Snapshot, 1974: The Moonliner is set to make a giant leap

It’s 1974 and motor racer Gary Gabelich is about to make a small step for mankind, but a big leap for Kustom Kar King. Aboard the fantastic Moonliner, provided by hod rodder Dean Moon, he’s about to blast off on a wild rocket ride across the Bonneville Salt Flats….

Five years have passed since Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. Since then, the lunar hype has cooled off remarkably, with the Apollo programme being scrapped altogether and the budget shifted towards the war the US is leading in Vietnam. But racing driver Gary Gabelich has other things to worry about, such as firing the Moonliner — in which he is about to launch any second now across the vast unknown of the Bonneville Salt Flats — to a new speed record. This isn’t quite rocket science, but it comes pretty close. Originally built by Jocko Johnson and later acquired by car customizer and racing innovator Dean Moon — some of his famous “Mooneyes” drag racers were immortalised as Hot Wheels toys — the futuristic-looking spaceship on wheels was powered by a fuel-injected big block Chevrolet engine. Instead of Moon’s traditional yellow colour scheme, the Moonliner was painted in red, white and black, as Budweiser used it for a television commercial. Later, it’s said that on this day in the desert, Gary Gabelich reached an out-of-this-world top speed of 285 mph — but who knows if it really happened or if it was a big hoax staged by the CIA to make the public drink more beer and keep their mouths shut?

Photo by Gray Baskerville/The Enthusiast Network/Getty Images