In 1965, Bill and Bob Summers took a long, skinny, homemade car with four Hemis lined up in a row and went to Bonneville to take the World Land Speed Record away from Great Britain. The record had formerly been held by John Cobb and then Donald Campbell, both of whom threw all kinds of Pounds Sterling away in a quest to go fastest. Then two hot rodders from Southern California hit the salt in their Mo-powered “Golden Rod” and set a new record of 409.277 mph that stood until 1991.
Now it is 20 years since the mark fell and Bill Summers has died. He passed away of natural causes at his home in Ontario, California on may 12. Fortunately, Bill Summers lived to see the Goldenrod restored and enshrined at the Henry Ford in Dearborn, Mich.
In the mid-’80s I ran into Bill at a car show in Cologne, Germany, where the Golden Rod was a featured attraction. There was some confusion over accommodations and I wound up staying at a cute little place that had recently been refurbished. It was called the Hotel Constantanople and it was the type of Old World place where you relax and get to know the other guests. Bill was a relaxed type of guy and we had a blast for the few days we stayed together. Bob Summers stayed there, too, but it was Bill that I spent the most time with.
Another sidelight of that trip was when English car collector Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu (that’s a name-and-a-half) stopped by our table, at the car show banquet, to try to purchase the Golden Rod.
Lord Montagu’s automotive passion is well known. It came from his father who commissioned the original Spirit of Ectasy mascot for a Rolls-Royce he owned. Montagu’s family had a car collection that evolved into England’s National Motor Museum. Housed at his stately Palace House, Beaulieu, Hampshire, the museum opened in 1952.
The National Motor Museum became home to many famous World Land Speed Record cars from the Golden Arrow to the Bluebird. But the American car that took the record back from the Brits stayed in America and can now be seen in one of America’s greatest automotive museums thanks to Bill Summers and his brother. Bill was truly a Golden Guy.