At a length of just over 17 feet and a shipping weight approaching 3,800 pounds, the 1952 Buick Super Riviera is hardly an ideal starting point for a Bonneville Land Speed Record car, particularly when powered by Buick’s 320-cu.in. inline-eight engine. Sculptor Jeff Brock sees things differently than most, and his heavily modified ’52 Buick, dubbed Bombshell Betty, is a six-time Land Speed Record-setter in the XO/GCC class. On Saturday, October 15, Bombshell Betty, now owned by photographer Peter Lik, will cross the block in a no-reserve sale at Barrett-Jackson’s Las Vegas auction.
Raised in Flint, Michigan, Brock gained more than a passing familiarity with big American iron. Later relocating to the Southwest, Brock reportedly found his 1952 Buick
With less than two months remaining before that year’s Speed Week, Brock, his wife, and a few volunteers worked tirelessly to ready the car for its first Bonneville record run. Building the straight-eight engine, a process that required considerable custom work, was assigned to Albuquerque shop Automotive Machine Service. Aftermarket pistons and a solid lifter camshaft were used, and a custom intake manifold, topped by a 750 cfm Jegs Quick-Fuel carburetor, was fabricated. The rocket-shaped intake seen on the car today (reminiscent of the jewelry offerings from Brock’s Rocket Heads Studio) was a later addition, as was the current two-carburetor setup.
Brock fabricated the front fascia, rockers and fender skirts, trying to strike a balance between the need for improved aerodynamics and the Buick’s original styling. The top was chopped eight inches, and the rear shelf was raised to meet the deck. The front windshield is a custom fabrication, but the car carries no rear glass or taillamps, again in the name of airflow. The headlight covers? Those are headlamp buckets from a 1930s Chevrolet, inverted to serve their new purpose.
Underneath, Brock fabricated a smooth belly pan, after narrowing a 1968 Chevy van front axle to fit between the fender skirts and allow for steering movement. Out back, the torque is sent to a limited
slip nine-inch Ford rear, liberated from a 1973 Ford Thunderbird and now running 2.73:1 gears.
Against a seemingly impossible deadline, Brock and his team made it to Bonneville in time for the 2009 Speed Week, where Bombshell Betty was entered in engine class XO (reserved for pre-1960 overhead-valve inline engines, as well as non-Ford flatheads) and body class GCC (for Gas-powered Competition Coupe). At the car’s first outing, Brock drive it to a new class record of 130.838 MPH, which he’d break later that same year at the Bonneville World Finals, upping his speed to 134.054 MPH.
In 2010, Bombshell Betty returned to the salt, upping the record to 141.821 MPH. More records followed in 2012, with the team hitting a remarkable 162.481 MPH at Speed Week and 165.380 at the later World Finals, a number that Brock would increase once again at Speed Week in 2013, when the
Buick set its latest record of 165.735 MPH.
The 2013 run would be Jeff’s last in the car. A few years later, Brock, who describes himself as a “starving artist,” sold the Buick to Lik, and in November of 2015 Brock was diagnosed with cancer, a battle he continues to fight.
Bombshell Betty has been advertised for sale in recent months, typically with an asking price of $195,000. The no-reserve auction means that Barrett-Jackson won’t publish a pre-auction estimate for the car, though it’s clear that the company is shooting for a price at or even above this number. For a unique bit of rolling sculpture, complete with a legitimate history of Bonneville records, that seems like an attainable goal, especially in Las Vegas.
For more information on the upcoming Las Vegas sale, which runs from October 13-15 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, visit Barrett-Jackson.com.
UPDATE (17.October 2016): Bombshell Betty sold for a fee-inclusive price of $36,300.