Craig Breedlove talking shop with
the late Donald Campbell in 1963
CRAIG BREEDLOVE was one of a select band of Californian dragster fanatics whose sole hobby was attempting to go faster than the next man. He decided to build a car to crack the land-speed record but, lacking the enormous funds available to Donald Campbell, he designed a very simple car.
He chose a General Electric J47 jet engine which was encased in a simple steel-tube chassis and fitted with a tricycle undercarriage. The aerodynamic shape and high tail fin gave the impression of an aircraft shorn of its wings and, indeed, that was virtually what it was.
Breedlove seemed unworried that his car did not comply with the FIA regulations; not only did it lack driven wheels, but only had three of them, when the regulations called for four wheels. However, the United States Automobile Club were prepared to recognise the attempt, as were the Federation Internationale Motocycliste, who regarded the vehicle as a three-wheeled motor cycle!
Breedlove ran out of money before the car was finished, but he was fortunate to obtain sponsorship and technical assistance from Shell and Goodyear. The car, patriotically named Spirit of America, began its first tests early in 1962 and it quickly worked its way up to 365 mph.
The only major problem was its stability, but this was cured by modifying the fixed single front wheel so that it could be steered a few degrees from the straight ahead position. Prior to this, 'steering' had been effected by moving a small fin under the nose and by braking one of the rear wheels.
The Record Attempt Begins at Bonneville
On 5 August 1963, the record attempt began. The course at Bonneville had been lengthened by two miles so giving Breedlove four and a half miles in which to get to maximum speed before going through the timed mile, after which there was four and a half miles for slowing down. On his first run, Breedlove gave the car only 90 per cent of its available thrust and the average speed over the mile worked out at 388-47 mph. He knew that on the return run he would have to exceed 400 mph by a fair margin to beat Cobb's record.
For this return run he gave the engine 95 per cent thrust and he sped over the flying kilometre at 428.37 mph, for an average speed of 407.45 mph. Campbell, who was still pressing on with Bluebird, knew that he had little chance of exceeding Breedlove's record, for his car had all the complication of driven wheels, with gearboxes, drive shafts and, worst of all, tyres which were driven by the engine, which caused them to wear rapidly. Breedlove's tyres did not even need changing between runs.
In July 1964, Campbell finally achieved two identical runs of 403.10 mph to break Cobb's seventeen-year-old record. It was, however, too late. The Americans had decided to ignore the FIA's rules and the race was soon on to be first to 500 mph by any means possible, short of leaving the ground altogether. Breedlove was preparing for an attempt to beat his own record, but before he was ready Tom Green, in Wait Arfon's Wingfoot Express, raised the record to 413.2 mph.
Three days later Arfons' brother, Art, raised it to 434.02 mph in his 17,500 horsepower Green Monster jet-powered four-wheeler, which had cost him little more than £5000 to build. Breedlove made his attempt only a few days after the Arfons record, the Spirit of America now being fitted with a new and slightly more powerful engine. With-almost insolent ease, he pushed the record up to 468.72 mph.
Not content with that he went out again a few days later and became the first man to take the record over 500 mph, with an average of 526.28 mph. However, the return run almost ended in disaster, for his braking parachute snapped and the car careered unchecked for five miles before plunging through a row of telegraph poles into a lake.
Breedlove managed to free himself from the car and swim to the shore. Breedlove did not hold the record long, for Art Arfons came back with his crude Green Monster only twelve days later and, with the after- burner in full use, did two runs of 515.98 mph and 559. I 8 mph for an average of 536.71 mph. Belatedly, the FIA decided to recognise records taken by cars with no driven wheels, but they refused to recognise records by three-wheeled cars.
Lee Breedlove combined with Craig to make
the fastest man and woman team on earth.
So the Green Monster's record was recognised, but not Breedlove's previous efforts. In an effort to get the official record back, Breedlove designed a new four-wheeled car around a 15,000 horsepower J79 turbojet engine.
Called the Sonic I, because of its believed ability to go through the sound barrier, the car was nothing more than a jet engine on four wheels, with a large rear stabilising fin. The car gave a great deal of trouble during testing and on one occasion went off course at over 600 mph, but it was modified until it became stable at speed.
The Fastest Husband and Wife Team On Earth
On 2 November 1965, Breedlove finally put his name in the FIA's record book, with a two- way run of 555-483 mph, still with plenty in reserve. However, the brave Art Arfons brought out his old Green Monster again five days later and promptly raised the record to 576.553 mph.
With the 1965 'season' almost finished, Breed- love decided to try and get back the record, and on IS November he made his first run in Sonic I at 593.178 mph, following up with a return run of 608.201 mph for an average of 600.601 mph.
Breedlove's record remained intact until 1970 when Gary Gabelich raised it to 630.388 mph in his rocket-powered Blue Flame, but Breedlove was already planning a similar rocket-powered supersonic car complete with ejector seat! family occurred during the 1965 runs, when Craig allowed his second wife Lee to drive Sonic 1.
It is not widely known today, but Breedlove allowed his wift to make four runs with an average speed of 308.56 mph, which at the time made them the fastest man and wife team on earth. Since then the couple have split, Craig has had another brief marriage and has lost much of his financial fortune through some cruel strokes of luck, What he has not lost is his determination to be the fastest man on earth.
During 1968, Lynn Garrison, President of Craig Breedlove & Associates started to package a deal that saw Utah’s Governor, Calvin Rampton provide a hangar facility for the construction of a supersonic car. Bill Lear, of Learjet fame, was to provide support, along with his friend Art Linkletter. Playboy magazine hoped to have the car painted black, with a white bunny on the rudder. TRW was supplying a lunar lander rocket motor. A change in public interest saw the concept shelved for a period of time. They also negotiated for the use of the late Donald Campbell's wheel-driven Bluebird CN7 record-breaker.
After a lengthy break from world records and making his name as a real estate agent, Breedlove began work on a new Spirit in 1992, eventually named Spirit of America Formula Shell LSRV. The vehicle is 44 ft 10 in long, 8 ft 4 in wide, and 5 ft 10 in high (13.67 m by 2.54 m by 1.78 m) and weighs 9,000 lb (4,100 kg), construction is on a steel tube or space frame with an aluminium skin body.
The engine is the same as in the second Spirit, a J79, but it is modified to burn unleaded gasoline and generates a maximum thrust of 22,650 lbf (100.75 kN). The first run of the vehicle in October 28, 1996 in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada ended in a crash at around 675 mph (1,086 km/h).
Returning in 1997 the vehicle badly damaged the engine on an early run and when the British ThrustSSC managed over 700 mph (1,100 km/h), the re-engined Spirit could do no better than 676 mph (1,088 km/h). Breedlove believes the vehicle is capable of exceeding 800 mph (1,300 km/h), but has yet to demonstrate this.
In late 2006 it was announced that Breedlove sold the car to Steve Fossett who was to make an attempt on the land speed record in 2007, marking the end of an era of land speed record breaking. Fossett died in a plane crash in 2007.