In November 1965, an American race car driver broke not one, but two land speed records on the Utah salt flats. Here are 5 things you didn’t know about Craig Breedlove and his car, the Spirit of America.
Craig Breedlove and the Spirit of America, 1963 (National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
The Bonneville Flats in Utah were the perfect place to break land speed records because the high salt content kept the tracks dry and the wheels cool. It was here in October 1964 that Craig Breedlove risked life and limb to break the 500mph barrier in the $250k Spirit of America. After the car reached a whopping 526.28 mph the car’s parachute, which worked as the brakes, snapped off and the car was sent flying into a telephone pole and landing in a salt pond. Amazingly he was unharmed, and this setback was not enough to put him off setting new records…
He was also the first man to reach 600 mph
Craig Breedlove stands in front of Spirit of America – Sonic 1 before setting a new world record of 555 mph at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA on 2 November 1965. (Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
A year after his success reaching 500mph he was ready and set up for another tilt at the record. At the same spot but this time driving the Spirit of America – Sonic 1, Breedlove clocked 593.178mph on his first run. Fast, but to reach the 600mph target when averaged out with a second run he would have to travel more than 606mph on the next attempt. He smashed it, reaching 608.201mph, meaning his final average speed scraped in at 600.601 mph .
“That 600 is about a thousand times better than 599,” he said afterward. “Boy, it’s a great feeling.”
His record started an intense period of American domination for speed records
Craig Breedlove shows the cockpit of his “Spirit of America” to Miss Florida during pre-race activities for the Daytona 500 NASCAR Cup race at Daytona International Speedway (ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)
Between 1914 and 1963, eight different British drivers held the landspeed record, with only Ray Keech in the Triplex Special breaking the dominance in 1928, and still only for less than a year. During this 49-year period the record increased from 124mph to 403mph, but a rule change that began with Craig Breedlove in the Spirit of America whereby the car did not have to be wheel-driven meant the record was smashed five times in little over two years. Between 5 August 1963 and 15 November 1965 Breedlove battled with fellow Americans Tom Green and Art Arfons in their turbojet vehicles until the 600mph barrier was broken. Breedlove’s record was to stand until 1970 when another American, Gary Gabelich reached 622mph in the car Blue Flame.
It wasn’t until 1983 that the British reclaimed the title when Richard Noble topped 633mph in Thrust2. Andy Green, who in 1997 reached 763mph in ThrustSSC currently holds the record, but another British team, Bloodhound SSC, is looking to break that record again next year. Watch this space…
His wife was also a speed demon
Craig Breedlove explaining the controls of his Spirit of America – Sonic I car to his wife, Lee, 1965 (National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
It is claimed that Craig Breedlove never let his wife, Lee Breedlove, drive above 75mph, but that was before he convinced her to climb into the Spirit of America – Sonic 1 to monopolise the salt flats and obstruct his rivals from making a record attempt. The plan worked and Lee reach 308.56mph that day, writing herself into the record book as both the fastest woman and fastest couple in the world.
The Beach Boys wrote a song about him
The Beach Boys certainly had a thing for writing songs about driving around in cars (I Get Around, anyone?) but they probably wouldn’t be able to pick up many girls travelling as fast as the Spirit of America could. The words to the song were written by long-time collaborator Roger Christian, who also wrote suspiciously similar lyrics to a song called the “Ballad of Bonneville” by Gary Usher’s band The Super Stocks, in reference to Bonneville Salt Flats, where many of the land speed records were broken. This fact wasn’t noticed until after the songs were released. You can listen to the song below.
Alexander is the Online Editor at BBC Science Focus and is the one that keeps sciencefocus.com looking shipshape and Bristol fashion. He has been toying around with news, technology and science on internet for well over a decade, and sports a very fetching beard.