266 Mile Per Hour Sportster

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With the start of Speed Week just two days away, let’s take a look back at one of Harley’s record breaking machines.  Back in 1970, Harley-Davidson was in bad shape.  They had been bought out by AMF and the Japanese motorcycle companies were beating them on the tracks and on the sales floors.  Harley needed a victory to show that they still could build a high performance machine.


Harley set their sites on the Salt Flats at Bonneville, hoping a dramatic land speed record would be just the thing they needed to show they could still compete.  A streamliner was designed and built by Dennis Manning, measuring 16′ long with a cross section of only 23″.  It was powered by a monster Sportster engine nicknamed “Godzilla”.  The 89 cubic inch engine burned nitromethane and was mated to a four speed transmission.


Cal Rayborn was chosen to pilot the machine.  After a warmup pass at 170 mph using a standard Sportster engine, the pit crew installed “Godzilla” for the record attempt.  Rayborn blazed down the course at over 266 mph on his first pass and ran at 264 mph on the second.  The engine actually failed on the second pass, just before reaching the finish line, but it did not matter.  Harley-Davidson had just set the land speed record for motorcycles with an average speed of  265.492 mph.  This record would stand for the next 5 years until Yamaha claimed the top spot. Kawasaki followed next and it wasn’t until 1990 the Harley-Davidson could claim to have the world’s fastest motorcycle.  That record of 322.150 mph held for 16 years.

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