Need for Speed: 86-year-old Allegan man building 400+ mph vehicle

After 26 years of work, Jim Byerly and his Streamliner are almost ready to break a record & cross the top item off his bucket list at the same time
Jim Byerly Allegan Streamliner
Posted at 11:54 AM, Jan 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-05 20:36:27-05

ALLEGAN, Mich. — Life out in the country tends to move a little slower. That's why you would never guess, inside two barns in Allegan, an 86-year-old man is building one of the fastest cars in America.

"There's only one project. This one's it right here."

That's what Jim Byerly told FOX 17 back in August when asked about the items on his bucket list. To no surprise, that "one project" he referred to has been the same one he's worked on since 1996 — his Streamliner.

“I've built other cars in the past, but this right here is the top one," he said.

Jim Byerly Streamliner

When it's complete, Byerly will take his Streamliner out to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah to attempt a land speed record for that kind of vehicle. The current number to beat is 348 mph set in 2010. Byerly hopes his Streamliner will top out above 400 mph.

This need for speed has driven him for decades. Byerly was first consumed by the concept of racing when he was a teenager.

"It actually started clear back when I graduated from high school because I walked over to the drugstore," Byerly said. "That's when the Hot Rod magazines were small. I thought, 'Boy, that's pretty interesting.' It just gradually crept up from there.”

Little did Byerly know, he was staring his future in the face. The very same magazine that sparked his curiosity printed a full-page feature on Byerly in 2005.

Jim Byerly Allegan Streamliner

“That was in Hot Rod Magazine," he said. "Millions and millions of those magazines go out all over the world.”

After working on this vehicle for 26 years, his Streamliner is close to crossing the finish line.

The hope is to have it ready to race in August, taking the almost 27-feet-long, 4,000-lb. vehicle halfway to the speed of sound.

Byerly won't be the one behind the wheel though. That will be his neighbor, and now friend, Eric Bair.

Eric Bair

“My bucket list item was go to Bonneville — just go, not to drive," Bair told FOX 17. "Holy crap. That is huge. That is just beyond bucket list. That's dream come true type stuff.”

Bair has been in several drag races himself, doing it since the '90s. However, he's never traveled more than 140 mph. With this Streamliner, that'll be tripled.

"Oh, I'm excited," he said with a smile on his face. "There's no nerves there. I just want to get behind the wheel and pilot this thing.”

Bair said August can't come soon enough.

While Byerly didn't need any extra motivation himself, he got it in 2020 when his wife of 63 years, Loa, passed away.

Jim and Loa Byerly

Byerly said Loa would always tell him, "I just want this to do what you want it to do."

Pretty soon, Byerly will see if he can make her wish, and his own, come true.

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