It takes some serious guts to strap oneself into what’s basically a jet engine on wheels in order to set a new speed record!
In a short period of time since the launch of the first motor car in 1885, we have gone from previously unheard of speeds of 10mph to road cars that can reach 300mph. With a seemingly unending desire for power and speed, road cars are good but land speed record cars with no limitations of engine type, size, or even power output it is little wonder that the sound barrier has been passed.
Clearly piston engine cars cannot match the performance levels of jet engines with the current record holder using two engines, and the next contender going one step further combining both rocket and jet power to break 1,000mph.
1997 Thrust SSC – 763 Mph
Punching through the sound barrier for the first time in history, Thrust SSC piloted by RAF pilot Andy Green broke the land speed record in 1997 with a combined speed of 763mph. Vital to Thrust SSC’s success comes from twin Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engines, complete with afterburners delivering a combined 102,000hp.
Military jet engines form the basis for most LSR attempts, in this case, sourced from a retired F4 Phantom burning 18 gallons of aviation fuel per second or around 0.05mpg. Thrust SSC remains on permanent display alongside its predecessor Thrust 2.
1983 Thrust 2 – 633 Mph
Land Speed Record attempts despite the assumed glamour often starting life as low budget affairs relying heavily on investors and sponsors. Richard Noble began his Thrust 2 project with a minute $200 budget, at one point considering passenger rides to boost funding. Once again powered by Rolls-Royce with its Avon 302 fighter jet engine delivering up 30,000hp to push Thrust 2 up to 650mph, setting a new record with an average speed of 633mph.
Not content with the LSR, Richard Noble founded the follow-up project Thrust SSC intending to be the first car to break Mach 1. Thrust 2 remains in the UK on permanent display at the Coventry Transport Museum.
1970 Blue Flame – 622 Mph
While rivals opted for jet-powered cars for their attempts, Reaction Dynamics opted for a 2-stage rocket motor producing around 58,000hp for a burn period of 20 seconds. With weight and physical size being the benefits contributing to a new record of 622mph which would stand for 13 years.
Utilizing its rocket engine for the land speed record attempt, pilot Gary Gabelich would accelerate to Blue Flames top speed of 650mph before reaching the test distance with Blue decelerating over the flying mile.
1965 Spirit Of America Sonic 1 – 600 Mph
Sonic 1 would be Craig Breedlove’s last land speed record attempt with Spirit of America in its final Sonic 1 configuration. Updated in 1965 to accommodate a larger General Electric J79 engine resulted in Sonic 1 breaking the 600mph barrier for the first time, regaining the LSR from rival Art Arfons Green Monster.
Sonic 1 is on display at Indianapolis Motorspeedway, while Craig Breedlove returned to Blackrock Nevada in 1996 reaching 675mph before crashing his Formula Shell LSRV car.
1965 Green Monster – 576 Mph
Incredibly Art Arfons built his Green Monster LSR car using General Electrics J79 jet engine from a surplus F-104 Starfighter, the engine being purchased for $600 from a scrapyard. Rebuilding the J79 himself, Art Arfons set faster speed records three times between 1964-65 before setting an average 576mph in 1966.
Art Arfons held the record for just 8 days before rival Craigh Breedlove returned to Bonneville Salt flats to break the 600mph barrier.
1964 Wingfoot Express – 413 Mph
In a clever marketing plan, Art Arfons and Tom Green branded the Wingfoot Express in recognition of sponsors Goodyear’s famous winged foot logo. Piloted by Green in late 1964 reaching a new record with an average 413mph. Barely bigger than the Westinghouse J46 jet engine intake the centrally located front-mounted cockpit with little more than plexiglass offering protection in the event of an accident.
Originally planned to be a three-wheel design before being forced to adopt a more stable four-wheel layout, Wingfoot Express features outrigger style rear wheels though drag is estimated to be minimal.
1964 Bluebird-Proteus CN7 – 403 Mph
Following in his father’s footsteps, Donald Campbell continued to chase both land and water speed records. Bluebird CN7 would be the last LRS to feature driven wheels before jet and rocket propulsion took over, with a Proteus 705 turbine engine with 4,450hp powering all four wheels. Returning to Lake Eyre in 1964 Bluebird set a new record reaching 401mph in sub-optimal conditions.
Never used to attempt another speed record attempt, Bluebird resides in Beaulieu National Motor Museum.
1947 Railton Mobil Special – 394 Mph
British driver John Cobb between 1938-47 set three land speed records with is Railton designed and built Railton Mobil Special finally reaching 394mph in 1947. Complicating its design with twin Napier Lion Engines designer Reid Railton opted for a simpler solution with one engine powering each axle, a crude but effective four-wheel-drive layout.
John Cobb would later attempt water speed records and suffer a similar fate as Donald Campbell ultimately passing away from his injuries.
1938 Thunderbolt – 357 Mph (Over 1 Km)
Everything about George Eyston’s Thunderbolt LSR car is impressive, 8 wheels, three axles, twin Rolls-Royce 36.5-liter R Series engines, with a combined output of 4,700hp. Modifying Thunderbolt ahead of his second attempt with larger air intakes above each engine and a fully enclosed improved performance with an average speed of 357mph reclaiming the record from John Cobb.
Despite the enormous complexities of building land speed record cars, construction of Thunderbolt took just 6 weeks.
1935 Campbell-Railton Blue Bird – 301 Mph (Over 1 Km)
One of the most famous names associated with Land Speed Record attempts, Sir Malcolm Campbell became the first person to break 300mph in 1935 driving his modified Railton Blue Bird car. Updated in 1933 in his quest for more power and speed, Blue Bird received its 37-liter Rolls-Royce V12 R series engine developing 2300hp. It would be the adoption of the R Series that gave Blue Bird its distinctive center line bulges to accommodate the larger unit’s cam covers.
Malcolm Campbell turned his attention to the Water speed Record in 1939, with the original Blue Bird car surviving today on permanent display at Daytona International Speedway tour Centre.