World’s Strangest

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Land Speed Record Vehicles, Part 2: Jet Propulsion 1960s-1980s

Link – article by Simon Rose and Avi Abrams

Need for Speed: The Fastest Men On Earth & Their “Rocket” Vehicles, 1960s-1980s

In Part One of our look at land speed record vehicles here at Dark Roasted Blend, we featured the pioneers who steadily pushed top speeds higher and higher, as they broke one record after another in the first half of the twentieth century. In Part Two, we examine the jet and rocket powered cars that have competed for the land speed record in the early 1960s till the 1980s – coming up with beautifully streamlined shapes for their vehicles.

(Bob Summers and Bill Summers; image courtesy Greg Sharp, Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum)

Craig Breedlove has held the land speed record five times during his career, driving a number of different turbojet-powered vehicles, all of which he named Spirit of America. At Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in September 1963, Breedlove became the first driver to exceed 400 mph (640 km/h), when he set the record at 407.447 miles per hour (655.722 km/h). He was also the first driver to reach 500 mph (800 km/h), and 600 mph (970 km/h), in later record attempts.

(images via 1, 2, 3)

In October 1964, Breedlove set the record at 526.277 mph (846.961 km/h), although it was broken soon afterward. Breedlove’s next version of his vehicle, Spirit of America – Sonic I, reached 600.601 mph (966.574 km/h) in November 1965, which wasn’t bettered until 1970:

(image via Franklin Ratliff)

Craig Breedlove’s “Spirit of America” after crashing into a salt pond, 1964 (right image below):

(images via Dougal McGuire)

This is one of the later incarnations of “Spirit of America”:

(image via)

Mickey Thompson’s “Challenger I” was built in 1960, powered by four supercharged Pontiac engines:

(images via Dougal McGuire)

Here is an inspiring screenshot from the movie “World’s Fastest Indian”, featuring Mickey Thompson’s “Challenger I” (reached 406.60 mph on 9 September 1960, the first car to exceed 400 mph):

(images via)

Donald Campbell was the son of Sir Malcolm Campbell, who had broken speed records in the twenties and thirties. Donald Campbell himself broke eight world speed records in the fifties and sixties and this is the jet-powered Bluebird-Proteus CN7:

(images credit: Robert Knight, 2)

On the dry salt lake bed of Lake Eyre in South Australia on 17 July 1964, Campbell set a record for a four-wheeled vehicle of 403.10 mph (648.73 km/h). Campbell remains the only driver to set both the water and land speed records in the same year, which he did in 1964. Campbell planned to build the Bluebird Mach 1.1, a supersonic rocket car aiming for a speed of 840 mph (1351.848 km/h), but he was killed during an attempt to break the water speed record in 1967.

Half brothers Art and Walt Afrons built several vehicles they called the Green Monster. Their turbojet-powered Green Monster, although it was painted in red and blue, briefly held the land speed record three times in 1964 and 1965. Powered by an F-104 Starfighter jet engine, the car’s top average speed was 576 mph (927 km/h). It competed against Craig Breedlove’s Spirit of America – Sonic I, which eventually set the record at 600.601 mph (966.574 km/h):

(images via 1, 2)

Here are some less-known vehicles, built and raced by Art Afron:

The Green Monster was also in competition with Walt Afron’s Wingfoot Express, which was powered by a Westinghouse J46 turbojet engine and set the record at 413 mph (664.659 km/h) on October 2, 1964. “Wingfoot Express” was powered by up to 25 rockets! -

(image via Dougal McGuire)

Here is a great scale model of this fabulous vehicle:

(image via, more info there)

“The Golden Rod” by Summer Brothers appeared in 1965, sporting sensational low-slung looks and scorching performance. In November 1965 Goldenrod set the wheel-driven record (as opposed to the “Spirit of America” jet propulsion) at 409.277 mph (658.64 km/h), a record which was held for 27 years. It was broken in 1991 by Al Teague with his Spirit of ‘76 (which we will feature in the next part):

(image via)

“For a couple of seat-of-the-pants racers, Goldenrod was a stunning, revolutionary achievement. It borrowed heavily on the slingshot-dragster layout, with its four unblown Hemis laid out in line.” (article)

(Bob Summers and Bill Summers; image courtesy Greg Sharp, Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum)

If you wondered how a pilot could fit inside such a slim “cigar” body, here is the answer:

(image credit Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum)

This is the rocket-powered Blue Flame, driven by Gary Gabelich at an average speed of 622.287 mph (1,001.474 km/h) at Bonneville in October 1970. This was the first record to surpass 1,000 km/h and it wasn’t broken till 1983:

(images via)

Blue Flame’s record was beaten by Thrust2, driven by Richard Noble in October 1983. The British designed jet-powered vehicle attained an average speed of 633.468 mph (1,019.468 km/h) at the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. This record stood until broken by Richard Noble’s follow up car, ThrustSSC, in 1997:

(images credit: Davoud Davies, Nik Sibley)

A moment of reflection… Mickey Thompson and his “Challenger One” in 1961:

(image via)

In the next part of this series we will look at modern land speed record vehicles and contemporary drivers who are still racing to further push the envelope and achieve even more mind-boggling speeds.



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