Bob's Resource Website (2007)
Ron Hall at Bonneville, 2003

(Mag Article)

Ron Hall Avanti Breaks 200 MPH! Sets Bonneville Speed Record

As reported by John Shanahan

You should have been there. The sound of Avanti #1963 blasting across the salt at 7,200 RPM caused the same aural thrill as a F4U Corsair in a combat dive. Ron's Big run came very late in the day; his was the last car to make its record setting return run attempt at 6:54 p.m. Wednesday, September 22. It was getting dark, the sky was a little clouded over, and an air temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit defined perfect weather for setting speed records. Four other cars had completed their return runs and set records in their respective classes. The time was right.

A return speed run is scheduled if you first make a qualifying run in excess of the established record. Ron's record breaking qualifying run came at 4:52 p.m., at a speed of 196.298 MPH in mile #5. The rules state a car must cover the same mile of real estate in both directions for a record setting average. This means starting from the opposite end of the course in what is called the "Swamp" where the salt is wet and slippery. Getting up to speed from the 8 1/2 mile make took a lot of wheel spinning and side slip, but resulted in the 200.426 MPH speed in mile #3 going down-track; equivalent to mile #4 going up-track. This meant the average was (190.855+200.426)/2=195.640 MPH, establishing a new record in the 195 MPH class. Had the salt been drier at the far end, the average might have been several miles per hour faster.

Left to Right: Dave Taylor, Roger Lick, Ed Kneller, Mike Hauser,
Gary Chandler, Rick Moon, Jim Pepper, Bob Cassady, Steve Kolish,
John Shanahan (hatted), Al Inkens, Jim Lange, Jim Caldwell,
Corbin Walters, Darrell Slaybaugh, Ron Slaybaugh, George Gallo,
Al Riedel, Don Shannon, and Ron Hall, Driver.

But I'm getting ahead of my story. The original race date was to have been in mid-August, but rain made the salt too wet for racing through most of the summer. The even was cancelled in August and rescheduled for October. Then, the "7th Annual World of Speed" event was extended to be a week-long event starting September 20th. The Avanti participants decided to go for it at that time instead of waiting for October.

In late July the record breaking engine, #PK307 arrived from Jet City Studebaker, in Tacoma, WA at Chicago's Orchard Field (O'Hare International to out-of-towners) via Northwest Air Freight, one of the team's major contributors. The engine's final installation was made at Jim Pepper's garage in Waukesha, WI, located just outside Milwaukee. Jim has been one of the key people in this effort, and made many of the special features, like the crankshaft position sensing system, and the oil pressure regulator device. Several of the 1992 core group from Chicago made weekend jaunts to Jim's place to lend a helping hand a number of times.

Al Riedel turns on the power switch on car #1963.
There's no truth to the rumor that Ron Hall was not
the only person aboard when the speed run was made.
But Al still won't admit where he disappeared to during the runs.
Prior to November, 1992, work on the car was done at the Carol Stream, IL., headquarters of Gabriel Ride Control Division of Arvin Industries. Ron Hall works for Gabriel. Unfortunately for the race effort, Gabriel moved its operations to Rochester Hills, MI last year. Ron moved with it, making work on the car a logistics nightmare for most team members when the commute became an 850 mile round trip.

Team enthusiasm hit a high after dynamometer tests indicated the engine produced about 525 LB/FT of torque, and 604 HP at 6750 RPM (624 HP at 7250 RPM and 630 HP at 7000 RPM) with 4 to 6 PSI of manifold boost. The relatively low manifold boost figure is due to the tremendous improvement in cylinder head flow over its stock configuration thanks to Jet City Studebaker's technicians.

The car was almost completely assembled before it left for the salt this time, a new record in itself compared to previous years. On Saturday, September 18th, almost everyone from Chicago was in Waukesha helping finish it up. Early the next day, Sunday, the car left for Bonneville. It was towed by trailer, with George Gallo, Ron Hall, Roger Lick, and Jim Pepper sharing the non-stop 1,500 mile drive to Wendover, Utah. This was about a 27 hour run, and you all know how scenic the muddy Platte River is along 1-80 in Nebraska this time of year.

Rear tires off the ground for pre-run warm-up period.

Those no lucky enough to drive out were forced to fly in to Salt Lake City on Monday, and drive to the Salt Flats. By Tuesday, September 21st, we were all out on the desert for the 6:45 a.m. sunrise over the Avanti pit area. It was about 49 degrees F that morning, making it downright cold out on the salt.

Ron's wasn't the only Avanti competing at Bonneville. Jim Lange, from Effingham, IL had his beautiful 1963 Avanti #943 ready to run. The powerplant for Jim's car deserves special mention: A 304 CID Studebaker V8 using Hillborn fuel injection and twin turbochargers blowing through a pair of chilled water intercoolers. His dynamometer tests indicated a remarkable 664 HP at 4900 RPM, with peak torque of 753 LBS/FT at 4200 RPM. Between the two Avanti, Studebaker power was well represented at Bonneville for 1993.

Post-race cool down after a 192 MPH run.
Kneller push truck stands by.
A gentlemen's coin flip determined that Ron Hall would be the first to run his car, but preparation delays interfered, allowing Jim to reach the starting line first. Jim made his first run at a 173 MPH speed, producing some crankcase oil leakage and concern about the engine. His second run, at 165 MPH caused more than concern; besides a continued oil leakage there was a big loss of coolant from a split radiator tank seam. A noticeable decline in engine performance was found to be caused by #1 intake valve dropping to 0" lift when a set screw worked loose in the roller rocker arm. Fortunately, the errant screw lodged in the cylinder head oil gallery and didn't migrate down below. Still, the indications persisted that all was not well internally.

Jim's crew, Gary Chandler, Bob Cassady & Jim Caldwell, along with helping hands from Steve Kolish, Al Riedel, Rick Moon and a few others, worked at a feverish pace to pull the radiator out and solder the split seam. Since the intercoolers and turbo units were also off they were inspected. One turbo had "Eaten" something big enough to badly chew up its blades. This explained the low manifold pressure Jim noted on both runs.

Ron Hall rests after a thrilling turn out that ended
in a quarter mile broad slide on the wet salt.
Note the skid marks in the salt beyond the car.
Meanwhile, Ron Hall made his first run in car #1963, reaching 187 MPH. While not bad for a warm-up run, it was no better than runs made in previous years. Analysis of why this might be led to the conclusion that the rear axle ratio was numerically too low. At 2.75:1, with the tires being used, the engine was running at a lower peak RPM than Corbin Walters had planned for. Corbin gave us the "I told you so" reading, and the rest of the afternoon was spent changing to the 3.00:1 ratio Corbin had wanted in the first place. Another problem attended to at the same time was to reinstall the steering wheel correctly. Somehow, it had been put on about 90 degrees CCW from normal; a wheel spoke obstructed Ron's view of the tachometer during his runs.

On its next run out of the gate, #1963 posted a 192 MPH time, still a long way from the 200 MPH we were looking for. That's when Corbin sprung the secret on us that, in fact, he had detuned the engine by about 70 HP. Stay tuned folks, it gets better...

The next morning everyone was out on the salt at sunrise. Jim Lange had #943 ready for another go. This run was in the 168 MPH range with again a big loss of coolant from a radiator hose which blew off during the run. At this point several minds came to the same conclusion - something more than water pump hydrostatic pressure was responsible. Perhaps a head gasket had blown out, allowing cylinder pressure to reach and over-stress the cooling system. Utilizing the Shanahan Chicago back-alley test of running the engine with the water pump stopped, it was apparant a bad head gasket leak existed in the right cylinder bank. The head came off after a quick compression check showed #6 very low in compression.

Things got worse from there. Beyond a relatively simple head gasket failure, #6 cylinder had been sleeved in the past and the top edge of the sleeve was crumbling. Pieces broken loose from the sleeve got between the piston and cylinder wall, probably accounting for the broken piston ring land. This was the cause of the oil blowby from the crankcase, as it too was pressurized with cylinder pressure.

Jim Lange's car #943 pushing up to the starting line for his
first run. 1993 was not a successful year for Jim's racing
effort, but we hope he and #943 are back next year.

Meanwhile, Corbin made a little carburetor tweak to Ron's car, and #1963 made its next run in excess of 192 MPH. The car was starting to cook. A change in carburetor jetting followed, and Ron made the record breaking 196 MPH run, earning himself a trip to the record contenders impound area to await his back-up run at 6:00 p.m.

The rules stipulate that no alterations to the qualifying conditions in the vehicle are permitted in the impound area. However, all fluids, tire pressures, wiring connections and the like were checked and re-checked. The intercooler ice chest was reloaded with fresh ice, the video camcorders in the car were reset, and Roger Lick, the team's resident detailer, fastidiously wiped salt spray from everywhere. This was going to be the big run and everything must be as right as it can be.

What came next was where this story began.

Jim Lange's car was ready to run again late Thursday, but an approaching weather front forced an early halt to all racing. Friday, Jim made two runs, one achieved 160 MPH and another 150 MPH when a transmission problem kept the car from being able to use low gear. There is every indication Jim will be back next year in #943 if the salt is dry. As for Ron Hall, he and his team have taken a Studebaker powered car to a new land speed record. It is enough, for now. But there is always next year - and, who knows what the future holds?

Jet City Studebaker distributed the following as a press release, and I quote:

October 1, 1993

On September 22, a 1963 Studebaker Avanti set a new world speed record with a two-way average of 195.640 MPH at the U.S.F.R.A. sanctioned 1993 world of Speed Meet at the Bonneville Salt Flats, sponsored by Gabriel of Canada.

The event marks the 30th anniversary of the Raymond Loewy designed fiberglass sports coupe which, with the help of Andy Granatelli, broke 29 records at Bonneville when it was introduced in the fall of 1962. The car, driven by Ron Hall of Clarkston, MI was powered by a 304 CID/630 HP Paxton blown Studebaker V8 built by Jet City Studebaker of Tacoma, WA. Hall's return run average of 200.426 MPH also made his the first Studebaker powered car ever to exceed the 200 MPH mark.

The effort was sponsored, in part, by Paxton Products of Camarillo, CA, producers of the SN92 centrifugal supercharger used for the record run. Paxton, which has been producing automotive superchargers and industrial blowers for over 30 years, supplied superchargers O.E.M. for the Avanti and the Shelby Mustang, among others. The new record is in the D Production Supercharged class, which governs supercharged production cars with engines of up to 5.0 liters displacement. (End of release.)