Craig Breedlove (born March 23, 1937) is an American professional race car driver and a five-time world land speed record holder. He was the first person in history to reach 400 mph (640 km/h), 500 mph (800 km/h), and 600 mph (970 km/h), using several turbojet-powered vehicles, all named Spirit of America.
Land vehicle speed records
In 1962, he made his first attempt, in a freewheeling tricycle (ignoring FIA rules requiring four wheels, at least two driven; in the event, FIM happily accepted it) powered by a General Electric J47 engine. On 5 August 1963, this first Spirit made her first record attempt, using just 90% of available thrust to reach 388.47 mph (625.18 km/h) over the measured mile. The return pass, on 95% power, turned up a two-way average of 407.45 mph (655.73 km/h). Spirit of America was so light on the ground, she did not even need to change tires afterward.
For 1964, Breedlove faced competition from Walt Arfons' Wingfoot Express (piloted by Tom Green), as well as from brother Art Arfons in his four-wheel FIA-legal Green Monster. With more engine power, Breedlove upped the record to 468.72 mph (754.33 km/h) "[w]ith almost insolent ease", then to 526.28 mph (846.97 km/h). making him the first man to exceed 500 mph (800 km/h). This pass was not without incident, however, for one of his drogue parachute's shroud lines parted, and Spirit of America ran on for 5 mi (8.0 km) before near-missing a telegraph pole and coming to rest in a lake. This record stood all of twelve days before Green Monster broke it, recording a two-run average of 536.71 mph (863.75 km/h).
In response, Breedlove built an FIA-legal four-wheeler, Sonic I, powered by a 15,000 lbf (67 kN) J79. 2 November 1965, Breedlove entered the FIA record book with a two-run average of 555.483 mph (893.963 km/h). This lasted even less time than before, for Green Monster came back five days later at 576.553 mph (927.872 km/h). On 15 November, Breedlove responded with a 600.601 mph (966.574 km/h) record (after turning in an amazing 608.201 mph (978.805 km/h) return pass), which held until 1970. (It would be broken by Gary Gabelich's Blue Flame, which reached 630.388 mph (1,014.511 km/h).) To take the record back, Breedlove planned a supersonic rocket car, "complete with ejector seat!" (After winding up in a lake, this is understandable.) Also in 1965, Breedlove's wife, Lee Breedlove, took the seat in Sonic 1, making four passes and achieving 308.506 mph (496.492 km/h), making her the fastest woman alive, and making them the fastest couple, which they remain. According to author Rachel Kushner, Craig had talked Lee into taking the car out for a record attempt in order to monopolize the salt flats for the day and block one of his competitors from making a record attempt.
During 1968, Lynn Garrison, President of Craig Breedlove & Associates started to package a deal that saw Utah's Governor, Calvin Rampton provide a hangar facility for the construction of a supersonic car. Bill Lear, of Learjet fame, was to provide support, along with his friend Art Linkletter. Playboy magazine hoped to have the car painted black, with a white bunny on the rudder. TRW was supplying a lunar lander rocket motor. A change in public interest saw the concept shelved for a period of time.
After a lengthy break from world records and making his name as a real estate agent, Breedlove began work on a new Spirit in 1992, eventually named Spirit of America Formula Shell LSRV. The vehicle is 44 ft 10 in long, 8 ft 4 in wide, and 5 ft 10 in high (13.67 m by 2.54 m by 1.78 m) and weighs 9,000 lb (4,100 kg), construction is on a steel tube or space frame with an aluminium skin body. The engine is the same as in the second Spirit, a J79, but it is modified to burn unleaded gasoline and generates a maximum thrust of 22,650 lbf (100.75 kN).
The first run of the vehicle on October 28, 1996 in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada ended in a crash at around 675 mph (1,086 km/h). Returning in 1997 the vehicle badly damaged the engine on an early run and when the British ThrustSSC managed over 700 mph (1,100 km/h), the re-engined Spirit could do no better than 676 mph (1,088 km/h). Breedlove believes the vehicle is capable of exceeding 800 mph (1,300 km/h), but has yet to demonstrate this.
In late 2006 it was announced that Breedlove sold the car to Steve Fossett who was to make an attempt on the land speed record in 2007, marking the end of an era of land speed record breaking. Fossett died in a plane crash in 2007. Breedlove's vehicle, renamed the "Sonic Arrow", was rolled out on the Black Rock Desert for a photo opportunity on October 15, 2007. The effort to run the car continues with the team presently recruiting drivers.
Speed records in an AMX
Craig Breedlove was put on the payroll at American Motors Corporation (AMC) in 1968 to prepare the automaker's pony and high-performance cars, the Javelin and the AMX, for speed and endurance records.
In January 1968, one month before the official introduction of the AMX model, Breedlove, his wife Lee, and Ron Dykes, established fourteen United States Automobile Club (USAC) and Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) certified speed records for cars of any engine size, and 106 national and international speed and endurance records for cars with less than 488 cu in (8.0 L).
Two cars were prepared for the speed runs. The shattered records included a Class C AMX (standard 290 cu in (4.8 L) engine with 4-speed manual transmission) 24-hour average of 140.79 mph (226.58 km/h) that was set by Craig and his wife Lee. New records in a Class B AMX (390 cu in (6.4 L) V8 with a 3-speed automatic) included a 75 miles (121 km) flying start at 174.295 mph (280.501 km/h), and 173.044 mph (278.487 km/h) for 100 miles (160 km) from a standing start.
After the cars were displayed at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1968. Breedlove took the AMX to Bonneville. He established a USAC sanctioned record of 189 mph (304 km/h) as well as an unofficial run of over 200 mph (320 km/h).
He was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1993.
In 2000, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
The Beach Boys' song "Spirit of America" is about Breedlove and his cars.
|August 5, 1963||Breedlove reached 407.45 mph (655.73 km/h) in Spirit of America at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, thus earning him the land speed record.|
|October 13, 1964||Breedlove reached 468.719 mph (754.330 km/h) in Spirit of America at Bonneville, reclaiming the record from Art Arfons.|
|October 15, 1964||Just two days later, Breedlove broke his own record and breached the 500 mph barrier at 526.277 mph (846.961 km/h), in Spirit of America at Bonneville|
|November 2, 1965||Breedlove reached 555.483 mph (893.963 km/h) in Spirit of America Sonic I at Bonneville, reclaiming the record from Art Arfons.|
|November 15, 1965||Thirteen days later, Breedlove breached the 600 mph barrier at 600.601 mph (966.574 km/h) in Spirit of America Sonic I at Bonneville.|
- Twite, Mike (1974). "Breedlove: Towards the sound barrier". World of Automobiles, Volume 2. Orbis Publishing. p. 231.
- Ross McWhirter. Guinness Book of World Records 1979. p. 296. ISBN 0-8069-0130-6. "The car was powered by a General Electric J79 GE-3 jet engine, developing 15000 lbs. static thrust at sea level."
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