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The Insane World of Land Speed Records

thrust ssc speed record

Where can you find the fastest cars on the planet thrashing sand and setting top land speed records? That’s right, right here in America, baby! I’m talking Bonneville Salt Flats, the Black Rock Desert, and the Alvord Desert. What’s so special about those places? They’re all the sites of land speed records being shattered to pieces by some of the fastest vehicles ever created.

Today, we’re going to show you the cars that accomplished those feats. But, we have more than just the flat-out fastest cars. What about the fastest coffee-powered car? Today, we’re going to get into some of the wildest land speed record-setting cars ever!

The Fastest Woman (522.783 MPH)

jessi combs land speed record
The Blast

So, who’s the fastest woman on Earth? That honor goes to Jessi Combs. Yes, the co-host of Overhaulin’ and MythBusters shattered a record previously set by Kitty Hambleton, a professional stunt performer who made stunt falls from over 100 feet. Kitty Hambleton also set a water skiing speed record, so it’s fair to say she was kind of a badass.

Kitty Hambleton set a speed record of 512.710 miles per hour in her rocket-powered SM1 Motivator in 1976. The fact that over 40 years ago we were already doing over 500 miles an hour is crazy! And that record wasn’t broken until 2019.

Both records were set in the Alvord Desert in southeast Oregon. But, today’s record, set by Jessie Combs in 2019, is even more impressive than Kitty Hambleton’s. Why? Well, first of all, she got up to 522.783 miles per hour! But what’s even crazier is how she did it, or what happened in the process.

During testing, her 56-foot jet-powered North American Eagle had some issues. Her fastest run was the one where she hit 522 miles per hour, but she planned on going up another 100 miles per hour. Unfortunately, due to a front-wheel failure, Ms. Combs totaled her three-wheeled vehicle and passed away in the wreckage, and so was never able to enjoy her record-setting achievement. Rest in peace, Jessi. 

Yet another car that has a troubled past is the Green Monster, which sounds pretty menacing on its own.

The Green Monster (576 MPH)

green monster land speed record
Land Speed Record

The Green Monster was a name that two brothers gave a bunch of cars that they built from dragsters into land speed record-holding beasts! The Arfons brothers named their cars after Fenway Park’s famous left-field fence. But, no, not all of these cars were painted green.

Now, let’s talk about the one that smashed the land-speed record. The engine on this car was a surplus F-104 Starfighter General Electric J79 jet engine with four-stage afterburners. Good for similar power to your standard Ford Fiesta. Wait, that’s not right, I meant 10 Ford Fiestas! That’s a whole lot of Fiesta. And the Arfons bought it at a scrap dealer for just $600! They rebuilt it without any manuals from General Electric since the government classified all the manuals as top secret.

The land speed record-setting car called the “Green Monster” was painted in red and blue, making it a bit of a misnomer. In competition in 1964 and 1965, the Green Monster set three land speed records starting at 434 miles per hour, then 536, and finally hitting a top speed of 576 miles per hour! What’s even crazier is the fact that they blew a tire on that last run!

So, while that’s pretty cool, let’s start to get wild! Here’s the fastest bumper car to ever terrorize an amusement park!

The Bumper Car (100.336 MPH)

bumper car land speed record
Live Science

Yeah, there’s such a thing as the world’s fastest bumper car. And it’s not your typical carnival ride, since bumper cars typically top out at 10 or maybe even 15 miles per hour, and it can even start to feel a little sketchy at that speed.

But, what happens when a crazy Brit wants to build the fastest bumper car ever? Does it top out at 30?40? How about 50 miles per hour? No. Try 100.336 miles per hour! And it was hitting those unthinkable speeds in retro ’60s style.

So, let’s take a look under the hood, or behind the bumper. It’s got a 100-horsepower 660cc Honda motorcycle engine propelling it up to that ridiculous top speed. This badass bumper car was built by an English bloke named Colin Furze.

Finding someone to test this bumper car’s limits proved difficult until The Stig from Top Gear stepped up to do it. The record was set at Bentwaters Airfield in 2017. So, next time you’re at your local carnival, make sure you’re not getting in the bumper car ring against Colin Furze’s mean machine.

Now, let’s go back to legitimate cars and take a look at the fastest FIA-approved electric car built by the hands of man.

The Electric Car (341.264 MPH)

venturi vbb3 land speed record
Green Car Reports

The Tesla Model S? Nope. That tops out just over 160. The Tesla Roadster? Nope. That has an unconfirmed top speed of around 250 miles per hour. Try just north of 340 miles per hour, or 341.264 miles per hour, to be exact!

So, what managed that kind of top speed? Well, a group of engineering students from Ohio State University in the Center for Automotive Research have been responsible for four electric-powered land speed record cars! And of them achieved a top speed over 300 miles per hour! Thanks, nerds.

Starting in 2004, the team from Ohio State debuted their little electric-powered rocketship called the Buckeye Bullet 1. It hit over 300 miles per hour and broke the electric land speed record, but it’s not the vehicle that holds the record today.

The team at Ohio State went through two more iterations with the Buckeye Bullet 2 and 2.5 before landing on the Buckeye Bullet 3. The Buckeye Bullet 2 was the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle they created, and while it couldn’t eclipse the same top speed as its older brother, the Buckeye Bullet 1, the Buckeye 2 shattered some international land speed records along the way.

Then, they disassembled the Buckeye Bullet 2 and replaced the hydrogen fuel cell with lithium-ion batteries to create the 2.5, essentially using it as a test bed for the Buckeye Bullet 3. The Buckeye Bullet 2.5 set an FIA-sanctioned world record at 307.666 miles per hour.

But, all that led up to the creation of the Buckeye Bullet 3, which reached a mind-boggling top speed of 341.4 miles per hour! The craziest part, though, is that it’s powered by all four wheels and has a two-speed transmission. Just two! That first gear takes the vehicle up to 275 miles per hour!

The 341-mile-per-hour run was achieved over a two-way flying mile at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 2016, and the record stays strong even to this day.

But, electric power’s been done before, let’s talk about a car with a more interesting power source.

The Coffee-Powered Car (65.536 MPH)

coffee powered truck land speed record
Metro

You’ve heard the slogan: “America Runs on Dunkin.” Well, apparently they aren’t just talking about people! They’re talking about American cars too! Believe it or not, there’s such a thing as the fastest coffee-powered car. No, it’s not a golf cart running on coffee. It’s a freakin’ Ford truck!

It runs on coffee chaff pellets, which are produced from the waste in coffee production. So, essentially, this car runs on unusable coffee waste. Whether or not that waste comes from Dunkin Donuts, I do not know.

So, how fast does the converted truck go? Well, considering it’s still based on a heavy and not very aerodynamic truck, the top speed isn’t as high as you might expect, if you had any expectations about a coffee-powered truck, that is. However, it still holds the record for the fastest coffee-powered car ever at 65.536 miles per hour.

This one’s also built by another crazy Brit named Martin Bacon, who set this record back in 2013. Bacon and coffee? The perfect combination! What’s next with these crazy Brits? Well, I couldn’t tell you, but you should know that the fastest vehicle of all time is also a creation of the British mind. The Thrust SSC currently holds the title.

The Thrust SSC (763.035 MPH)

thrust ssc land speed record
Reddit

Making its record-setting run in 1997 in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, the Thrust SSC was the first land vehicle to break the sound barrier, and that record stands to this day. What’s even more mind-blowing is the fact that the sonic boom coming from the Thrust SSC on its record-setting run caused sprinkler covers to fall off in a town 10 miles away! Enough about your Bugatti, that’s the kind of power I’m looking for!

The record run was set nearly 50 years to the day after Captain “Chuck” Yeager made the first-ever supersonic flight. So, what was the actual top speed the Thrust SSC reached? A whopping 763.035 miles per hour, which is Mach 1.02! Remember, that was in a car! The Thrust SSC gets its power from two massive Rolls-Royce jet engines, so it kind of makes sense that it’s hitting jet-like speeds.

Today, the Thrust SSC is tucked away in the Coventry Transport Museum in England, about two hours outside of London, where visitors can ride a 4D motion simulator depicting a computer-generated animation of the record-breaking run. So, if you’re like me, that’s going on your bucket list.

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