The perfectly level, antiseptic stretches of Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats have attracted fast drivers for nearly 100 years. It was here in 1914 the first tentative land-speed record was set, and it's here the 200, 300, 400, 500 and 600 mph land speed barriers were made and broken.
In the years since their discovery, the Salt Flats have hosted everything from methyl-burning superbikes to rocket-powered jet cars. A far cry from insanity machines like these, there is possibly no vehicle on the planet as unsung as the VW pickup-or Caddy, as it's known in some circles. Even so, the diminutive truck now has its place secured in the annals of Bonneville history. Maintained by speed enthusiast Mike Manghelli and piloted by his wife Pam, this 1980 pickup set an official land-speed record in Bonneville's Modified Mini Pickup class-encompassing trucks running either forced induction or some type of engine hybrid-last October at 126.3 mph. In fact, the 126-mph run is the truck's second Bonneville record, since it also holds a 100-mph record in the diesel class.
Mike got into land-speed racing more than 30 years ago, starting with Chevys and eventually graduated to VWs-his first was an aircooled Karmann Ghia coupe. Later he switched to a tube-chassis race car running a turbocharged, alcohol-and-nitrous burning rabbit motor, which eventually posted a top speed of 199.9 mph. Manghelli first became interested in pickups when he discovered a set of VWs sitting parked and largely neglected at a friend's house. Struck by their latent incongruity with most widely accepted notions of speed, Manghelli decided that building a diesel-powered mini-truck would present a suitable challenge to add to his list of records on the Salt Flats.
The first and most obvious impediments were the truck's chassis dynamics. Because class rules dictate that the vehicle run with stock aerodynamics (though running a tonneau cover is permitted), Manghelli simply dropped the chassis earthward as far as he could, adapting Neuspeed race coils to the front suspension and removing a single layer from the rear leaf springs to even out the back.
By far the most interesting thing about the truck is its engine. Though it no longer burns diesel, it currently runs a 1498cc diesel block-class rules limit engine displacement to 1500cc-with fully balanced internals and Ross forged pistons pushing a 10:1 compression ratio.
Manghelli drew on resources provided by his employer, Aero Bending (which also provided numerous stainless-steel lines found throughout the engine bay), to stamp a custom copper head gasket that assists in adapting a newer 8V cross flow cylinder head to the '80s-era diesel block. All of this is held together by ARP head bolts.
The updated head, in turn, allows the truck to employ a Neuspeed supercharger and 268-degree camshaft for its most significant power gains. Boost runs at 10 psi and fuel is supplied by a MegaSquirt EFI system, assembled by Eric Edwardson, flowing through Rochester injectors. It's a completely user-configured fuel enrichment kit mapped out by Manghelli and calibrated by friends Rick Yacoucci and Keith Pedersen (Keith also serves as the truck's backup pilot on the Flats). Other additions to the engine bay include doubled Techtonics valve springs to shore up an aggressive Neuspeed cam, a Techtonics header and custom 3-in. exhaust bent by Banks Engineering, a modified distributor machined by Gary Boyer from a Ford V8, and a full MSD ignition.
The result of the comprehensive engine mods is 169 hp at a high-flying 7800 rpm, and 122 lb-ft of torque at around 6500. The Manghellis' final challenge was putting this power effectively to the ground in the fwd pickup. Most importantly, Mike said, they needed to find a tire to fit the truck's 13-in. wheels that carried a speed rating suitable for the velocities they intended to reach. Bridgestone Potenza RE92s were selected to fill this duty.
On the opposite side of the truck's PPG Techno Blue and Sunflower Yellow painted panels, an array of safety equipment has been installed to protect the driver during his or her high-speed run: an Autopower rollcage, JAZ aluminum race seat and DJ harnesses. The driver also benefits from Fresh Air Systems Technologies (FAST) safety equipment-helmet, fan blower and cool shirt-which provide both protection and a modicum of comfort while driving in the sealed and often stifling pickup cab.
With two speed records already tucked away, the Manghellis' next challenge, according to Mike, is assaulting the upper echelon of the 100-mph range and upping the ante in the modified class. To do this, he said, they'll convert the powerplant yet again, this time with to a de-stroked and turbocharged 16-valve engine. After that, who knows? The only thing left to do will be to sink a jet turbine into the little pickup chassis. Regardless of whether or not it would still qualify in the Modified Mini class, we think it'd make for one hell of a ride.