1963/1964/1965: Spirit Of America driven by Craig Breedlove

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Spirit Of America

J47/J79 Turbojet
22,650 lbf /100.8 kN
Top Speed:

526.28/600.60 mph

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 1964-65 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).

Also See:

Land Speed Record Drivers
Herbert Austin LSR Attempt
History Of The Land Speed Record
Unique Cars and Parts USA - The Ultimate Classic Car Resource