WITH the Rugby World Cup in full swing, a lot of people by now know the national animal of South Africa is the springbok; it’s the enduring nickname for the side which are looking especially dangerous in the tournament.
For those not familiar, the springbok is a graceful antelope-like creature, found mostly grazing on the savannahs of the south-western pocket of the African continent.
Like most of the South African rugby team, the springbok is quick and nimble on its feet. In fact, it’s capable of reaching 55mph flat out. Even so, it’s not as rapid as the world’s fastest animal, the cheetah, another local of the expansive plains of South Africa, which has the springbok licked at 75mph – an advantage which makes the springbok a lunchtime favourite for the cheetah.
As of next week, there will be something even faster sharing the South African desert with the hunter and its prey; the Bloodhound Land Speed Record car.
The time has arrived for the Bloodhound LSR team to take the covers off its jet-engined monster and begin high-speed testing ahead of its world record attempt in 2020. The Hakskeen Pan desert – 54 square miles of mud, baked solid by the fierce South African sun – makes the ideal runway to crank the needle to speeds of up to 500mph. Over the next month, the Bloodhound team will monitor stresses inflicted on the car by high velocity driving, before hopefully pushing on next year to break the current record of 763.035mph.
We’re excited by the project. The car is built in Gloucestershire, driven by RAF hero Andy Green, and was rescued from a funding shortfall last year by a Yorkshireman called Ian Warhurst. In these gloomy days of Brexit wouldn’t it be nice for some good news to come out of UK industry?
What is it about the World Land Speed Record which keeps luring teams like Bloodhound LSR to salt flats and dried lakebeds across the globe with new, faster contraptions?
The first official attempt was made all the way back in 1898 and recorded a speed of 39.24mph, something even the springbok would scoff at. It took another six attempts before a machine capable of matching the cheetah’s pace took the crown, in 1902.
Even so, these early pioneers were laying the foundation for something which has fascinated humankind for more than a decade, and in terms of what it has done for pushing the boundaries of engineering, the World Land Speed Record is on a par with The Space Race.
The engineers and pilots of the many and varied machines which have attempted, and in a lot of cases failed, to set a land speed record are nothing short of rock stars in our opinion, indeed many were big celebrities in their day. If Socrates was right when he said: “fame is the perfume of heroic deeds,” these brave men and women – some of whom paid with their life – deserve our utmost respect.
As Bloodhound LSR keeps the flame lit for human endeavour, we take a look at some of the major landmarks in 121 years of chasing the ever-elusive World Land Speed Record.
Bloodhound SSC test run
December 18th, 1898
Electric cars are today considered cutting edge, even futuristic technology, but the very first World Land Speed Record was set in an EV. Frenchman Charles Jeantaud built his own electric car, handing the keys to driver Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat to set a speed of 39.24mph, in doing so sparking the race to be fastest on four wheels.
August 5th, 1902
It wasn’t until 1902 that the first internal combustion engine car set a land speed record, when American William K Vanderbilt took the wheel of the French-built Mors Z Paris-Vienne car. Even though William’s day job was a horse breeder, it didn’t stop him notching a speed of 76.03mph.
July 21st, 1904
French Grand Prix driver Lois Rigolly became the first man to drive a car over 100mph, when he reached a speed of 103.51mph during a World Land Speed Record attempt on a beach in Ostend, Belgium.
January 26th, 1906
In an example of how the pursuit of a land speed record has inspired engineers to push technology to its upper limits, American Fred Marriott drove a car powered by steam called The Stanley Rocket at 127.66mph, setting a new record. It also became the first car to travel faster than the contemporary rail speed record, and even hung onto the title of the fastest steam-powered vehicle until 2009.
July 21st, 1925
Britain’s very own Sir Malcom Campbell was the first person to break the 150mph barrier, when he piloted his Sunbeam 350hp car to a staggering 152.33mph. It wasn’t for another 30 years that a production car, the Mercedes Benz 300SL, would achieve that kind of top end.
February 24th, 1932
Sir Malcom was at it again, taking the Blue Bird land speed record car to 253.97mph, the first time 250mph had been recorded. A true giant of the World Land Speed Record hall of fame, he would go on to break the 300mph mark just three years later in an updated version of the Blue Bird.
February 22nd, 1933 to September 16th, 1947
In a golden era for both the World Land Speed Record and UK automotive engineering, the World Land Speed Record was broken 9 more times by British teams. As well as three more records from Malcom Campbell, George Eyston claimed three titles, as did John Cobb.
August 5th, 1963
Despite being the first land speed record car to be jet-propelled, Craig Breedlove’s Spirit of America car only edged the record to 407.447mph. It was controversial too, as World Land Speed Record rules at the time stated the vehicle must be driven by the wheels, and there had to be four of them. The Spirit of America only had three. This car was a crucial milestone in the history of the World Land Speed Record, as it provoked a change in the regulations to allow any vehicle running on wheels – however it is powered – to qualify to compete, paving the way for the modern era of jet-engined vehicles.
October 5th, 1964 to November 15th, 1965
It was the turn of America to dominate the land speed record landscape, as a battle began between Craig Breedlove and rival Art Arfons, which lasted only two years, but saw the World Land Speed Record broken a total of eight times. These guys honed the art of jet-propulsion with their cars Spirit of America and the Green Monster. By 1965 the record stood at 600.601mph and belonged to Craig Breedlove and his Spirit of America car.
October 4th, 1983
Entrepreneur Richard Noble brought the record back home to the UK when his Thrust2 car hit speeds of 634.051mph.
September 25th, 1997
Bloodhound LSR’s very own Andy Green claimed his first World Land Speed Record in the Thrust SSC car, powered by two Rolls-Royce engines. He set a speed of 714.144mph. It took him less than a month to set a new record in the same car, with a speed of 763.035mph.
Just like rules, records are there to be broken, and that’s exactly what Andy Green and the Bloodhound LSR team intend to do next year. Testing begins in the next few weeks, and we can’t wait to see what is learned in the Hakskeen Pan desert.