The SSC Tuatara broke 330 mph and broke a world record
Koenigsegg's Agera RS was demoted to the 'world's fastest development vehicle.'
A new king has ascended hypercar hill. On Saturday, October 10, Nevada was turned into the high-speed runway from which SSC North America's 1,750 HP hypercar, the SSC Tuatara, made a pair of record-setting runs in the search of the organization to regain the title of "world's fastest production vehicle."
Jerod Shelby, SSC North America's founder and owner, had a specific Tuatara design goal: pace. "When we began designing the Tuatara in 2010, [breaking production car speed record] was the ultimate target," Shelby told Engadget. "It's a record that, as we found in 2007 when we broke the record with the Ultimate Aero, it also drives each part of the car and allows the architecture to be almost flawless in all areas of the vehicle."
Shelby (no association with late racing driver Carroll Shelby) began SSC North America in Richland Washington in 1998. From 2004 to 2013 , the company manufactured the Ultimate Aero and in 2007, the six-liter supercharged V8 sports car was dubbed "world's fastest production vehicle" with an estimated top speed of 410 km / h (256.18 mph). The Aero retained its title for three years until the advent of the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport in 2010, which reached 267,856 mph before being detronized by Koenigsegg Agera RS in 2017.
The Ultimate Aero "was a perfect testbed to see what assembly styles worked, what was doable, real world conditions, and all that," Shelby said. "When we went to Tuatara, I really just needed a blank sheet of paper."
"It won't be based on anything else," he said. "Forget what it feels like, what to do with this car? Then internally, theory was 'exceeded' for our research and design team."
The process started with Shelby recruiting former Pininfarina stylist Jason Castriota. The two set about designing "aesthetically appealing car," Shelby said. That includes a carbon-fiber aerospace skin that knocked down the Tuatara's curb weight to a measly 2,750 pounds.
The concept was then turned over to the team at Podium Engineering, an Italian aerodynamics company that routinely deals with F1 crews, striving to achieve a minuscule.280 drag coefficient and, Shelby said, "a balanced downforce from 150 miles an hour through this vehicle's top speed."
After almost three years of massaging the concept, including adding an active rear aero wing, the Podium team succeeded in both targets, rating a.279 drag coefficient (nearly equal to the Polestar 2) and achieving a front 37 percent-63 percent rear aero balance at speeds above 150 mph.
"We're incredibly proud of our design," Shelby said. "We believe it's a timeless concept that will be cutting-edge 10 years from now, and at the same time very healthy and reliable for high-speed races."
Shelby then joined up with Tom Nelson from Nelson Racing Engines in Chatsworth, California to build the Tuatara's 1,750 HP 5.9-liter twin turbo V8 engine. "In the early 2000s, we discovered that many people would create a forced induction motor or turbo motor," Shelby explained. "The main difference is making them work and being able to go full blast for minutes at a time."
"We made a kit we thought was completely bulletproof," he said. "And then we spent months on the dyno trying to break these engines — basically driving them at full speed, full boosting until things glowed orange, and they didn't break. I'm pounding on my wood desk here, but in all these years [of design] and the last year of real-world testing, there's an engine failure or gearbox failure.
The engine's sound was also very significant. "I wanted cranky flat plane," Shelby said. "I needed music that sounded like nothing else. I didn't want a Ferrari wail, and I didn't want a muscle car rumble.
The Tuatara's third pillar is its air intake system. Shelby points out that "intake air temperatures are definitely one of the most important things for us, when you're on a road race track or top speed." The machine, which took a few years of construction outside the engine, would keep the intake air temperature within 15 degrees F of the setting. "It doesn't matter what the outside temperature is or how hard you're driving this car," Shelby said, "and it proved incredibly necessary when we just ran this last race."
Saturday's effort was made over 10 months. The crew had to negotiate with local and state officials to shut down Highway 160 safely for the weekend, then repeatedly drive the seven-mile stretch, take notice of the positions of asphalt seams and other dangers that could throw off a vehicle going nearly five times the speed limit, and get their experienced pilot, UK's Oliver Webb, relaxed in Tuatara b SSC NA also took over Tonopah Airport for the week using its aircraft hangar as headquarters and runways as Webb warm-up tracks.
"We needed to make sure we had some seat time before this record for straight line testing [Webb] and we were still really concerned about safety when we spoke about these high speeds," Shelby said.
Crosswinds is among Webb 's key safety issues. When driving at nearly 300 mph, even a moderate bunny will drive a car around the lanes and theoretically clear off the track. Webb "had spent some time talking to [Niklas Lilja], his [drove the] Koenigsegg in 2017," Shelby said. "In 2017, they had some wind problems in the desert on the same stretch of road, which caused some frightening moments."
According to Shelby, conditions were almost ideal all week, with sunny sky and almost no wind. So they changed for the breezy as soon as the SSC NA squad arrived on Saturday morning. Still, winds were deemed strong enough to propel the team ahead.
"There we had world record certified witnesses," Shelby recalled. "We put the satellite equipment in the vehicle, making sure it was ready and filming. [Webb] took the first run, he went down and out, and when he got in he'd done 287 miles per hour. "That alone was enough for SSC NA to hold the title of" world's fastest manufacturing car "but not good enough for Jerod Shelby. "Our overall target when we began this project in 2010 was 500 km / h, or 312 mph," he said.
After letting the tires cool for around 20 minutes (since even in the early morning hours, on-site temperatures were about 98 degrees), the team agreed to make another run. "We set up satellite equipment and went the other way," Shelby said. "When he got up, he said 'the wind is getting worse, I had a bit of a frightening moment — I moved over a lane'" after reaching a mid-track crosswind. And with the disruption, Webb managed to coax the Tuatara up to 301 mph, smashing the world record and entering the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300 + as just a handful of crack 300 cars.
"All of a sudden Oliver says, 'Oh, can I quickly talk to you in the transporter? 'Remember Shelby. "He said, 'I'll just do another sprint. The wind is coming up and when I got hit [gust], I didn't like it. I'm sorry, I know we've got lofty ambitions here, but I just can't do it.'"
"I said 'I really understand, I get it.' But mentally I'm saying, 'if we can just make that move over 300, we've really done something here.' At the same time, my stomach-like sunk because I knew my target of 500 kilometers an hour or 312 mph was off the table now," Shelby confessed.
Webb and the team ready the Tuatara for one more sprint while Shelby jumped into a chase vehicle to reach the hypercar at the other end of the track:
The car is lying there, the hoods are up, there are techs testing tyre times and all. [Webb] lies on the ground in front of the vehicle, his head in his lap. It really didn't look good. It wasn't right.
As I walked up, he said, 'I'm done, I never do this again. I had it with two separate gusts, pushing me over two lanes, bringing me in a rumble strip. We had a really close call.'
And he's sweating. I say, intense. There's a part of me so excited and glad he was safe. Still we're done. I know it really wasn't a decent pace sprint. As those feelings struck me, a surprising Webb looked up and said, 'Jerry, I saw a massive amount on show.'
331.15 miles / hour. Oliver Webb aboard SSC Tuatara didn't just crack a land speed record — he smashed it entirely. His two fastest runs averaged speed to 316 mph, demolishing the previous record by 38 mph and also exceeding Shelby's own 312 mph target. Webb also registered "Fastest Flying Mile on a Public Road" at 313.12 mph, "Fastest Flying Kilometer on a Public Road" at 517.16 km / h, and "Best Speed on a Public Road" at 331.15 mph.
"He's the world's fastest guy right now for a production car," Shelby said. "That was one of those experiences I'll definitely never witness again in my life. It was amazing.
But don't allow SSC North America to rest on its laurels, the organization is still exploring potential design upgrades — maybe even an electric Tuatara.
"I 'd say the record we've just set was hard to do in an electric car," Shelby said. "I mean they'd beat us to 80, 100 miles per hour, but I'd challenge every existing EV to get to 330 as we've done."
"I just love the combustion engine and acceleration, and I know it won't last for many years," Shelby summarized. "I'm seeing what's happening there. I want to see where EV technology goes. And at the right time, that'll be part of the company 's future.