SSC land-speed record attempts capture all the excitement of motoring, racing and cutting edge technology in one!
The Jeantaud was the first to set a record. It was a French automobile manufactured in Paris 1893-1906 by Charles Jeantaud – a coachbuilder who made his first electric car in 1881. Among the cars built by him, one established the first land speed record (39.24mph) in 1898. The 1899 Jeantaud Duc Profilée was powered by a 36 hp electric engine. The car got its power to the rear wheels through a chain-drive gearbox. The Profilée set a new record on 4th March 1899, achieving 57mph. Its record, though, was broken on the very same day by the more famous La Jamais Contente – the first purpose-built land speed record car, it reached 65 mph.
In early 1898, the French engineer Eugène Brillié and businessman Gustave Gobron founded the Societe des Moteurs Gobron-Brillié. On 17th July 1904 at Ostende Automobile Week, Louis Rigolly, in a 15-litre four-cylinder Gobron-Brillié, became the first to exceed 100 mph, averaging 103.56 mph. It wasn’t long until the next step change in land speed happened. In 1906, the Stanley Rocket took to Daytona Beach, driven by Fred Marriott. On the first day the car won the Dewar Trophy and set a record in the one-mile steam championship. The next day Marriott set a record in a five-mile open race. On 26th January, Marriott set a one-kilometer record at 121.6mph, the first person to traverse two miles in less than a minute. Two hours later, he set the world land speed record at 127.659mph. In 1907, he tried to break his own record with an improved version of the car called the Stanley Steamer but he hit a pothole and the car broke in mid-air.
Daytona Beach is synonymous with record attempts; starting with the first official event on 26th March 1903 the week-long “Winter Carnival” organised by the Ormond Hotel. This event morphed into “Speedweek,” then “Speedweeks.” Fifteen world records were set at Daytona Beach through to March 1935, after which land speed record attempts were moved to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Record attempts in production cars continued at Daytona into the 1950s. Malcolm Campbell set a new record in his Campbell-Railton Bluebird of 272.46mph at Daytona but broke the 300mph barrier at Bonneville Salt Flats in September 1935. The record winning Blue Bird was a significant rebuild of the 1931 Campbell-Napier-Railton Blue Bird. The bodywork remained similar but the mechanics were new. Most significantly a powerful Rolls-Royce R V12 engine replaced the old Napier Lion, again with supercharger.
Donald Campbell continued the family tradition of breaking records. In 1964, at the wheel of an improved evolution of the Blue Bird, the Proteus CN7, he set a new record of 403.135mph – he was disappointed because the car had been designed to reach 500mph.
It was at Bonneville that jet-propelled cars were introduced. The Spirit of America had a 15,000hp General Electric J47 engine from an F-86 Sabre. Craig Breedlove set his first record on 5th September 1963 at Bonneville, being the first man to set an average speed of over 400mph during a land speed record attempt. On 15th October they did over 500mph. A new Spirit was built 1964–1965, the Spirit of America – Sonic I. It had a GE J79 engine originally from an F-4 Phantom II. On 15th November 1965 the Sonic I hit 600.601mph. Sonic I’s record stood until 1970, when Reaction Dynamics’ Blue Flame completed the flying mile at 622.407mph and the flying kilometer at 630.388mph. Flame was propelled by high-test peroxide and liquefied natural gas, pressurised with helium gas. One could therefore say, it was less car and more missile!
In 1983, a jet-propelled car was designed by John Ackroyd, Thrust 2. It powered by a single Rolls-Royce Avon jet engine and driven by Richard Noble. On 4th October the car reached a top speed of 650.88mph. In 1997, Thrust SSC broke this record, it is this car which really does blur the line between automobile and aircraft! It was powered by two afterburning Rolls-Royce Spey 202, as used in the F-4 Phantom (the plane which preceded the F-15). The twin engines had a power output of 110,000 bhp. Thrust SSC reached 763.035mph on 15 October – the first land vehicle to officially break the sound barrier. Nothing has beaten it since.
Against this backdrop Bloodhound SSC will attempt to hit around 1000mph, covering a mile in 3.6sec. Currently slated to run in 2019 following new funding – the Institution is one of a number of sponsors. Bloodhound will be flown to Northern Cape, South Africa in May 2019 for high-speed testing before a record attempt in October or November.