Achieving the title of “fastest production car” is not as easy as strapping a rocket to a vehicle and sending it down the longest runway you can find. These speed machines need to be engineered for the highest tolerances, as reaching speeds over 450 km/h will stress every component in a vehicle.
SSC North America (formerly Shelby SuperCars) attempted to set a record run last October on a seven-mile straight in the Nevada desert. The carmaker claimed an average speed of 508 km/h. It’s an average because these speed runs have to be done twice, one in each direction of the road to make up for any variables like the wind. A video of this impressive run was posted online, but the internet wasn’t convinced.
There were editing errors in the video, zero data logging, and inconsistencies that couldn’t be explained. The only thing that would satisfy the critical crowd of automotive enthusiasts was a do-over of the controversial sprint.
Finally, the SSC Tuatara and team have achieved their goal of the fastest production car thanks to an incredible run at the Johnny Bohmer Proving Grounds at the Kennedy Space Center. The average speed was 455.3 km/h, which might sound less impressive than the earlier attempt, but there are a few important reasons for the differences.
For starters, the runway at the Kennedy Space Center is much shorter than the road used in Nevada. To address the short acceleration zone, the seven-speed automated manual transmission in the SSC Tuatara was adjusted with shorter gear ratios.
Furthermore, the original speed record attempt saw race car driver Oliver Webb at the helm of the incredible supercar.
“I hope to never do that again,” Webb said after the original run.
In his place this time around was the vehicle’s owner, Larry Caplin. Caplin had limited experience driving anything as fast as the SSC Tuatara, so the team tried to help him acclimatize to the car’s incredible performance. By using 91-octane fuel instead of the E85, the vehicle had a slightly lower output of about 1,350 horsepower, compared to the 1,750 ponies the 5.9-litre twin-turbo V8 makes on E85.
To prevent the same gaffes as the original run, SSC brought along plenty of equipment and staff, including the VBOX data logger and a representative from the company that makes it. They also brought along someone from the International Mile Racing Association to further validate the results.
It says something that an inexperienced driver in a slightly detuned car and a shorter than expected runway can still achieve a record speedrun. The SSC Tuatara is more or less designed for this stunt, though, with the owners believing it can surpass 300 mph (483 km/h.) With only 100 models of the car slated for production, it will be interesting if any other owners chime in and suggest participating in the run themselves, as Caplin did.