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Updated & Revised January 29 2001
THE GREATEST SPEED RECORD EVER
Someone recently commented that they used to think Cobbís record of 1947 was the greatest speed record ever set - but not any more! Cobbís 397MPH mark was left unbroken for a span of over 17 years and if †you count cars of a similar nature-wheel driven - itís hardly been improved on by 10mph since then! And that is now over 50 years - half the life of the sport itself. Remarkable.
Now, said the doubter, he thought that Andy Green and Thrust SSC had now usurped Cobb as the greatest of all time, because they set such a unique landmark in going supersonic - trod into uncharted terretory - went where many were certain it was imposible to go and remain in one piece.
Cobbís run was the locial progression of simply taking a superb car with heaps of power and driving it.Cobb (ABOVE) went fast,maybe close to the fastest a wheel driven car will ever go but Greenís run was like Gagarin going into orbit - it was a whole new ball game.Nothing will ever be quite the same again!
For once, a pivotal point in history was seen live around the globe by millions thanks to the coverage of ITN,CNN etc. and it made for electrifying TV! I sat in front of the TV,knuckles white,hardly breathing as the rooster tail of dust that lay suspended in mid air,attatched itself to a low flying dart that made no sound as it skimmed long (what looked like 6 feet off the ground thanks to the mirages).A weird vacum-noise seemed to be created,a kind of non-noise as if your ears are suddenly about to pop in the swimming pool or on an airliner,then the car passed and a few seconds later CRAACKKKKKKK.That was the point when I breathed again ! It sounded like a sonic boom and the car was still on the ground and still in one piece.Amazing.And all on TV !
When the return run was outside the allotted 60 mins it simply added to the drama - because we then knew it had to be done all over again.When it was, the relief was huge and the mix of patriotic pride and sheer delight was intoxicating.
It was Everest, the moon, the four minute mile and Lassie coming home all in one.
A later comment,by a friend of mine,rang true, he figured that we will probably never see that record broken in our lifetime.Maybe heís right!But that very same thing was said by Malcolm Campbell after he had just set the first 150mph record back in the 1920ís too - he could not concieve of being able to go any quicker yet within 10 years he had doubled the speed himself.
The 100,000bhp Thrust monster was pretty much at full stretch to reach itís 760mph record and the way it destroyed the gound it traveled across was tribute to the forces at play.The car was designed by a guided misile expert,Ron Ayres,to reach 800mph but it fell a little short of that and it lacked nothing in power and wind-tunnel time. Craig Breedlove has about half the power and his aerodynamics are done by eye.That may have been the reason for his 600mph ride on two wheels in 1996 - maybe at this speed what looks right no longer is? OK his car is lighter and has less frontal area,but I think deep down,the sound barrier needs more of a sledgehammer than and ice pick to crack it in safety.Craig has been running this car on-and-off since before Thrust took to the Desert and every year his plans hit some snag or other. Will he ever make another bid? The guy is now well into his 60's and time is surely running out for the project. It would be a wonderful story of he did crack the record at an age when everyone else has retired.
As for Rosco McGlashan. His car is a step back from Breedloves,a smaller,neater variation on Thrust 2 which itself was a variation on Green Monster from the early 60ís. Rosco may have similar power to Craigís car,but it has a lot more frontal area to push through the shock waves too.Iíd like to see the Aussie Invader do it. I really would.! If they can take the record it will me a monumental victory for the underdog against all the odds. Rosco is a †brave man,the team have suffered enough from the desert weather to earn their place in the record books but I feel it is a design that - frankly, like all the others, has been eclipsed by THRUST SSC just as rear engined Cooperís blitzed font engined Ferrariís back in the 50ís. A fundamental point has been passed which now calls for something different to improve on Greenís mark. The team (click here to see them)are currently running lady-racer Paula Elstrek in an attempt to set a female land speed record and there is talk of an Invader 4 to try for the supersonic outright mark in the future.
Of the other challengers?
Well the NORTH AMERICAN EAGLE efort never looked like much more than a stunt show to haul around dragways and air displays.The design didnít look serious and itís stated aim of 700 was subsonic in any case.The original car (left)was ďstood downĒ amid some acrimoney while a replacement project got into the build stage. This has now emerged from the workshop and what a device it is! No less that a de-winged F-104 Starfighter aircraft!(Click for Image) The original plane is ex NASA and arrived in a pretty rough state but has since been turned into a wheeled vehcle and rolled out for the worlds press. The team are fairly active with their web site gicing a lot of up to the minute news and such in THRUST SSC fashion but will it really run? Donít hold your breath, but as with all of the strangest schemes, you never know........
SONIC WIND is even stranger,a rocket mounted on skates and set to run on frozen lakes in mid winter. It looks like the product of a tormented mind but itís logic is somehow attractive in a crazy sort of way.Itís tiny,itís certainly powerfull and the friction element has been removed from the equation by running on ice but will it stay there or fly?
What amazes me above all is that itís actually been built and for the last two years it has been hauled out to a frozen lake in the hope that conditions will alow a shake down run. The engine has been fired up and a lot of photos taken. It looks superb but the ice has yet to prove strong enough or flat enough to amke a run. Itís just a case of waiting for the big freeze again. Driver/designer Waldo Stakes talks in big numbers for the tiny projectile - 900mph no less.Maybe this is the Cooper of land speed records,the sideways jump from massive power to tiny,nimble efficiency? It certainly takes the prize for lateral and original thinking.
But would you drive it?
We are told the testing will not be rushed and it may take several winters to get up to speed.Well thatís fair enough and when one thinks of the potential for weather delays in a desert transferred to a frozen lake in mid winter,it may be a very very long wait.Nothing else on the horizon looks set to try for Andy Greenís record but with the interest it has generated all across the globe,who knows if some oil sheik might fancy a change from off shore powerboat racing and throw some millions at one of the top race car constructors so they can build him a record car? Maybe that is what has happened to the rather mythical McLaren Maverick project which is shrouded is the most ridiculous secrecy to the point of not even allowing photos of the mock up to be issued.Maybe that will be sprung on an unsuspecting world,all ready to run with big backing and and nice long desert strip to run on that no-one has ever come across before?
Text copyright Simon Lewis January 2001
THE WHEEL DRIVEN RECORD
1964 WINGFOOT EXPRESS
RICHARD BROWN'S ROCKET MOTORCYCLE
WHITE HAWK Jet Hydrofoil 1952
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