Team aims to break record

Some of the Kiwi Coupe Racing team (from left) Wayne Arthur (crew) and Owen Jones (owner/driver), of Dunedin, Steve 'Pirate' McConnachie (crew), of Mosgiel, and Chris Barnes (owner/driver), of Riverton, with the New Zealand-built land speed car which the two owners hope to drive to a new land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats Speed Week in August. Photo: Terry Lineham

AIMING to fly really fast over the salt flats of Bonneville, the Kiwi Coupe Racing team are ready to take on the land speed record in the B/GCC class at Speed Week in August.

Chris Barnes, of Riverton, is a man with a mission – to break the record.

She may be nudging the 90-year mark, but the highly modified steel-bodied 1934 Plymouth, the Kiwi Coupe owned by Barnes and Owen Jones, of Dunedin, can sure sprint.

“I want to race it at Bonneville before I’m 60. I’m very, very comfortable with it [the coupe].”

Speaking to Barnes at his Riverton abode recently, he is a man with a plan.

“We have a team of 12… and we aim to break the world record.

“This year we will run it and get our [Bonneville] licences in preparation for next year.”

He explained that speeding along the salt flats was not just a simple get in your vehicle and zoom off, but rather drivers have to prove their capabilities on the “rookie course” first.

“Drivers have to get to a minimum of 175mph on that course before they can take on the long course, which we aim to do next year.”

Barnes said he and Jones hoped to race all seven days at Speed Week, which runs from August 11-17.

“You have to wait in a queue… it can take four to five hours for a run, but drivers need to go through the process to achieve.”

Barnes has a fascination with the salt flats, having travelled there regularly with his partner Jenni Bickley for years.

“The salt fever is alive and well… it affects you… once you have been there, you’re either hooked or you walk away.”

The first time at Bonneville was in 2008… and “we were hooked”.

“It’s like a last bastion. It’s just a cool, cool place, not of this world.”

Since then they have returned about half a dozen times.

“We arrive each day at 7am… get totally immersed in the day… and leave the salt about 5 or 6pm.”

Not only was it an addictive place, Barnes described the people there “like a big happy family”.

“The old guys in their 80s still go out there every year… and Burt Munro still gets talked about all the time.”

Just getting the coupe to America will be a feat in itself.

The coupe is very long, very heavy and very low so a special enclosed trailer had to be built for it to fit inside a 20 foot container to ship it to America.

That alone takes five weeks, he said.

The massive beast which is powered by a 427cubic inch, twin carb, big block V8 Chevrolet engine, which produces about 800hp at the moment, was bought in March last year by the duo.

“Owen and I bought it together as it [the price] was beyond both of us. We had both been thinking about it, but we don’t have 10 years to build one, or the expertise to build it.”

Back in the day, in the late ’70s, the coupe had been driven around Invercargill as a hot rod.

That was before Steve Williams, from Temuka, rebuilt it over eight years, Barnes said.

The result was a land speed car which he successfully ran on the salt at Lake Gairdner in Australia in 2013.

“He achieved a top speed of 201mph in third gear, but never realised the car’s full potential due to handling issues,” Barnes said.

The coupe was successfully scrutinised to run at the 2015 Bonneville Speed Week, but the event was cancelled due to track flooding, Barnes said.

This year, the aim was to run the coupe as a “competition coupe” (a production coupe which has been unaltered in width or contour) in the B/GCC Southern Californian Timing Association Class land speed record, which currently stands at 263.28mph by E Wooden in 1998.

Those interested can follow the Kiwi Coupe team on their journey by going to their Facebook page. Barnes said there would be daily feeds on the site, and the team were keen to hear from others who would like to volunteer to help the team or from any potential sponsors.

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