the innumerable rat rods and classics that had been cobbled together to act as crew vehicles. Highlights include a “boat tail speedster” made from a literal rowboat, a perfectly patina’d (some might say “rusted”) old wagon, lowered and towing a vintage salt flats racer from a speed shop in Connecticut, and an assortment of motorhomes that were very clearly not as the factory intended.
The fascinating part about Bonneville vehicles—both in the pit and on the race courses—is that they’re all exactly the type of vintage speed shop back-room hot rod vehicles you picture when you think of the salt. Pinstripped and time-tested, the cars are a spectacular example of the perseverance of genuine ingenuity and mechanical tradition.
To describe the salt in worthy detail would take an entire article, if not a volume. The mystique of the salt, and the long-time Bonneville attendees that populate the Flats, is something that must be experienced. And if you take my advice, I’d do it soon—the Salt Flats are at risk from all angles, both environmental (the past two years Speed Weeks’ were rained or flooded out) and human (misuse and sliding on the salt has been rampant in the past). So perhaps this Mecca of speed and hot rodding is not only a bucket list item, but also an excuse to visit the Salt Flats as soon as possible.
And maybe, like we learned, it would be nice to drive there. —David Rose