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
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
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”).
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).