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Monday, July 20, 2015

The History and Future of The Land Speed Record



Throughout the history of the automobile, there has been a desperate search in the pursuit of absolute speed. And we are not just talking about how fast you can make a supercar go on a track, but true, bottom-clenching, terror-inducing, absolute speed. The speed you normally can only go when strapped into an airplane or jet fighter. Of course, we’re speaking about land speed records.

Through our research of the subject, we’ve found out that many actually don’t know what a land speed record entails. There are so many questions about the process of land speed records, that we thought it would be good to go over them a little bit to help educate the populace. A topic that’s definitely worth discussing since there’s currently a team working around the clock to set a new record.


Through the lifetime of the automobile, there have been countless land speed record attempts. Whether it was through the use of an internal combustion engine, or a jet engine strapped to the roof of a car, when seeking that ever elusive top speed, people have gone to wacky lengths. The first records were actually set back in 1898 in France. And interestingly enough, the first three land speed records were all achieved by electric vehicles. The highest speed of those three? Only 65 miles per hour. But in 1898 that was considered break-neck speed.

Even more interesting, the fourth land speed record was achieved by a steam-powered vehicle. And even after the first internal combustion land speed record was set, one last steam-powered vehicle went faster. However, after 1909, the internal combustion engine would become king of the mountain. That is, until people found out that you could strap a few rockets to the back of a car and go ten times the speed of earlier attempts.


In 1947, the last internal combustion engine powered speed record was set at over 394 miles per hour. The car used a supercharged W12 motor and was piloted by John Cobb of Great Britain on the Bonneville Salt Flats. That record stood until 1963 when Craig Breedlove brought his Spirit of America to the Flats and took his jet-powered car to 407 miles per hour. It was the dawn of a new era, and a record that represented a massive evolutionary step in the quest for speed.

The current record sits at 763 miles per hour, and was set almost twenty years ago by another Brit, Andy Green. However, the vehicle that he and other rocket-propelled speed freaks use are more in line with airplanes than they are with everyday cars. They still have wheels, but those wheels need to be solid units, with no tires. At speed, current tire technology has a habit of exploding or disintegrating, which is definitely less-than-optimal when traveling faster than the speed of sound.

2006 Chevy SO-CAL Bonneville Lakester Racer

Currently, Green and his team of engineers are diligently working on their next project. The Bloodhound SSC. Both a jet engine and a rocket, each needed to deliver the estimated top speed of over 1,000 miles per hour, power the “car.” Although, at this point we’re not sure if you could really call it that. All in total, the Bloodhound SSC makes 135,000 horsepower and uses a Formula 1 V8…as a fuel pump.

If Green and his team succeed, it will mark a quantum leap forward in the realm of chasing ultimate speed. As well as a groundbreaking experiment in terms of land vehicles capabilities at immense speeds.

Bloodhound SSC photo