We continue our land speed record series with a closer look at the jet propulsion cars era, which pushed the records way beyond what we’ve seen in the first part of the series, with the pioneering internal combustion engines.
Craig Breedlove was one of the iconic record-setters of the 1960s-1980s. He set the land speed record five times during his career in different jet-powered vehicles, all named Spirit of America. He was the first driver who drove over 640km/h (400mph), reaching a world record of 655.722 km/h (407.447mph) at the Bonneville Salt Flats. You can see two of the record-setting Spirit of America vehicles below. (source1, source2)
Craig Breedlove was not only the first to exceed 400mph, but he was also the first to exceed 500mph and 600mph using different variations of the Spirit of America.
Another daredevil of the 1960s was Donald Campbell, the son of Sir Malcolm Campbell, who was one of the legends of the 1920s and 1930s. He was the first man to hold the land and water speed records at the same time. His son, Donald, has been a worthy successor. He broke a total of eight land speed records in the 1950s and 1960s, driving his jet-powered Bluebird-Proteus CN7.(source)
Donald set a record of 403.10 mph (648.73 km/h) on the dry salt bed of Lake Eyre in South Australia on 17 July 1964 driving his Bluebird. He planned on reaching a speed of 840 mph (1351.848 km/h) in a new supersonic Bluebird, Mach 1.1. Sadly, he died in 1967 when he tried to set a new water speed record.
Craig Breedlove’s direct competitors were half-brothers Art and Walt Arfons, who built several jet-powered cars named the Green Monster. (source)
The Green Monster was a jet-engined car powered by an F-104 Starfighter jet engine and was capable of a top average speed of 576 mph (927 km/h). It was a worthy competitor for Breedlove’s Spirit of America – Sonic 1, which eventually set the record of 600.601 mph (966.574 km/h).
The Green Monster and the Spirit of America were also threatened by Walt Arfons Wingfoot Express, which was powered by a Westinghouse J46 jet engine. (source)
In 1965, the Golden Rod was born and it was a sensational appearance on the land speed record race stage. The Golden Rod was conceived by the Summer Brothers and was wheel-driven(meaning that the wheels were turned directly by the engine through a cinematic link), thus, being different from the Green Monster or Spirit of America – Sonic 1(which were jet-engined: the engine was fixed to the body of the car and wasn’t linked by any means to the wheels, which could spin freely). (source)
The Golden Rod had 4 hemi engines under the hood placed in line and was shaped a lot like a dragster. In November 1965, the Golden Rod set the world land speed record at 409.277 mph (658.64 km/h), a record that stood for 27 years.
We end this article with the first car to reach the 1000km/h mark. The daredevil who managed to pull this off was Gary Gabelich, who averaged 622.287 mph (1,001.474 km/h) at the Bonneville Salt Flats in October 1970, driving the rocket-powered Blue Flame. This record wasn’t broken until 1983.