Over the past 18 years, the auto industry has experienced that great democratization of speed. In 1997, the million-dollar McLaren F1 was the world’s fastest car, capable of hitting 243 miles per hour with its 620 horsepower BMW-sourced V12. Today, McLaren F1 money can get you a used Bugatti Veyron Super Sport that cranks out 1,200 horsepower and can hit 267 miles per hour. If that’s a little out of your price range, you can always go for one of the Dodge Hellcat twins, which have a McLaren-beating 707 horsepower, top out at over 200 miles per hour, and will set you back a mere $60,000.
As speed and power get cheaper by the year, one obstacle has remained curiously in place: the land speed record. Since 1997, the 760.343 mile per hour record set by the Thrust SSC has stood unbroken and unchallenged while advances in technology and engineering have continued to push road cars to new performance heights. But now, the British engineering team behind the Thrust SSC have returned with a new car, and instead of just breaking the old record, they’re looking to do what was long thought impossible. With an all-new car, the Bloodhound SSC, they want to set the new land speed record at 1,000 miles per hour.
Unsurprisingly, The Bloodhound Project is no hobbyist’s weekend endeavor. Originally projected to be a $28 million project in 2012, the cost has ballooned to $61 million as the program grapples with the issues of traveling on land at 1,000 miles per hour. Unlike the Thrust SSC, which used two Rolls-Royce turbofan jet engines, the Bloodhound is a bit of a high-speed hybrid – the car has one Rolls jet to produce 20,000 pounds of thrust, along with two rocket engines to each produce an additional 27,500 pounds each. This should be enough to get the car from zero to 1,000 in around 75 seconds.
Like any car, it needs a reliable fuel pump to keep the engines moving, but Bloodhound’s engineers needed something a little bit more powerful than the units found in any street car. Their solution was to tap a complete 5.0 liter, 542 horsepower supercharged Jaguar V8 for the job, a move that Jag has commemorated by building a special F-Type coupe (powered by the same engine) to serve as the Bloodhound’s official Rapid Response Vehicle.
The quest to break the land speed record is a historically British endeavor, with 24 of the 39 official land speed records coming from England. As the last great builder of British performance cars (of the non-supercar variety), Jaguar is the perfect choice for a partnership, and it has taking its support role very seriously.
Clad in livery similar to the Bloodhound, the support car has already been driven at top speed against an RAF fighter jet, allowing the crew to calibrate their radio communications systems and ensure that they’ll be able to maintain communication with the Bloodhound via radio and its 500 sensors at speed. When the Bloodhound goes on its first runs laster this year in South Africa’s Hakseen Pan to beak the 800 miles per hour (it will try for the 1,000 mile per hour mark next year), the F-Type will be there to provide high speed support along the 12 mile stretch of dry African lake bed.
Reaching 1,000 miles per hour on land may still sound like science fiction, but if anyone can do it, it’s the Bloodhound team. Led by Richard Noble, who set a land speed record in the Thrust2 car in 1983, and piloted by Andy Green, a RAF pilot who set the current record in the Thrust SSC, this latest attempt could set a record that stands for even longer than the mark set in ’97. After 1,000 miles per hour, the question isn’t if a car can go faster, it’s finding a place on earth with enough room for the car to brake. Past the 1,000 mile mark, the options for a location become very slim.
But at least we now finally have the technology. If anything, the breakthroughs in this century have proven that we’re far from reaching the limits of automotive technology. Before the Veyron, 1,000 horsepower in a road car seemed impossible, and before the Hellcat twins, 200 miles per hour was still firmly in the realm of supercars. Real speed and power are now within reach of the common driver. Isn’t it time the land speed record catches up?