The Bonneville Salt Flats of the western Great Salt Lake Desert were formed through the evaporation of the Pleistocene-era Lake Bonneville. The salt flats are actually the bed of that once massive lake which rivalled in size to the present Lake Michigan. The flats are composed mainly of potash salts ranging in thickness from less than one inch to around six feet, (1.8m) and cover one hundred and fifty nine square miles (412 square kilometres) extending some nine miles along US Highways 40 and 50 and the Western Pacific Railroad. Each rainfall erases tyre marks and re-flattens the densely packed salt.
Early attempts to promote automobile racing failed until 1925 when Ab Jenkins drove his Studebaker across the flats ten minutes faster than a special excursion train he was racing. Since that time, the Bonneville Salt Flats have attracted racers from throughout the world chasing numerous land speed records. During the 50’s and 60’s the salt flats became a motor sports mecca. Perhaps most famous for special race cars that have achieved speeds in excess of 600mph (1000km/h), but almost equally renown for motorcycle speed freaks, the annual festival Speed Week, is held when the weather over the flats puts them at their best for racing.
Denis Manning has been chasing land speed records with numerous motorcycles for more than three decades; in September 2006 his BUB 7 Streamliner captured the ultimate goal when it set the new absolute motorcycle land speed record. Rider Chris Carr piloted BUB 7 to an average, both way speed, of 350.885mph. Competing bikers from around the globe now meet annually at the salt flats to enter the only AMA sanctioned land speed race held solely for motorcycles.
They say that everything old becomes new again, a time worn adage that’s especially true when it comes to custom Harley-Davidson V-twin motorcycles. Around the mid point of the last century, speed merchants competing at the annual Bonneville Speed Week on Utah’s Salt Flats struggled to create aerodynamic fairings that allowed their racing machines to push through the air with the least possible resistance. Mike Corbin created the fairing and front frame rail cowling for Arlin’s salt flats creation, a set up that coupled with Arlin’s extensive reworking of an eighty cubic inch Evolution motor has seen Arlin take top honours in his class. (For beer drinking!!!) Yards of carefully sculptured fibreglass do the trick for some salt flats racers, however, Arlin’s street rider credentials took him in a different direction, as he likes to be able to see a bike’s components, rather than have them completely sheathed, even if that brings a price tag penalty of reduced top speed.
For decades, you were more likely to see a modified British bike than an American Harley-Davidson racer wearing a full fender. That was until Mike Corbin noticed a similar design characteristic between the svelte, sculpted lines of the Bonneville race bikes and vintage World War II Warbird fighter planes. To meld the two classic designs, Mike created the Warbird kit that graces Arlin’s bike. A custom bodywork kit that can be used to transform an ordinary looking Harley-Davidson FXR into a vision of what a modern day streetfighter can be, and if you think about it, if a Panhead can set a land speed record of 161mph, what can an Evolution engine achieve?
When Mike first released the Warbird kit, it was as revolutionary for the street as those early Bonneville racers had been for the salt flats. Arlin was one among many custom bike builders and racers who found favour in Corbin’s Warbird kit, and he has personally built several bikes based around them over the past decade. Yet, there is more to this current bike than just being a tribute to Bonneville’s racers. If you look closely at the paintwork you will find 1970 emblazoned, this is when Arlin set up his fledgling motorcycle shop in Denver Colorado. The Faux antique paint job catches a lot of attention when the bike is parked on Sturgis or Daytona’s Main Street in front of Arlin’s other custom bike shops. Old School hotrod enthusiasts love the look of the bike, kids point and stare, and the masses give it more than a passing glance. Racers don’t have much in the way of chrome, so Arlin stripped the primary and rocker boxes and chassis and shipped them over to Taint Paint for complimentary powder coating. The instant patina is what people really love about the bike, but I find it hard to understand how American bikers can really think that this bike was raced in Bonneville back in 1970, not least because the Evo engine wasn’t released until 1982! Let me be 100% clear about this, contrary to what many bikers think when they see this cleverly painted bike, it has never been ridden at Bonneville, well, only in Arlin’s beer addled dreams…
words & images by Steve Kelly Photography
get the rest of the story & tech sheet tomorrow!!……..