The Texas Ceegar

The untold story behind the famed Bonneville streamliner known as the Texas Ceegar.

| January/February 2017

In the early 1990s, Herb Harris struck up a friendship with the legendary Triumph tuner Jack Wilson, builder of the 650cc Triumph twin engine that powered rider Johnny Allen to a 214.4mph world record at the Bonneville Salt Flats on Sept. 6, 1956, a feat that cemented Triumph’s reputation in the U.S. and launched the iconic Triumph Bonneville.

A lawyer-cum Vincent restoration specialist, Harris is perhaps uniquely appreciative of the value of documentation, a matter of extreme importance in law and increasingly important in vintage motorcycle and car circles: It’s one thing to say something is true, and often quite another to prove it.

Much has been written about Wilson, Allen and J.H. “Stormy” Mangham, the American Airlines pilot who built the Texas Ceegar streamliner. Harris and Wilson talked often about that famed 1956 record, and as the two got to know each other, Wilson explained “the real back story on how it all came to pass,” Harris says. In 1999, a year before Wilson’s death, aged 73, Harris realized he should document what Wilson had told him. “It was a fascinating story and I wanted to preserve it as Jack was close to the end, so I got Jack to agree to be taped.”

Streamliner inspiration

As Wilson related in the resulting taped interview (later transcribed), the inspiration for the Texas Ceegar was basically down to a taunt. In 1953, Wilson was working at Pete Dalio’s Triumph in Fort Worth, Texas. There were regular card games at the shop after closing, and one Saturday a shop regular, Col. George Kohne [the tape transcription says “Caney” but it’s assumed Wilson was referring to Kohne, whose role in events has been documented elsewhere], started bragging about NSU’s 1951 world record run of 180.29mph and how no one would ever top them. “World War II hadn’t been over but a few years,” Harris says, “so there were raw feelings, I guess.”

According to Wilson, Kohne kept on, saying NSU’s record would last forever. Mangham, also a regular at the shop, was there, as were Wilson and Dalio, and Mangham, getting irritated, told Kohne, “Hell, if I wanted to, I could build something that would outrun it.” Mangham’s comments just inflamed the argument, prompting “the damnedest word fight. Hot dang, they got after it,” Wilson said. Finally, Mangham stood up, threw down his cards and said, “To hell with you, you crow head,” and went straight to his shop, where he sketched out the chassis of the streamliner that would take the record. “Crow head,” Harris eventually learned, was a derisive term, a reference to the eagle symbol used by the Nazis, and Kohne was apparently a German-American.

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