It put multiple racers in the 200-mph Club. It’s had multiple land-speed racing luminaries in its cockpit between two stints at Bonneville. It even had a cameo in The World’s Fastest Indian.
In 1960, after creating the land-speed racer and refining the idea with a second, larger belly tank, Bill Burke realize that greater speed would result from entirely enclosing a car in streamlined bodywork, so he set about building one of the first Bonneville streamliners.
Rather than build something large enough for the then-popular V-8s, however, Burke went small with a mid-engine design just large enough for a Ford Falcon six-cylinder engine that Vern Hule, a mechanic for Bill Stroppe, punched out to 156 cubic inches and fit with a Hilborn injection system (accomplished by sawing off the stock integrated intake manifold and installing a custom adapter plate) and a set of very long headers. To further reduce weight, he wrapped the birdcage-like structure with a fiberglass body.
That year, Burke ran the Pumpkin Seed up to a two-way average of 205.949 MPH, good not just for a Class D record but also for Burke’s admission into the 200 MPH Club. Stroppe wanted the injected six-cylinder back, however, so Burke turned to another famous engine builder, Mickey Thompson, to build a pair of engines for the streamliner’s return to Bonneville in 1961. According to SEMA, both of the engines Thompson built were based on the Pontiac Tempest slant-four, both were supercharged, and both were tuned to run on nitromethane; only the displacement (120 cubic inches versus 185 cubic inches) differed between the two.
While the larger of the two engines did return a 232 MPH pass in 1961, it blew apart on the pass. Thompson and Burke tried again in 1962 with no further success, so sometime in 1962 or 1963 Burke sold the Pumpkin Seed to Thompson.
Thompson, then focused more on Indianapolis than Bonneville, never did much more with the Pumpkin Seed than replace the original fiberglass body with an aluminum one hammered out by Willy Sutton, the same man who built the Goldenrod ‘s body. It sat until his death in 1988, then passed to his son Danny, who decided to have it restored and so donated it to the Alhambra School District in Alhambra, California.
“They had three schools with shop programs at the time, and one school was supposed to do the engine, one school the chassis and one school the body,” Danny Thompson said. But the components all just sat again until the late 1990s when Danny gathered them up and gave them to Jim Travis, who had just finished the Challenger I restoration.
Travis looked the remains over and immediately decided to cut it all apart. With the original Falcon six-cylinder long gone, he would have to use other, larger engines “and the crank pulley of the Falcon engine was already up against the back of the seat,” he said. So, he laid out the original front and rear axles and crossmembers and added about two and a half feet to the midsection of the streamliner, enough to insert a 302-cu.in. GMC straight-six under the equally lengthened aluminum bodywork.
In 1999, the Pumpkin Seed returned to the salt and immediately laid down a 225-mph shakedown run on its way to a 219-mph record run. Over the course of the next several years, the 302 would give way to an alcohol-fueled Ardun-headed 296-cu.in. Ford V-8 and provide the vehicle for Danny Thompson and Travis’s son to get their 200 MPH Club memberships, running at speeds up to 286 mph. On that 286-mph run in 2004 – which netted Danny Thompson a 255 two-way average – the front wheels reportedly lost contact with the ground, prompting Travis to replace the Ardun with the less powerful 310-cu.in. flathead Ford V-8.
While it last ran at Bonneville in 2007 (“The goals just got too high,” Travis said), the Pumpkin Seed has added a number of other credentials to its resume, including the aforementioned cameo in the 2005 Anthony Hopkins film The World’s Fastest Indian, a trip to Goodwood for the Festival of Speed in 2007, a stint in the NHRA Motorsports Museum in 2009, and an appearance at the Grand National Roadster Show in 2014 to commemorate the centennial of Bonneville racing. To those, the Pumpkin Seed added its induction into the Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame under the Historical Vehicle category in 2017.
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