Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, February 1996

And here’s an unplanned “flight” that occurred in 1996, when our then editor-in-chief, Csaba Csere, attempted to break a speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in a modified Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. We decided to go with a chronological, film-reel play-by-play of that record attempt’s transition to a flight over Bonneville for two reasons. First, our photographer was too far away—for safety reasons—from the Pontiac’s run to get a better shot. Second, the play-by-play offers at least a partial explanation for how the Pontiac went from hurtling down the salt at more than 200 mph to a sort of high-speed fluttering leaf with wheels several feet above the salt. The non-blurry version of events is that a lack of downforce unsettled the front of the car enough to deaden all steering response, with the Pontiac uncontrollably careening toward the ungroomed salt beyond the course. Csaba had no choice but to lift in an attempt to bring some front-end grip back and keep the Pontiac on course.

The move worked, insofar as the car indeed steered back onto the groomed salt—but it also entered a lurid back-and-forth fishtail before the car’s front end lifted off the ground, the whole thing spun 180 degrees, and the front slammed down, shunting the car sideways again. At this point, the glass rear hatch tore off, and the Trans Am simply lifted off the ground like a crude wing before landing squarely on its roof, blowing out every remaining window save one and sliding for another quarter of a mile before coming to a rest, filled with salt. We know this isn’t a jump, but that Pontiac sure went flying that day. Our esteemed EIC walked away sore but otherwise okay.