A Vintage Vincent sits next to 2005 Black Lightning streamliner, owned by Max Lambky, who continues the British marque's long association with Bonneville.
In 1948 Rollie Free, riding a Vincent HRD Black Lightning, threw caution to the wind stealing the AMA Land Speed Record from Harley-Davidson with a spirited run of 150.313 mph. He did this wearing only a tight fitting bathing suit, shower cap, and pair of borrowed sneakers. He lay flat out across the back of his machine, his arms reaching forward and his legs outstretched behind him like superman in flight.
The previous record had stood for 11 years at the hands of Smokin’ Joe Petrali riding a streamlined Harley-Davidson to a two-way average of 136.18 mph at Daytona Beach. Rollie’s machine, the first of its kind, was owned by Hollywood sportsman John Edgar and sponsored by Mobil Oil. Rollie’s unorthodox riding position was ridiculed by many, but is perhaps one of the most popular still images to date of man and machine pushing the limits at the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.
That was 60 years ago and today the Vincent name is still actively competing for the title of World’s Fastest. Max Lambky, Mad Max, as he’s known to some, is the “keeper of the flame”, and has the fastest Vincent motorcycle on the planet and/or any nearby galaxy. Recently, at the 2007 International Motorcycle Speed Trials Lambky’s Liner, as he likes to refer to his twin-engine Vincent streamliner, reached a top speed of 250 mph.
Max Lambky and the late Don Vesco prepare for Black Lightning’s first run in 1996.
The current record stands at 350 mph, held by the well funded BUB Number 7 streamliner team, which utilizes a one off “purpose-built” engine designed exclusively for land speed racing. The team owner (BUB, aka Dennis Manning) is also the promoter of the event that sanctions the FIM record attempts in which Lambky competes. His other rivals include Sam Wheeler and his EZ Hook streamliner, currently the fastest motorcycle in recorded history, and the team I ride for, the Top One Ack Attack which held the record however briefly in 2006.
It’s a tough quest with seemingly insurmountable odds, yet Max plugs away day and night refining, improving…Creating. He claims this to be his eighth streamliner, or variation thereof, each one an improvement over the last.
What on earth would posses someone to take on such a difficult challenge?
Max: “When I read about Dave Campos piloting the Easy Rider, and taking the record from my old friend Don Vesco in 1989, I began to wonder what a couple of blown Vincents could do to the record.”
And so the journey began…
Close up of the Vincent engines powering Lamby's streamliner. These powerplants are facing off against the likes of the BUB team's purpose-built V-Four and the Ack Attack squad's dual Hayabusa powertrain.
Initially a drag bike chassis was built to house the twin-engine monstrosity in hopes that testing could be done on a weekly basis at the drag strip. The project proved too costly and time consuming, yet he still needed a better understanding of how to successfully couple the motors without spitting off chains or creating unruly harmonic vibrations. The twin-engine Vincent drag bike was shelved and a less costly, less complicated machine was built in its place.
The “Quickie”, as Max liked to call it, utilized two Mustang scooter motors coupled together to mimic its larger sibling. With the machine complete and several successful runs under his belt at the local drag strip, (his best speed was 103 mph, not bad for a scooter) it was time to get to work on his streamliner.
He called on his friend Don Vesco, a legend in land speed racing. Don gave him the basics on motorcycle streamliner design, but just like you can’t fry an egg over the telephone, building a streamliner with little more than a quick session of mental notes from the king left many things open to interpretation.
Max pressed on. His first streamliner utilized an aluminum body that was bulky and not at all what he had in mind. But that was only the beginning. When the project was complete he sent detailed photographs to his mentor, who once again by telephone, critiqued his work. After nearly two hours of nay-saying with the occasional kudos thrown in for the sake of moral, Max realized he would have to start all over again. His first streamliner would never see the salt.
Liner number two, though vastly improved, would also be a no-show.
The Lamky Liner journey hasn't been without the usual growing pains that go along with trying to break the LSR world record for motorcycles. Here rider Hartmut Weidelich spins backwards at 150 mph!
Liner number three actually made it to the great white dyno. After a series of dead-engine tows, the liner was deemed safe and actually handled pretty good. There were still plenty of teething pains however, like the driver (Don Vesco himself) complaining that he couldn’t see over the nose, or the fact that the clutch was slipping and they couldn’t get it to run over 4500 rpm due to a weak spark. Still, Black Lightning, (the official name of Max’s streamliner) which began life as a twin engine drag bike back in 1989, had finally run at the famous Bonneville Salt Flats. He had #52 painted on its side, though he was issued #785, which he still runs today.
Several more liners were built and improved upon in Max’s stable throughout the years. At the close of the 2007 racing season, Max and his supercharged vintage racer were finally a real contender. The “Big Three” as it were, would have to make room for one more.
At Bonneville there are fellows you would call Old Salts, and Max is definitely one of them. These guys are Land Speed Racing.
Don Vesco, who offered his insight and filled in as driver when the need would arise, is no longer with us. Don Angel and Hartmut Weidelich, both capable drivers in their own right, now share the driving duties, but not before Dave Campos took a turn twisting the throttle of the mighty liner. His reign ended in 2003 at the request of his wife, who didn’t see the need for her husband to put himself at risk since he was already the world record holder and really didn’t have anything to gain.
At the end of the meet in ’07, Max was granted a final pass as a “handling run” to test some changes he’d made. The transmission was locked in high gear due to some earlier troubles. Hartmut took the liner to 250 mph in only 2 ¼ miles, but was forced to abort the run after the abused clutch finally let go.
Now imagine that same machine with a full 5 mile run up and being able to utilize all three gears to help him accelerate along the way. Lambky’s liner is now a formidable player and it is his life’s mission to put the Vincent namesake back at the top of the list of the WORLD’S FASTEST.
Enjoy the ride…