CRAIG BREEDLOVE

 

 

 

 

In 1965 former World Land Speed record holder, Craig Breedlove drove his first "Spirit of America" jet machine 555 mph, then to 600 mph to take the crown for the USA.  The five times record holder was finally beaten by Brit Richard Noble who ran 633.468 in Thrust 2 in October 1983.

 

The Spirit of America was the first of the modern record breaking cars, build within new rules with its three wheel design, narrow stream-lined shape and most significantly turbojet engine. Like most of the other competing vehicles the engine was ex-military, the first Spirit had a GE J47 engine from a F-86 Sabre and was tested at Bonneville Salt Flats in 1962, where difficult handling resulted in failure. Before trying again a new stabilizer was added and a steerable front wheel.

 

 

 

Craig Breedlove and Spirit of America 1

 

 

Born in 1937, Craig bought his first car at the age of 13, a little deuce coupe.  Three years later, when legally allowed to drive, he got his supercharged V8 1934 Ford Hot Rod Coupe up to a remarkable 154 miles per hour on the Mojave Desert dry lakes burning alcohol fuel.  Four years later he later drove a supercharged "belly tank" Oldsmobile engined streamliner to 236 mph on Utah' 5 Bonneville Salt Flats.

 

Growing up in the 1950s in Southern California, the car culture capital, may have had something to do with Craig deciding a career in speed.  He won his first drag race at 16. By 1958, at 21, he was clocking 236 mph in a supercharged Oldsmobile "streamliner" at Bonneville.

 

His father, Norman, was a motion picture studio special effects man. Breedlove's mother, Portia, worked at the studios as a dancer, performing with the likes of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Craig grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Mar Vista and went to Venice High School.  After school, Craig worked at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica as a technician in structural engineering, where he learned many of his design and engineering skills before taking on fire-fighting duty in Costa Mesa. 

 

Employing the aerodynamics he'd learned making model airplanes and working at Douglas Aircraft, Breedlove set to work building a car that would challenge Cobb's record. In the autumn of 1962, his team wheeled Spirit of America onto the salt at Bonneville. It was gorgeous. At a time when American spacecraft looked more like they'd been built by high school science classes than by rocket scientists, Spirit of America looked like something out of "The Jetsons." It was powered not by conventional internal combustion, but by a surplus J-47 jet engine out of a U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom.

 

In 1959, he paid $500 for a military surplus J-47 engine and began building his first "Spirit of America". Breedlove clocked a record run of 407 mph in this car at Bonneville in 1963 to return the world land speed record to America after more than three decades.

 

With sponsorship funds from Shell Oil Co. and Goodyear, Breedlove finished his revolutionary new jet-car in 1962 and took it to Bonneville, expecting to break Englishman John Cobb's land speed record of 394 mph in an effort to bring home the record to America for the first time in more than 30 years. The new car's handling problems prevented Craig from doing that, but his sponsors hung on.

 

 

 

Craig Breedlove - smiling typically

 

 

The 26 year old Craig Breedlove went to Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats again in August 1963 hoping to break John Cobb's 1947 world land speed record of 394.20 mph.  His car no sported a steerable nose wheel and a high, vertical stabilizer on the car.  When he returned, he had indeed driven the fastest vehicle on Earth. But just the nature of the vehicle became a topic for debate because it did not have four wheels and the wheels were not driven.

 

Some said his Spirit of America was not a car but a motorcycle because it had only three wheels. Others said its jet engine meant it wasn't a car or a motorcycle, but something that defied existing classifications. Everyone agreed that Breedlove had driven this 38-ft.-long tricycle in both directions across Bonneville's measured mile at an average speed of 407.45 mph, clearly a record for wheeled vehicles.

 

Tom Green drove 413 mph at Bonneville in February of 1964. Then a drag racer from Ohio, Art Arfons built a land speed car in his back yard he called "Green Monster," using a military surplus J79 jet aircraft engine with afterburner to reach an astounding 434 mph on the Utah salt flats for a new world's record in May of that same year.  Craig returned to Bonneville with Spirit of America to defend his reputation with a new speed record of his own, at 468 mph. Then he went through 500 mph, with another new record of 526 mph.

The new record came at a high price. While surpassing Arfons' newest speed record, Craig lost both drag parachutes and wheel brakes. The Spirit of America sliced through a row of telephone poles at 400 mph and "flew" at 200 mph into an 18-foot-deep salt brine pond. He had to swim out to save his life, but was miraculously unscratched. Although it never ran again, the record-setting car has been a main hall exhibit in Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry for the past 30 years. Arfons responded by breaking that record with 536 mph.

 

With 5,000 pounds of thrust, it wasn't just pretty, it was fast. On Oct. 5, 1963, clocking a two-way average of just over 407 mph, Breedlove brought the land speed record back to the United States for the first time in 32 years. He broke records with Spirit of America until October 1964, when, at more than 500 mph, his chute snapped off. The car overshot the track, smashed through some telephone poles, skipped across a saltwater pond and sank like a stone. Breedlove walked away wet, but unscathed, and with a record -- 526.28 mph. He's the only driver to nearly drown while setting a land speed record.

 

At a time when drag racing was the fastest-growing sport in the United States, Craig Breedlove was a hero. While his speed records won him the kudos of his racing brethren, his matinee-idol good looks assured him photo spreads in national magazines. People called him Captain America.  Even the Beach Boys sang his praises on their "Little Deuce Coupe" album:

 

An airplane, an auto now famous worldwide,
Spirit of America, the name on the side.
The man who would drive her, Craig Breedlove by name,
A daring young man played a dangerous game ...

But despite Breedlove's confirmed speed, Cobb's record still stood, that is, for motor-driven 4-wheeled vehicles.  Breedlove's land speed record was recognized by the United States Auto Club, which had established a new class for wheeled jet-propelled land vehicles, and by the international motorcycle body, Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme, as a world record for 3-wheeled vehicles.

 

In August 1963, Breedlove's confidence and hard work paid off.  One record, however, does not a legend make; few people outside the racing world had ever heard of Craig Breedlove.  But jet engines quickly lit the afterburners of competition.  In 1964 Art Arfons came on the scene with his Green Monster to give Breedlove some serious competition. This started a trade between the two men which was to last for three years.

 

This eventually started Craig on his Sonic 1 rocket powered car.  

 

Lately, Craig has been developing his supersonic Spirit of America 3 to challenge the current 763 mph record held by Andy Green in Thrust 2 since October of 1997.  Breedlove plans to reclaim the record soon with a run of 800 miles per hour in his new snazzy good looking Spirit of America 3.

 

Date of Birth:  3/23/1937  Find on Amazon:  Craig Breedlove

 

 

 

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