Following a group of British amateur engineers who descend upon Bonneville, Utah with their vehicles, all hoping to join an elite group: the fastest men on earth.
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This programme contains some strong language
For one week in August a dried-up lake bed in Utah
is transformed from a barren landscape
into a place where dreams are made.
Standing there on the salt for the first time takes your breath away.
You just don't realise how big it is,
how flat it is and how white it is.
There's nothing out there, there's no insects,
there's no plant life, there's nothing.
It's dead, and it's silent, apart from, 500 cars,
all trying to break records.
These men have just one plan -
to drive their bespoke vehicles as fast as they can
and hopefully join an elite group -
the fastest men on earth.
This is where you come when you want to prove that you are the fastest.
There ain't no other place that can say that!
This unique setting has been pushing the boundaries of speed
and engineering for over a century -
the Salt Lakes of Bonneville.
You live more in five minutes on a bike like this
than most people do in a lifetime.
It is like going into a different realm.
You can't hear the engine, there's nothing in the way,
no-one's going to pull out in front of ya. Just 'ave it.
Strapped firmly into the car, hurtling along the salt,
it's just man versus machine.
Foot flat, revs go up,
you drop the clutch, you feel the bike,
straighten her up. Give it that.
nd it snaps you back.
Everything does a bit of the old Star Trek Enterprise warp.
You just can't adapt to the way this thing accelerates.
But each time you put the foot to the floor,
you actually look up and you see these two orange banners, like this.
And you think, "I am never going to get this effing through there."
And they go past like that. They are 90 feet apart.
You flinch as you go past. It feels really effing quick,
I mean proper fast.
4,500 miles away, in the sheds, outhouses and back garages
of Great Britain, the Bonneville dream is hatched.
Two worlds linked by a shared passion.
I can't actually wait to ride this.
Driving to work sometimes
I'm just thinking of what it's going to be like.
Firing it up for the first time,
the guy points to you and goes...
and you bugger off down the salt.
That's just going to be such a moment.
"Head and shoulders lean forward.
"Back and neck muscles tight, not relaxed."
And then it says, "Sit tight and firmly in the saddle."
That's pretty obvious, isn't it?!
I'm going to be hanging on for dear life on mine.
These vehicles of great beauty have been filed, hammered,
welded and machined from un-yielding pieces of bare metal.
You could eat your dinner off that, that's lovely.
This is the story of a group of men
who are willing to risk life and limb
on home-made machines in their quest to hold a Bonneville record.
There's a lot of clever engineers coming.
Six separate teams, compromising of various
custom bike builders, drag racers, road racers -
all good, clean-living people.
They have just four weeks to finish their hand-crafted creations
and put them onto a ship container bound for the States.
I'm Steve French, I'm a telecoms engineer,
I've been doing telephone systems for 39 years now.
Dave worked at British Telecom, I worked at British Telecom,
my father was in British Telecom as well, but he was a plumber.
The record we're hoping to break
is the 750 Pushrod Supercharged Methanol class.
We're confident that we have
more than enough horsepower to do the job
but, of course, we are novices.
Dave's modesty belies the fact that this self-taught engineer
has hand-crafted almost every component of the bike
here in his garage.
Ice water tank for the intercooler.
The billet crankshaft - one of two.
The other one is still half attached to some machinery.
These are beautiful pieces of engineering.
I've put pictures of these up on Facebook pages
and had comments from people saying, "Wow! Who made that?"
So I said, "Dave did." "What did he make it on?"
"Made it by hand, on the two machines here."
And everything has been made by hand.
I would say that racing is an obsession.
Racing is an obsession. Of course it is.
Someone actually said that racing was worse than heroin
because you can actually give up heroin.
Last year they went to Bonneville as spectators
and got their licences on a borrowed bike.
The salt fever took hold,
and they are now building their very own bike, from scratch.
That's a cylinder head.
That was all made from one lump of aluminium,
which took hours and hours and hours and hours.
It's easy enough to go and buy a bike and go out there and go fast.
I mean, my road bike will do 180 miles an hour quite happily,
but it's on the road.
If I take it to a racetrack, it's nowhere.
It's just another bike.
Accuracy is obviously important.
We're talking about thousandths of an inch.
In fact when I come to fit the bearings,
we're talking tens of thousandths of an inch, of accuracy,
otherwise they fall out.
But I'm self-taught.
There's a bit of help from a friend who's a really good engineer,
but 99% I'm self-taught.
In a cramped garage beside a motorway near Glasgow,
salt fever has also taken a grip.
This team are going for one of the fastest land-speed records.
This little car is going to end up the fastest wheel-driven
1000cc car on the planet.
And they're doing it with a twin-turbo motorcycle engine,
sourced from eBay.
With it, they hope to break into the Bonneville 300 MPH Club.
Why do we go to all this effort to go a little bit faster?
Because it's difficult.
Because if it was dead easy it wouldn't be a challenge.
The cost in time and money has been tremendous
and has been funded by a Zurich-based hedge fund manager
Rick Pearson, a retired professional driver.
He agreed to fund the project
in exchange for a place in the driving seat.
I have a high-pressure job.
I work pretty much every business day of the year,
apart from the seven days I go to the salt.
People are going to say, "Why are you putting yourself through this,
"why are you trying to do 300-plus miles an hour down a salt flat?"
Richard Noble would always say in these circumstances,
"For Britain and the hell of it."
Actually, for me, it all comes down to a blue baseball cap.
And that blue baseball cap is the emblem of the Bonneville 300 MPH Club.
'There were a lot of people on the Bonneville salt flats, Utah,
'to watch John Cobb's attempt at cracking his own record...'
The salt flats have been used for record-breaking attempts
for over a century.
The dried-up lake bed covers over 100 square miles
of uninterrupted track space.
A string of illustrious Brits have distinguished themselves
down the years, John Cobb, Donald Campbell, Richard Noble
and Andy Green have all pushed the boundaries of speed.
'A magnificent performance and, better still, it was all British.'
There are only six Brits in the 300 MPH Club.
So I would be the seventh Brit, the third living Brit,
to have the right to wear that hat.
Rick and his team have just one month to get the Streamliner ready
before packing their precious cargo off to the States,
and their chance to join the exclusive 300 Club.
People come to Bonneville because this is the place,
unlike any other place on earth, this is where the tradition is.
So land-speed racing started
a little over 100 years ago over in France.
It would have to be the French, right?
Well, then the Belgians heard about it and, oh, my goodness!
Eventually it went from one place to another
and it ended up here in Bonneville.
1914 was the first organised race.
We're almost 100 years of organised racing here.
'Everything's OK and the man with the unique combination of courage,
'patience and determination for the attempt
'receives the mascot from his wife, Tonia.
'It's a tense moment, but Donald Campbell has known many like it.
'To the joy of everybody, a new record was set at 403.1 mph.'
More speed records have been set here than any other place on earth.
Land-speed racing started with the roadster,
the ubiquitous roadster, and then because of the Second World War,
there was a lot of extra parts,
what they called drop tanks - fuel tanks
and they were a really cool shape,
a bullet-looking thing.
Some of the racers looked at that and went, you know,
"How about I just cut a hole in the top, put an engine
"and a couple of axles and I can turn that thing into a race car?"
Phoof! All of a sudden the Belly Tank Lakester was born,
which is still being raced out here 60 years later.
And once they had that Belly Tank Lakester, they thought,
"What if we cover the engine? What if we cover the tyres?
"And what if we enclose the driver so the air goes around?"
And hence was born the Streamliner
which are the fastest cars on earth.
Our third team are modifying a Suzuki
to break a 200 mph record in the special construction fuel class.
The bike spends its time between Dave's workshop in Dorset
and PJ's shed in Hertfordshire.
This week it's in the custody of PJ.
I'm PJ. Welcome to Air Cooled Wonderland. Come in.
This self-confessed metal head has devoted his life
to all things mechanical.
This is where I live, with my children,
who are all rusty, metallic and wonderful.
Crane. Love this crane, mate.
Two tonnes I've picked up with that, it's rated at one-and-a-quarter.
That's my reeling machine. There's me 30 tonne press.
You've got to see my lathe.
The bike is the only way.
If you ain't been on a bike, you ain't lived. Simple.
When I'm sitting on my bike,
this isn't some car, strapped in with some seatbelt.
This is 300 horsepower,
this is two wheels. It doesn't get any fucking realer, it doesn't.
Sort of hypnotic, isn't it?
There's something satisfying about doing something yourself,
rather than getting your pants pulled off by some so-called professional,
who comes round and you weigh him out a load of money
and you look at what he's done and you go, "Leave it out,
"I could do better than that!
"Leave it out, I'm not paying you for that."
Just up the road, another team are getting their vehicle ready
for a 124 mph record
with a bike that hasn't been ridden for 18 years.
They've got their very own personal reasons
for joining the contingent of bikers.
The whole reason why we're going is because
our friend Mike died a couple of years ago,
from a heart attack, at a young age.
He had this bike that he had been rebuilding for 20-plus years,
and never finished it. It became a long-running joke, everyone would ask him
"Have you finished the bike? Have you finished the bike?"
And it never happened.
So, a whole bunch of us decided at his funeral
that we should finish the bike.
This is the Team Page secret laboratory.
The bike will be called The Mike Page Special,
so Mike's name will be in the book. And that's all that any of us want.
Following Mike's funeral, a group of his friends decided
to finish the bike on his behalf and take it to the Flats.
The team have many skills between them,
though sadly, none relate to bike-building.
I'm an architectural technologist
and building services engineer.
-An IT manager.
-I'm also an IT manager.
-I'm the grinder!
-If it needs grinding hard, I'll grind it.
In the fading glory of seaside town Great Yarmouth,
up on the Norfolk coast, lives another Bonneville hopeful.
A talented bike-builder and engineer,
a legend in bike-building circles.
The record I'm going for stands at 125 mph.
And he's going to do that, on this 70-year-old Indian Scout.
This is an out-and-out race bike.
It has been built to race.
Everything is one-off on it. It's been built purely for Bonneville.
Well, it's a full total engine rebuild for a start,
but it's now got pistons out of a 1937 Royal Enfield,
valves out of a Peugeot - car.
It's got high compression heads, it's been gas-flowed,
a replacement inlet manifold, Harley sportster carburettor...
Getting the 70-year-old bike to practically double its horsepower
has taken a year's work.
Look at that! You could eat your dinner off that.
Shame to put it on the bike.
This has been two years of constant Bonneville,
and to be honest I wish I had never heard the name.
Brum, brum, brum, brum.
It is going to be an experience.
I'm getting a really bad disease now,
that people have probably told you about - Salt Fever.
Have you heard that phrase?
Salt Fever is what everybody's got.
Some of these people have it really bad,
and they've had it since 1949 when the very first hot rodders
came out here and had their first Speed Week.
Well, it's kind of hard to explain but
it kind of gets in your blood and you say,
"Jeez, I'd really like to give this a try."
Salt fever is something you get about 20 minutes after you leave here.
You come here for the first time to see the cars and witness the spectacle,
and then you come back time and time again because of the people.
I think I was 21 the first I came up here,
so I'm 73 now so getting towards the autumn years of my racing career,
but I'm still having a lot of fun!
I've been wanting to do this for 30 years.
I'll be 80 years old in two months and it's a blast!
With this weapon here,
we're hoping to break 196 mph on the 1000cc A-F record.
This is where we build it.
This is where it all happens, the magic happens.
Geordie Oz has been building his bike for the past five years.
This will be his second attempt at the chosen record.
All handmade, by myself -
the chassis, the bodywork,
which some of it's on the floor over here,
this has all been stretched, modified by myself,
all the cockpit instruments.
Basically everything you see here is handmade, barring the engine.
He didn't want to put it in the shed to start with
so it lived in the front room for over a year.
It's where we set our Christmas tree up actually!
So somewhere we've got a photo of the Christmas tree on top of the bike.
I could collect stamps, but I don't want to collect stamps,
I want to race in Bonneville.
And once you've been, you'll understand why.
Between them, the teams have spent thousands of man hours
working on these machines.
I suppose it is an obsession.
If it was a hobby, you wouldn't do it.
You know, it's different from your work.
It's something you feel you need to do, but don't HAVE to do.
You want to do it.
He mainly talks about going to America, cars,
That's usual dinner round the table for us.
Every night I would say.
Everyone likes speed, do they not?
Er, no, no.
Definitely not, no speed freak for me.
No, the two of them are speed freaks, not for me.
Definitely not for me, no. Definitely not, no.
Back in Oxfordshire, Steve has joined Dave and his wife
for another long weekend of bike-building.
That's how the crankshaft started,
it weighed 80lbs and it took two of us to lift it into the lathe.
I do what I want to do and she works with her horses.
We meet in the middle.
He's very committed to what he's doing.
But he's like the mad professor -
he's got no other ideas anywhere.
He's just focussed on what he's doing.
The dogs can be walking all over him, all over the furniture,
they could have chewed everything, he won't notice it.
He'll get up and walk out into the garage.
Hmm, I'm not sure that's entirely true,
but I'm not going to argue, I won't argue.
I think bike people are like that, aren't they?
They're just focused on bikes
and where they are going and what they are doing.
Don't forget to wipe your feet.
-Do you think it's normal to have a motorbike in your living room?
And I tell you, when I catch up with the bastard who keeps dumping them
all round here, I'm going to have a stiff word with him.
It is a geezer hole. It's not very grown up.
You couldn't entertain anybody here.
But that's not what houses are for.
Houses are for storing race parts for your bike.
I mean, I've got a room up there full of race parts.
I mean, it's just out of control.
I'm a tidy, clean-living man.
I come home and I find this,
it's bordering on outrageous.
I seem to get through some beds as well.
That's got rifle damage that one.
There's not going to be a like-minded woman
and a pitter-patter of feet coming soon?
I fucking hope not, unless she's good at welding.
You've got to get on.
It's a relationship that works extremely well.
You don't get to know somebody really well
until you get to work with them for, what, five or six months -
it's weekends and nights, but that amount of time.
And if you don't fall out in that space of time
I think we've got a good footing.
Just something special about the relationship.
I think that it's different from a friendship, this is a...
don't say marriage, people, because it's not a marriage,
-No, it's definitely not a marriage.
It is something special, to be quite honest,
when you working like this.
That, in the engine, will spin round and round at high speed,
and these go up and down.
So in the engine they'd be going up and down.
Bang, bang, bang. Horsepower and more horsepower.
It's a match made in heaven.
Dave takes care of the engineering and Steve the techie details.
Once I'd done all this detail on the planning.
I knew it was doable, logistically it was doable.
Put the letters on each of the junctions of the pipe,
E means you look for an E down here, you find an E,
45 degrees swivel, -6. -6 is the size of the fitting I need.
We've got As here, you look at A on the list,
-8 to -6, that's a reducer,
male to male...
Bonneville's history is infused with almost mythological tales
of how men have tamed their machines
in the pursuit speed.
Legends such as Rollie Free -
concerned that his racing leathers may be causing drag,
he decided to strip down to his swimming shorts for a final run.
Lying flat, legs outstretched, he guided the bike
by following a black stripe painted on the salt bed.
It not only resulted in a 150 mph record on his British-made Vincent
but became one of the most legendary images in motorcycling history.
But perhaps the story that encapsulates the Bonneville spirit most
is that of a kiwi bike-builder
and his highly-modified Indian Scout motorcycle.
There was a bloke from New Zealand called Burt Munro
that came out here in 1967
with an engine the size of a lawnmower
and I'm talking to you today in 2012
and nobody has broken that record yet!
Know how fast you were going back there?
Yeah, about 150, 160 miles an hour.
Yeah, that sounds about right.
Sir Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of the backyard eccentric genius
in the feature film The World's Fastest Indian.
It follows Munro's first land-speed record
and it drew a whole new legion of fans to the Flats
including Bonneville virgin Chris Ireland.
Oz used to work for me.
I phoned him up one day and told him to watch The World's Fastest Indian
cos it was a brilliant film - me having an Indian, of course.
After he'd seen it he said,
"I piss in the garden, I've got chickens,"
he said, "I've got an old shed, I've got an old bike,
"I'm going to build one and go to Bonneville.
I said, "You'll never do that so long as you've got a hole up your arse!"
And two years later he sent me a photo of him at Bonneville.
Just like Burt Munro,
Chris will be taking a modified Indian Scout to the salt flats.
# Get your motor running
# Head out on the highway... #
Chris Ireland used to run his own successful custom bike company
with a staff of ten,
but the stresses and strain of dealing with tax officials,
demanding customers and day-to-day cash flow took their toll.
I ran the business for 20 years almost to the day.
And then I went in one day with a big lump in my throat,
bought a bottle of whisky, went home, said to my wife,
"I can't do it any more,"
and shut the lot down and had a nervous breakdown,
just from the stress of running the shop.
When I came to get a job, I wanted something that was totally mindless,
that I could go and do, not worry about it.
So now, I'm the California beach cleaner.
And it's brilliant, I love it, it's seasonal, three hours a day.
I'm Lynn and I live with Chris and I have done for 29 years.
He's very stressed.
Because the slightest little thing that goes wrong for Chris
is just a major event. For us it will be just a "oh dear",
but for Chris, no, he just gets so stressed.
I get four or five of these a day.
That's dog shit.
This is the biggest thing he has done on his own, without me going
and having to be behind him all the time.
It knocked him back, his self-esteem, everything.
It's one of those jobs where you can switch your brain off
and walk about and think about other things
like Bonneville and stuff like that.
And when it comes to Bonneville, there's plenty to think about.
Riding flat out mile upon mile
raises some interesting engineering challenges.
It's interesting cos it's a 30-year-old bike.
Everyone else is doing it on modern stuff with hybrid turbos.
Fair play to them, that's the easy way, we like older stuff.
You can't buy a bike like this so you have to go and make one.
PJ is doing everything he can do to make the bike
as strong as possible for his 200 mph record attempt.
Right, today we're going to be melting metal.
Where's the safest place to stand?
And we're alight!
After meltdown, his bikes are reincarnated into new parts.
When an Englishman is sitting in his garden,
enjoying the rare bit of sunshine,
it's going to be nice to hear a furnace going next door.
We're an industrialised nation, it's part of our heritage.
I sort of buy motorbikes. Then I ride them.
Then I scrape what's left of them up
and melt them down, and make more parts for motorbikes.
You can see it's quite liquid
once you get rid of all the shite off the top.
With the price of metal at an all-time high,
PJ's stockpile is as good as money in the bank.
There it is, instant ingots.
Just down the road,
Team Page are rebuilding a classic Triumph Bonneville
in memory of a friend who died unexpectedly last year.
Of all the teams making the trip to the salt,
they're the least experienced.
It's not that we're not focused, but we're having fun doing it,
cos we don't know what we're doing really.
Their relaxed approach to engineering rigor
is carrying on a tradition that Mike himself would have been proud of.
Mike was kind of an eccentric character.
He was always one for re-engineering things for himself,
so the way this bike is being built
is something he would wholeheartedly approve of if he were here.
Wasn't Mike a kind of self-taught engineer?
I think the word "engineer" is quite loose.
-Self-taught is probably accurate.
But Mike's still here in spirit and in body to some extent,
as the team have thoughtfully kept his ashes in the workshop.
Actually, if we had a bit of rain water we could probably mould him into something...
Joking aside, if the team are to get anywhere near 124 mph in Utah,
they'll need to nearly double the bike's horsepower.
Only then will they be in with any chance of joining
the hundreds of other Bonneville participants
also gunning for a record.
My name is Gene Gerber and I'm from Springfield, Illinois
and we're going for a record of 229 mph.
-My name is Devlin Duboss.
-And my name is Vic Serana.
We're from the state of Washington
and we're chasing a 167-and-some-change record.
My name is Larry and this is my wife Renee.
We're from Southern California
and we're trying for a record of 165.370.
To break a record, you have to pass technical inspection.
If the vehicle passes, it earns the right to go the starting line
in its respective class, whatever that might be - Blown, Unblown,
Fuel, Gas, Sports Car, Lakester, Streamliner, whatever.
We're going after the Deblown Gas Ranger Modified Roadster record
that is 155 and we're going to go faster.
And my ultimate goal with my motorcycle
is to go over 200 mph.
And if the record is 200 mph
and you run 210, you qualify. OK?
And you go to impound.
To set a record, it has to go two ways.
Let's say the record is 200, you run 210,
the second day you go out for your return run, or the record run as they call it,
and you run 220. That's a total of 430.
Slice it in half the new record is 215.
You still have to go back to inspection or prove to the inspectors
that you are running in all of the right rules for that particular class.
Once they bless you and write in your log book you've done that,
bingo, you got yourself a new record.
My name's Mike, this is Howard, this is Chuck.
We're from Fort Wayne, Indiana,
going for the world's fastest 32 Ford Coupe, 214 mph.
Back in Scotland, the team are preparing the car
for its third visit to the Flats, having only just missed the record
the last two times due to technical faults, and mechanical failure.
People come and you either break a record or you break parts.
There's only two outcomes.
The engine has been retuned to the limit,
from its original 175 horsepower,
to a staggering 500.
Last year that power was enough to twist the chassis
and shred the gear box beyond repair.
So the car has needed an extensive rebuild.
Obviously, you don't go to the parts bin and pick up bits for them.
But if we can't find it, we simply make it.
The team have less than two weeks to get her ready for shipping.
Back down south, Team Page are ready to start the engine.
It's the end of a long, hard year rebuilding a bike
that has been lying up in Mike's shed for 18 years.
I'm ready to go.
There's oil starting to get down into it.
The oil goes in OK, but sadly seems to be coming out just as fast.
Hello, we've got a leaky Triumph, it's just there on my side.
Please don't say it's the engine casings.
This really isn't good.
There's some grinding marks on this side.
Yeah, it's where we had to take out that under webbing
-so the engine could move over.
-We may have gone too far.
They'd had to make a few modifications
to the bottom of the engine to get it to fit in the frame
and unfortunately it went through the wall of the crank case.
Frog comes up with a cunning plan.
Someone needs to fill that hole up. I want to get this started soon.
Can I have a beer of disappointment, please?
The beer of disappointment.
Carlsberg don't do motorcycle disappointments
but if they did, it would be like this.
It's possible that the crank case can be welded
but it means a complete strip-down overnight.
Team Page just have one week to repair,
finish and power test the old Triumph
before shipping it to Bonneville.
For Chris getting the 70-year-old bike ready for the salt
has been a year's work.
Come on, girls. Come on.
In a world where many of the big players use the most
sophisticated digital technology to build their vehicles,
spending millions on R&D, Chris and his other projects
are still very much a product of the analogue age.
That's the speedo out of a Lancaster bomber.
That's out of a Spitfire,
the boost gauge.
These two are out of a Barracuda dive bomber.
It was a Citroen 2CV capable of doing about 60 mph.
It's now been changed a little bit
and should be good for at least 150.
Are you more of a fan of older technology?
I can't do it.
I can't work the remote on the television,
I can't work the remote on the satellite.
Telephones, why can't they have a phone that's got "switch on",
then you press the buttons and it rings,
then you push another button to switch off?
Why can't they have that?
They think they have to have the internet on them
and God-knows-what now.
I wouldn't even know how to switch one on.
Back in Leighton Buzzard,
just days until the bikes need to be crated up,
Oz's 196 mph missile is nearing completion.
His friend Lee is helping with some finishing touches.
I think it's really sad in the UK that manually skilled workers
don't seem to be that valued. Everyone now values the IT skills
and I think we're reaching a point where we're going to
run out of people with manual skills and what he does,
what he's capable of doing, is amazing.
Fucking jammed up solid.
When you've got someone who's doing something that they really want
to do with something they really want to achieve,
you've absolutely got to go with it.
Oh, bloody hell!
I mean, there are some people out there who have got loads of money
and they have got the big rigs that are full of wheel-on tool boxes
and stuff and we don't have any of that.
It's done on a shoestring for us.
Whatever the budget of those going to Bonneville,
safety is one thing that can never be compromised.
Having had his first taste of the salt three years ago,
Oz is well aware of the danger.
'Rider down. Rider down.'
This is Oz attempting the record in 2009.
He should be so proud of what he's done but I think,
until he gets that record,
it's still something that's a work in progress for him.
Five years' work for five minutes of fun
might seem a poor trade-off to some.
The old adage of Burt Munroe,
"You live more in five minutes on a bike like this
"than most people do in a lifetime." And it's quite true.
This is the closest most of us will come to travelling at over 150 mph.
If the worst should happen, there is only a thin leather cowhide
between the rider and the unforgiving,
rough, granular surface.
I try not to think about that
because you don't want to think about what happens
if you crash at high speed.
I could never be without him.
Doesn't matter how much it, you know...
it would be devastating.
I don't know the statistics, I don't want to know.
And I'm going to play ostrich on that one.
Head in the sand and, no, you know, ignore it.
Ignore it she may, but the fact remains
racing at Bonneville is dangerous.
Throw in adverse track and weather conditions
the risk factor increases dramatically.
Since Speed Week began in 1948,
nine people have died in the pursuit of this dream.
'I couldn't hear it.'
Fortunately the driver of this vehicle was one of the lucky ones.
The hardest thing about a Streamliner
is because they the slipperiest cars out there.
They're the fastest cars, but they are the slipperiest.
It is the forces that are unseen,
the invisible air forces that can get you into serious trouble,
and can cause a catastrophic accident.
There is a...
apprehension when you drive into Bonneville in the morning
and you wonder if you are going to drive out in the evening...
..which I think is normal, I think that's healthy.
I think it's important to have that degree of adrenalin
running when you're in the car, because it wakes you up,
it keeps you very focused
and I think it helps you with your reactions.
Undoubtedly it is massively selfish.
Yes. But it is something I need to do.
I rather hope that the kids will one day understand that.
The car is very long and very thin.
The car can behave like a motorbike,
so when you see the Grand Prix motorcyclists
coming out of a corner and they slide the bike
and then suddenly it snaps back on them,
they get high-sided and they go over the handlebars.
We can high-side the Flower.
I once asked a very wise man who had driven these cars for a long while,
what happens if we pencil roll?
And his only response was, "It won't end well for you or the car."
If there is an accident and he dies, well, he dies.
I mean, it's destiny.
It's destiny and you can't go against destiny.
Back in Great Yarmouth, Chris Ireland's homespun bike
is almost ready for a road test.
But with limited funds, he's popped down
to his local scrap yard for one last part.
His mate Gary, who runs the breakers yard,
allows him free rein in the spares bin
in return for the occasional basket of eggs.
Happy as a pig in whatsit!
This is a bike-breaker's paradise, old wheels, front ends,
exhaust systems, handlebars,
if it comes off a bike, it's in this shed.
And I think they've got what I want, I'm after a wheel spindle
and I know where they are, they're down there.
Gotcha! That'll do it.
With their bike now complete and just three days until shipping,
Dave and Steve can finally step back to admire their handiwork.
The supercharger here. It's the mouth of the supercharger.
It provides all the air for the engine.
It was all made here. Not the supercharger itself, but the air intake, yes,
the meter and block above, all the fittings. All made here, yeah.
On the front of the bike, we've got a water pump which will feed water at about 300 gallons per hour,
into the intercooler - you can see the pipe going to the right feeds the water into the bottom.
Pumps up to the top. Then the pipe coming down from the top is the ice water intake.
That's the gearbox.
The belt to the right, that has the supercharger drive.
It should give us about 30lb of boost pressure in the engine.
The barge aluminium nut sticking out, Dave made that.
That comes through the side case, so we can start the engine.
That's the clutch hat. That's bolted on to basically a bucketful of alternate steel and bronze plates.
That entire thing was made by Dave.
Currently, the bike is geared for about 158 mph.
We have gearing which will be able to take it up to 195
if there's enough power in the engine to do so.
The grips on the handlebars are made here.
It bites into your glove, and you can really hang on to your bike.
The jumble of wires is the data logger.
This will log front-wheel speed, rear-wheel speed, boost temperature,
boost pressure, engine RPM, shoe size and inside leg measurement.
That's the theory. We've yet to put it to the test.
MUSIC: "Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus" by Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin
Visually the handmade bike exceeds all expectations, but Steve
and Dave know all too well how the best laid plans
can fall victim to the rugged salt.
They'll be relying on a small group of event organisers
and volunteers to make sure the vast salt flats are ready for racing.
When a guy wants to turn off the course we try
and provide a smoother place for him
to turn off so he doesn't have to go out on this stuff,
where the course beats him to death. So that's what Jim's doing. He's dragging turn outs.
So far today we've got 58 miles, so the day is just getting started.
Usually we're close to 100-150 miles. We're almost finished.
Well, when you look out here at the salt, and you see all this stuff,
and it's all under water during the winter time, and as it dries out
it gets workable. And if you leave it too long, you can't do anything.
And if you go down three or four inches, there's still water.
Each course has strategically placed timing traps
laid along its entire length.
These are the individual wires that go out on to the course.
They all connect to this trailer.
There is 32 to 34 miles of cable just for these two courses.
You can see it's pretty technical!
Formula One doesn't have anything on us!
Back in the UK, Team Page might have solved their grinding incident,
with a hole in the crank case.
Oz, who lives nearby,
kindly takes time from his own build to sort them out.
Excellent, we're fixed!
I don't know much about holes, it didn't look like it was major,
and I'm just glad we've found someone with the talent to actually sort it out.
Just being able to take it out
and getting it back and welded within about four hours is great!
With the bike back in one piece,
they're finally ready to start her up for the first time, and in
a wave of optimism, they've invited Mike's mum and dad for the occasion.
When we kick the bike over for the first time, it's going to be
a very important occasion because, for one, the bike hasn't been
started in so long and plus in the memory of Mike.
A temporary fuel tank is put on...
..as one of Mike's closest friends,
Frog is given the honour of starting the bike.
But no amount of kicking
and prodding will wake the old triumph from its 18-year slumber.
In a moment of inspiration, Frog comes up with an old "Bonneville"
trick of the trade, using another bike to spin up the rear wheel.
I can't wait for this.
Mike would be over the moon with this, I think.
Apart from the fact it was very noisy,
which would have made him extremely happy.
Back in Great Yarmouth,
the peaceful Norfolk countryside is about to be shaken, as Chris
takes to his favourite stretch of private road for a test ride.
This is a first ride in two years - I won't lie
and say I've not been worried about it.
When I was halfway down the road and I opened up
and it smoothed out and started pulling,
I felt pretty good about what I'd done to the engine.
Quietly Pleased. That was only in first gear.
But I'm on Bonneville gearing at the moment
so it's geared to do, like, 100 mph on tick over, but that was good.
Chris is so far the only one of the six teams going to Bonneville
to road test his vehicle.
Up in Scotland, the team are finishing the rebuild
of the car they hope will break the 313 mph record in the one litre class.
After two failures at Bonneville, the pressure is on.
They failed to do it the last time and he doesn't like to say they failed.
No, they don't like to fail
and that's probably why they're going again.
The record stood for all this time because people reckon it's
impossible to go any quicker, we need to prove them wrong.
They really want to get the record.
That's all they think about.
The Flower is ready but is far too long
and powerful for any testing in Britain.
So they will have no way of knowing what she's capable of till it
South of the border with just two days to go, Team Page
are about to find out how much horsepower the 40-year machine has.
What are we hoping for?
I want 60.
I'm going to be positive and say 66.
-I'm going for 69 because it's a 69 Bonneville.
The bike gives out just 41 horsepower
but picks up speed cleanly, accelerating to well over 120 mph
but these are ideal conditions with no wind or salt under the wheels.
The bike will need to deliver considerably more to tackle
the current record of 124 mph.
Well, it's a beautiful sound isn't it, the sound of an engine?
Y'know, the whine in the background, you hear the cams going round,
there's no tapping noises, she's nice on the rumble, crisp,
responsive, I like the whirr in the background,
means everything nice and tight.
Smells like victory!
You can't do that because it will go gadonk, gadonk..
'Scuse the party hats.
Back in Oxfordshire, Steve and Dave are about to start their land
speed vehicle for the first time
and in deference to the neighbours they're firing it up in the garage.
The methanol fumes are toxic.
They've taken this 45hp bike engine
and transformed it into a 200hp monster.
Keep the mask on until I get out here, shouldn't I?
The bike still has not had a proper road test,
but at least it's running, and with the container
booked for the fast approaching weekend, any further
adjustments will have to wait for their arrival at Bonneville.
It's time. The container is waiting
and the teams must part company with their precious creations
for six weeks before being reunited at the Los Angeles shipping office.
Meanwhile Team Page, who have lovingly
restored their friend's bike have organised a send-off.
Anyone and everyone who knew Mike has come along to pay their respects.
Here we go. Three, two, one!
'It looked so wonderful.'
And I just felt that all Mike's friends were here and, um...
Erm, and it would have been lovely if Mike had been here too,
but I'm sure he was here in spirit, bless him.
As a touching tribute to their best friend, Team page have
carefully put his ashes in a container under the petrol tank,
which they plan to release onto the flats.
The first part of the dream is over.
The bikes, ready or not, are on their way.
The countdown to Bonneville Speed Week has begun.
Between them, years of hard work, thousands spent -
and just a few minutes on the salt to prove it was all worth it.
Five and half thousand miles away, the teams have assembled in LA.
They all have one thing on their mind - has their precious cargo
survived a six-week voyage across the Atlantic?
For some, it's the first time to the States.
They don't like you smoking in America, they don't like it all!
Feel like a leper.
But all are keen to hit the road.
Fully-loaded, the teams can now make their way to
the object of this obsession.
Next stop - Vegas and then Bonneville.
The dried-up lake of Bonneville, Utah.
Since the beginning of the last century, thousands have
descended upon the infamous salt flats.
It will now play host to the 64th annual Speed Week. After
a gruelling 850 mile trip, the first of the teams are starting to arrive.
And for some it's great to be back!
For others, it's a lifelong ambition finally achieved.
Good to be here. A lot of people dreamt about doing this
and we've actually made it.
Once we've got set up, we'll go and wander around and have a look
and take it all in.
Parked it right next to the toilets anyway!
The chance to realise the dream that we thought about last year.
Sometimes I stands and sometimes I stands and I thinks.
It's big, innit?
-We are here.
-It's weird, innit?
-It's harder than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be more like gravel.
-Yeah, I did.
-It's all right, we can race on this.
-Yeah, we can do this.
Before any racing can begin, all vehicles have to go to tech inspection.
Inspector's word is final.
We point out the problems, and we put in the book they need to
address this. Please, go fix it and bring it back. We'll re-inspect it
and then you can race.
If they don't want to do that, they can't race.
Geordie Oz is first up.
He's spent the last three years in his shed modifying the bike
with this day in mind.
ENGINE IGNITES AND REVS UP
All right, man, you passed. It's all good.
It's a beautiful machine. Can't wait to see it go.
I only just got here!
Chris is next up.
I think this is a real good looking Indian. Long wheel base.
-Looks like it belongs here.
-Yeah. Looks like a Bonneville bike to me.
It's not just the bike that gets a stringent check over.
All clothing has to meet strict safety standards.
Fix that and I'll sign you off.
Delayed by a slight detour around the Panama Canal,
the Flower of Scotland team arrives a day late.
It's awe-inspiring. You'll have noticed it yourself when you arrive.
Such a vast expanse,
and then you have all these nutcases with weird cars.
This is petrolhead heaven. There's no restrictions here.
There's no silliness.
It's carefully controlled, but it's sensible.
CAR HORN HOOTS
And they're all mad as hatters!
My leather's failed tech, because the zip is sewed to a piece of cloth.
And it's got to be sewed to leather.
They told me I could get by.
I stitched it with lock wire.
That little lot took me over half an hour to do.
Regulations, simple as that.
So it doesn't pull your trousers off.
If something drastic had been wrong with the bike,
and I couldn't fix it over here,
I would have been in deep doo-doos.
We've only got a certain amount of spares.
And we have to build the bikes to what we think is standard,
and their standards are sometimes a bit different to ours.
But I'll carry on sewing regardless.
Back in tech, even Team Page are ticking the right boxes.
-Thanks so much.
Welcome, fellas. Thank you very much.
ENGINE REVS UP
And Steve and Dave are enjoying a shower of praise.
-Damn, that sounds good, doesn't it?
-It does. Smells good too.
We're done. Your bike passed.
Looking good. We like it. It's great!
I wish they all looked this good.
-OK, sir. Be safe. Go fast.
PJ and Dave's modified 1983 Suzuki has also made the grade.
We have official approval. We came here to get professionally slagged off.
And we're through, so we're happy. Check it out!
That's a big deal for us.
This is what we wanted. Safety inspection signed off.
You can see I signed it off there, but...
That's because he didn't have his glasses on!
It's a testament to British engineering that everyone has passed tech.
But the bikes are not the only thing the Brits have brought with them.
Unfortunately, we have Bonneville's tallest lightning conductor.
Due to the conductive nature of salt, water and lightning,
Bonneville participants are advised to make a swift exit.
Tomorrow they'll find out
if their vehicles have what it takes to ride the salt.
MUSIC: Theme from "The Italian Job"
Once the flats dry up, it will be time to race.
In the next episode, the battle between man and machine begins.
As they drive their home-made wonders as fast as they can...
Gagging for it now. Heart is going like a stolen moped.
..the realities of racing flat out soon set in...
I've found the hole.
..but do any of them have what it takes to get a Bonneville record?
Good enough to spank it up the salt at full tilt, aren't I?
Out here things go wrong.
I thought I mixed all the gears up but I hadn't.
If we don't break the record this year, we will have failed.
How hard can it possibly be?
MUSIC: "Dream On" by Aerosmith
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Bill Nighy narrates a story about how, every year, thousands of petrolheads descend upon a dried-up salt lake bed in Bonneville, Utah. Men from all over the world come to this truly unique setting with their bespoke vehicles with just one plan - to drive them as fast as they can and hopefully join an elite group: the fastest men on earth.
This is a story of a group of British amateur engineers who are willing to risk life and limb on their home-made machines - six very different vehicles, six very different reasons for coming - all building speed machines in a quest to hold a Bonneville record.
The first episode looks at the men behind the machines and this obsession. Men such as Dave and Steve who have built a bike from scratch, self-confessed metalhead PJ who brings a whole new meaning to bringing your work home with you, and Chris, Great Yarmouth's beach cleaner and legendary bike builder. The film ends with them arriving with their machines at this breathtaking landscape ready to find out if they can become members of an elite group.