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Cars That Broke the Land Speed Record

 People have always been fascinated by speed. Man has a long history of trying to build faster trains, faster bikes, faster aircraft; while the 100m sprint and its attempt to find the 'fastest man on Earth' remains the most iconic athletics discipline on Earth. But at the forefront of all this need for speed, has always been the desire to build faster and faster cars, and there's a new contender currently in development. Having broken the speed of sound for the first time in 1997 with Thrust SSC, scientists are really upping the ante in their attempts to raise the land speed record by building the Bloodhound SSC - a car that can travel at 1000 mph.
Here we will take a quick glimpse at Bloodhound, and how it is progressing. Before we run through the stories of some of the most celebrated land speed record holders of all time - many of which were driven by men who gave their lives in the pursuit of more and more speed.
The Bloodhound SSC project is being led by Richard Noble and Andy Green, the two drivers who have held the land speed record between them since 1983. Green, an RAF pilot, and the current record holder, will take the task of driving the Bloodhound when it finally makes its attempt at the 1000 mph barrier.  

Bloodhound is powered by both a jet engine and a rocket engine, and if successful in its ambition to reach 1000 mph (1609 km/h) will break the land speed record by a huge 33%, the largest ever amount it will have been raised in one single attempt. Mr. Green will use airbrakes to slow the vehicle at 800 mph (1300 km/h) before deploying disc brakes below 250 mph (400 km/h). He will not have an ejector seat because ejecting at 1000 mph will subject him to an immediate wind force of over 10 tons, which would not be survivable. In the event of an accident, he is better off in the car, which is protected by strong aluminum.

The team running the project has announced that Bloodhound will be ready for its first test run in November 2015 in Newquay, England. The car will attempt to reach 200 mph on that run and if it's successful, it will be fitted with airbrakes and winglets ahead of higher speed testing in 2016.  The car's cockpit has already been unveiled, and the test firings of the car's rocket engine have been successful, as shown in the video below: Bloodhound SSC could usher in a new era of land speed record chasing if the project achieves its huge, ultimate ambition.

But the foundations for its success have been laid by over a century of innovation in the pursuit of new speed precedents, culminating in the Thrust SSC - the first car to break the speed of sound. Let's run through a selection of the most incredible vehicles to break the land speed record over the last one hundred years, and the fascinating stories behind their development.


Watch Bloodhound SSC's new engine being tested:


1. The Stanley Rocket (1906)

Top Speed - 127.66 mph (205.4 km/h)

The Stanley Rocket was the last steam-powered vehicle to hold the land speed record, and the first vehicle to break the 100 mph barrier. It was built by the Stanley Brothers and achieved its record on Ormond Beach, Florida in January 1906 while driven by Fred Marriott, a daredevil racer handpicked to perform the task. It not only broke the land speed record over 1km, by reaching speeds of 121.6 mph (205.4 km/h) but also set records in a five-mile open race and a one-mile steam championship. 121.6 mph may not seem like a lot now, but in 1906 when steam engines were still the power of choice, it was a hugely exciting landmark to reach.

2. Sunbeam 350HP Version II (1925)

Top Speed - 150.87 mph (242.8 km/h)

The Sunbeam 350 HP was one of the first internal combustion engine powered cars to break the land speed record, first setting a new mark of 146.15 mph (235.22 km/h) in September 1924, and then becoming the first car to break the 150 mph barrier by topping speeds of 150.87 mph (242.8 km/h) in July 1925. The car was driven by Malcolm Campbell, a legendary racing driver who went on to establish numerous land speed records in various cars.

3. Triplex Special (1928)

Top speed - 207.552 mph (334.007 km/h)

The Triplex Special wasn't the first car to break the 200 mph mark - that honor went to Henry Segrave's Sunbeam 1000 HP in March 1927. However, it was the first American built vehicle to hold the land speed record since the Stanley Rocket and raised the record by one of the smallest margins of the combustion engine era (less than 0.5 mph). The car's development was funded by Jim White, a wealthy businessman who desperately wanted to claw the record back from British hands. The project's success was later marred by tragedy when driver Lee Bible lost control of the Triplex while trying to re-establish the car's record in 1929, crashing into sand dunes after colliding with a cameraman. Both Bible and the photographer were killed instantly.

4. The Golden Arrow (1929)

Top Speed: 231.45 mph (372.46 km/h)

The Triplex tragedy came about after the car lost its record to British driver Henry Segrave and his aptly named Golden Arrow. The battle between Segrave and the Triplex group marked the peak of the rivalry between British and American engineering teams, giving way to a period of dominance that saw British cars hold the record for nearly 35 years. The Golden Arrow broke new ground with its heavily streamlined exterior, which allowed Segrave to reach a top speed of 231.45 mph (372.46 km/h) in March 1929, raising the Triplex's record by a significant 24 mph. Segrave was present for the ill-fated attempt by the Triplex team to win the record back, and quit land speed racing shortly afterward, only to be killed while attempting to break the water speed record a year later.

5. The Bluebird (1935)

Top Speed: 301.129 mph (484.598 km/h)

The 1935 version was the latest in a long line of Bluebirds to hold the land speed record. Malcolm Campbell (who also drove the Sunbeam HP) first drove the Bluebird into the record books in 1931, and various later versions broke the record a further four times, culminating in a 1935 run wherein the car became the first to top speeds of 300 mph, topping out at 301.129 mph (484.598 km/h). The achievement, secured on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA, crowned Campbell's glittering racing career, and the record lasted for almost two years.

6. The Railton Mobil Special (1939)

Top Speed - 394.196 mph (634.196 km/h)

Following the Bluebird's success, a battle developed between two more British cars, both of which broke the land speed record three times in the late 1930s. The first car was the Thunderbird, driven by George Eyston, which gained the record from the Bluebird in 1937 and extended it to 345.9 mph (556 km/h) in 1938. The Railton, driven by John Cobb, won the record on September 15th 1938, only to see the Thunderbird snatch it back the very next day. But the Railton team were to ultimately triumph. Setting a new record in 1939 and then extending it 8 years later when the Railton Mobil Special topped speeds of 394.196 mph (634.397 km/h). In doing so, it became the last combustion engine vehicle to hold the record, before the era of the jet-powered car began. Like Segrave, driver John Cobb was later killed while trying to break the water speed record.

7. The Spirit of America - Sonic 1 (1965)

Top Speed - 555.485 mph (893.966 km/h)

The Spirit of America was the first of the modern jet-propelled land speed record holders, built with a streamlined fuselage, three wheel chassis, and turbojet engine. The car caused controversy at first, and its early records were not officially recognized, but the Sonic 1 version built over the winter of 1964-65 ran on four wheels and became the first land vehicle to break 600 mph (966 km/h) when its driver Craig Breedlove took it past the barrier by a tiny margin - barely 0.5 mph. The record stood for five years, a long time when you consider that it had been broken five times in the two years prior to Sonic 1's run.

8. The Blue Flame (1970)

Top Speed - 630.478 mph (1014.656 km/h)

The rocket-powered Blue Flame was constructed in Milwaukee, the USA by the same team that developed the world's first hydrogen peroxide rocket dragster. The engine's running time of 20 seconds at full thrust could generate 22,500 pounds of force, or the equivalent of 58,000 horsepower and the car ran on a combination of high-test peroxide and liquefied natural gas. It smashed the Spirit of America's record on 23 October 1970 on the Bonneville Salt Flats, where driver Gary Gabelich drove the Blue Flame to 622.407 mph, ensuring it was the first car to break the 1000 km/h mark (1001.667 km/h).

9. Thrust2 (1983)

Top Speed - 634.051 mph (1020.406 km/h)

The Blue Flame's record stood for a remarkable 13 years until Thrust2 became the first British holder of the land speed record since 1964. The car was designed by John Ackroyd and driven by Richard Noble, while the project's budget originally began with a measly $250.00 before capturing the imagination of numerous sponsors across Britain. It was powered by a single Rolls-Royce jet engine and broke the record amid great publicity in October 1984, with Noble powering the supercar to a top speed of 633.47 mph (1019.47 km/h) in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada. The golden car is now permanently displayed at the British Transport Museum in Coventry, England.

10. Thrust SSC (1997)

Top Speed - 763.035 mph (1227.986 km/h)

Last but not least is the current land speed record holder and the predecessor to the Bloodhound SSC. After 14 years, Thrust SSC finally bettered Thrust2's mark and in doing so became the first car to officially break the sound barrier - an event you can watch in the video below. The car was powered by two afterburning Rolls-Royce turbofan engines, as used in the British version of the F-4 Phantom Fighter Jets, and the entire vehicle weighed upward of 10 tons. The project was led by Thrust2 driver Richard Noble, and Royal Air Force Wing Commander Andy Green was behind the wheel when it set its remarkable record. The same two men now lead the attempts to break 1000 mph with Bloodhound SSC, and we should find out soon if they succeed!
BONUS - Watch Thrust SSC produce a sonic boom when breaking the sound barrier:
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