During the 1970s, dirt bike riding was a big part of my leisure time. My brother in law, (step….we married step sisters) and I would frequently make the trip from San Bernardino, where I lived, and Simi Valley, where he lived, through Mojave and out to Red Rock Canyon. Acton, a small town, south of Palmdale, was one of the places we passed, northbound on Hwy 14, always caught our attention. Up on a hill, in someone’s yard, sat an old race car. We passed that car for many years, until one time we passed, and it was no longer there. I hadn’t thought about it until a couple days ago. (11/15/2015) I went online to see if I could find out anything related to that old car. Not knowing the name of the car made the search rather difficult, but I finally came across a website that had some photos of what was, unmistakably, the car we used to see. I emailed Jon to see if he remembered. After you look at the pictures, you can read our correspondence.
Do you remember this? We used to drive by this old car, when we were on our way to "Red Rock Canyon", to go dirt bike riding. More pics at;
Yes, I remember. These are some great cars in these photos.
Those photos are all of the same car. It was parked in somebody's yard in Acton, at the top of a hill. It was there during the early 70s. I don't remember exactly when it disappeared, probably late 70s or early 80s. We stopped, one day and asked about it. The person we talked to didn't know much except that it had attempted a land speed record. I did a little more research, and this is what I found.
This webpage says:
The Thunderbowl Comet has appeared a number of times in Hemmings Classic Car‘s Lost and Found department (#66, #85, and #87), and through those appearances, we’ve learned quite a bit.
According to Ohioan Ron Carbaugh, it was built by Harlan Fengler in the 1930s for the Metro film studio, specifically for use in the 1936 Jimmy Stewart filmSpeed. In the film, the car – known as the Falcon – is taken to Muroc Dry Lake for a land-speed record attempt, but Fengler apparently believed that the car was actually competitive and devised a plan to switch out several different engines for different land-speed record classes. The only drivetrain we know that powered it was one from a front-wheel-drive Cord L-29. To the best of anybody’s knowledge, Fengler never proved the car’s competitiveness, and it instead spent the next couple of decades promoting different venues around Southern California. At one point, it promoted the Carpinteria Thunderbowl, a quarter-mile dirt track, and later it promoted The Village Inn outside Palmdale, California.
acton car Harl…bowl Comet.jpe
acton car Harl…Comet.jpe1.jpg
I wish we had taken some photos, but neither of us ever carried a camera.
What I received was pictures of the car we had seen on our way up to Red Rock Canyon but also another 10 or so other strange looking cars. I remember stopping and talking to the people who had that car. I don’t think it had an engine in it at the time. Great memories.
There's a story behind these photos sent in to us by Gary Ericson of Tehachapi, California, but we only know snippets of it. Gary said these photos date from 1972, when he stopped by what he described as an old movie ranch on Old Highway 6 south of Palmdale, to inspect the Thunderbowl Comet, a 25-foot aluminum-sheathed bullet.
We discovered rather quickly in our research that the Comet got its moniker from the owner of the Carpinteria Thunderbowl, a quarter-mile dirt oval track in the town of Carpinteria, near Santa Barbara, where races ran from 1947 to 1956. He apparently ran the Comet around the track as a form of pre-race entertainment. Before that, according to a September 1941 Popular Mechanics article, the Comet went by the name Golden Eagle when driver Ted Ellis aimed to break the absolute land-speed record (then at 357 MPH), using a 1,200hp 24-cylinder air-cooled engine.
That latter claim seems dubious, for a few reasons: We've seen no record of results; a straight-eight engine resided in the car; and in 1932, the car was apparently built as a prop for a 1936 Jimmy Stewart movie titledSpeed.
So what we want to know is how all these snippets of history are connected and, most of all, where the Comet is today.
This article originally appeared in the March, 2010 issue of Hemmings Classic Car.
Subject of my very first post, this formidable machine was identified by Dan Strohl of Hemmings Daily as the Golden Eagle aka Thunderbowl Comet. Although the car's story varies from one teller to the next, it did at least portray a Muroc Dry Lake LSR contender in a 1936 Jimmy Stewart B-movie called 'Speed', turning up years later as opening act at the Carpenteria Thunderbowl, a quarter-mile dirt track near Santa Barbara, California. As Auto Puzzles editor Ray B. posted, "The Carpinteria Thunderbowl was operational between 1947 and 1956. Anton Krivanek reminisced about the circuit: I used to go there when I was about 14. The guy who owned it had a great big streamliner called the Thunderbowl Comet. It had the name painted on the side and it had a big fin on the back end with a stylized comet with a tail of sparks and stars painted on it. He'd trundle it around the track before the races to impress the rubes (me). In my memory it was so long it could hardly make it around the corners... Years later I saw it parked alongside Highway 14 out near Acton as a draw for a sad little western roadside attraction. I told Strother MacMinn about it and he drove out there and checked it out... He had seen it parked on the street in Hollyweird in the late '30s or '40s. It was on a stretched L29 Cord chassis and eventually was bought and dismantled for its Cord parts." I recently acquired the photo above, the script on the side plugging (indecipherable something like Egge) Speedway Carburetors of Glendale. Below is the photo previously posted, followed by movie frame captures from IMCDB.Check out the original shotgun/centerline fin aiming setup. Used car / rental lot snapshot was found at H.A.M.B. Jalopy Journal and the last four were pilfered from Auto Puzzles, where further information and photos can be found. I thought 'Our Famous Salad Bar' might lure Antelope Valley tourists to the Village Inn of Palmdale, California, mentioned in a Frank Zappa song, but another Auto Puzzles photo brings Noel, Missouri out from behind the cage post. Salad bar, honey! We really must give it a try the next time we're 1600 miles east of here! The distinguished gentleman smiling from the cockpit is designer Alex Tremulis, another luminary who made the Acton pilgrimage to pay respects. According to Strohl, the beast still exists.