was a big year in the world of Land Speed Records. As for what actually constituted a record, that all depended upon who was recognizing it. When Craig Breedlove
first zipped across the Bonneville Salt Flats in his 3-wheeIed jet-car, the only international body which would give him official sanction was the FIM (Federation Internationale Motor cyclist) which classified his de-winged jet-plane as a cycle-and-sidecar.
That was in 1963
and Breedlove's record was an impressive 407.45 mph average, whatever its category. It was a Land Speed Record, according to the resultant advertising by Breedlove's sponsors even if it wasn't the Land Speed Record. The FIA (Federation Internationale de Automobile) usually sanctioned such things but had taken the easy way out of the knotty "is it a car or an airplane?" controversy by saying the FIA couldn't sanction it because it had only three wheels and everyone knew a car had to have four.
The FIA's real bone of contention was that the Jet-car derived its propulsive thrust by the super-expansion of air within its engine, rather than by pushing its wheels against the surface of the earth in the time-honoured tradition. USAC
(United States Auto Club), as the official timer for both, made no such distinction. But the FIA saw the light early in 1964 and amended its specifications to allow air-driven vehicles to become eligible for the Land Speed Record, as long as they had four wheels on the ground.
Breedlove's "Spirit of America" was not acceptable but several other Jet-cars were: Namely, the two Arfons creations from Akron, Ohio. The whole sanction business was a tempest in a teapot: What was important, in the public's eye, was who went fastest across the surface of Mother Earth - a point greatly appreciated by sponsors and backers of these wheeled Chimeras. And a Jet-car, with its power measured in thousands of pounds of thrust, obviously was a far better bet than anything powered with a reciprocating engine
The Spirit of America
The Spirit of America was the first design to take advantage of a change in rules that allowed for a 3-wheeled design. Using an ex-military General Electric J47 turbojet engine taken from a F-86 Sabre, the “Spirit” further evolved the “streamliner” approach taken by its predecessors, although it was far narrower. Wind cheating it may have been, but the design was not without problems, and in testing at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1962 the designers quickly discovered the inherent handling
problems would need to be addressed before any serious attempt on the world land speed record could be made.
After adding a stabilizer and allowing the front wheel to “steer”, all was ready for an attempt on September 5, 1963. Craig Breedlove
opened the Spirit up, and in doing so became the first man to exceed 400 miles per hour (644 km/h). But as was the tradition of the land speed record, there were plenty of others trying to make the title their own. Tom Green would be the first to succeed a little over a year later (October 1964
), then the title was taken by Art Arfons. Undeterred, Breedlove returned to the Bonneville Salt Flats and pushed the “Spirit” to over 500 mph (800 km/h), setting it at 526.277 mph (846.961 km/h) on October 15, a record that stood for almost two weeks.
At the end of his second run, the “Spirit” lost its parachute brakes, skidded for five miles (8 km), through a row of telephone poles and crashed into a pond at around 200 mph (300 km/h). Miraculously Breedlove was uninjured, however the crash would see him enter the Guinness Book of Records, he taking out the title of producing the worlds longest ever skid marks.
A new “Spirit” was built over 1964
to attempt to wrest the title back from Arfons. The “Spirit of America – Sonic 1” now boasted a 4 wheel design affording better stability, and in-turn this allowing the use of the much higher rated GE J79 engine borrowed from a F-4 Phantom jet fighter (the same engine as used in Arfons’ “Green Monster”).
In his new machine, Breedlove set the record at 600.601 mph (966.574 km/h) on November 15, 1965
, a record that stood until 1970
. After a lengthy break from world records Breedlove began work on a new “Spirit” in 1992, eventually named the “Spirit of America Formula Shell LSRV”. The engine was the same as that used in the second “Spirit”, a GE J79, but was modified to burn unleaded gasoline (generating a maximum thrust of 22,650 lbf /100.8 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 (1,000 km/h). Another attempt would be made in 1997, however the Spirit would sustain major engine damage on an early run, and Breedlove would be forced to watch the British ThrustSSC exceed a whopping 750 mph (1200 km/h). Breedlove firmly believed his new re-engined “Spirit” capable of over 800 mph (1,200 km/h), however the record books have it reaching a top speed of 676 mph (1088 km/h).