Story by Raffi Minasian
Chet Herbertís 1952 Beast III Streamliner was a triumph of the human spirit. Bound to a wheelchair from polio and having spent several months in an iron lung, Herbert knew he would never walk again. So he did what many young men dreamed of doing, he built a car to race faster than anything else on land. What started as the dream of an ailing young man defying the odds of his disease resulted in one of the most unforgettable and stunningly beautiful achievements in land speed racing history.
Working closely with engineering genius Rod Schapel, who later designed Craig Breedloveís Spirit of America, Herbert and Schapel commandeered the Caltech wind-tunnel and sculpted Beast III to race across the salt. For months, Herbert worked tirelessly from his wheelchair crafting much of the streamliner on his own. When driver Art Chrisman piloted Herbertís gleaming red Beast across the great white salt lake, no figure stood taller than Herbert himself. With a best one-way speed of 238 mph, Beast III became the fastest single engine car in America.
Fifty-eight years later Dr. Mark Brinker, himself a Bonneville record holder, captivated by the legend of Beast III, embarked on a multiyear plan to locate and restore Herbertís miraculous Chrysler Hemi-powered car. Brinker grew up with a sister afflicted with cerebral palsy. Wheelchairs and the strength of those within them were very familiar to him. His sisterís courage had such a profound impact on Brinker that he would come to dedicate his life to orthopedic surgery specializing in complex fractures and their late stage complications. Many of his patients come to him following several unsuccessful surgeries, often in a wheelchair. More than mending broken bones, Brinker rebuilds the lives of his patients who have been stricken with severe mobility challenges.
When Brinker heard about the Streamliner, undisturbed since the mid-50s, he knew this was the right project for him. Shortly after restoration began, Brinker commented frankly about his emotional connection to the project. ďThis car and Chet Herbertís story are meaningful to me on many levels. Like my sister, and many others, Chet refused to allow his disability to encumber his life. The December 1952 Hot Rod Magazine cover showing Chet working on Beast III from his wheelchair must have inspired an entire generation to do things beyond self-imposed limits, to see ahead of frustration, and build something beautiful. I felt compelled to see that vision restored.Ē
The legendary efforts of this speed pioneer, the painstaking restoration (done by Custom Auto in Loveland, Colorado), and the passion of a driven collector eager to tell this heartfelt story are celebrated in this revelation of speed and beauty. The spirit and determination of a man who refused to accept boundaries, delivered not only in the record books, but revealed a stunning beauty within that same object. Few mechanical creations have succeeded at both levels, few men are brave enough to blend their soul into their machines.
The Beast III Streamliner will be among the cars featured in the Hot Rods Lakesters and Bonneville Racers class at the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours díElegance.
By Raffi Minasian, Automobile Designer, Historian, and Pebble Beach Class Winner 1994