The Spirit of America
In 1965 Craig Breedlove took his amazing jet machine called the “Spirit of America” to a record breaking 600 miles per hour. Considered the first of the modern record breaking cars the Spirit was a three wheel design, narrow and streamlined equipped with a turbo jet engine. The engine is ex military as were most of the other competing vehicles at that time.
Craig began his quest for speed at the age of 13 buying his first car, a little deuce coupe. Craig did not waste any time getting his Ford up to 154 miles per hour by supercharging the V8 in it. He took it to the Mojave Desert as soon as he was legally allowed to drive. Craig Breedlove the teenager won his first race by the age of 16. Years later in 1958 at the age of 21 he took an Oldsmobile “streamliner” up to 236 MPH.
After graduating from Venice High School in Los Angeles, Craig took on a career as a technician in structural engineering. His work experience from Douglas Aircraft coupled with his childhood hobby building model airplanes proved advantageous.
Craig had his eyes on the worlds land speed record set by John Cobb´s Railton-Mobil Special. This dream became a reality for young Craig Breedlove in autumn of 1962. With his team in tow and a new creation called “Sprit of America” they took to the salt at Bonneville. Looking like an episode out of The Jetsons” Craig wheeled his 3 wheel creation powered by the heart of an U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom onto the flats.
It´s a bird, it´s a plane...is it George Jetson?
1963 The Spirit of America turned in a record mind blowing 407 MPH with Craig behind the wheel. This was more than enough to bring home the coveted land speed record back to America after more than 3 decades.
After returning home from driving the fastest vehicle on Earth, controversy and debate began to surface. The talk of having only three wheels rather than four caused uproar among the elite speed pilots. Others had issue with the fact that these wheels were not driven but went along for the ride. So with a jet engine meant it could not be called a car or a motorcycle. The fact that this had only 3 wheels also meant it could not be a car, but was it a motorcycle?
One thing everyone did agree on was that this 38 foot long tricycle was driven back and forth in both directions across Bonneville´s measured mile at an average speed of 407.45 mph, clearly a record for wheeled vehicles.
With fierce competition Craig defended his record a few more times breaking the 500 MPH mark. The new record came at a high price. 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. A guy named Arfons would later respond with his own record, breaking Craig’s 526 MPH record with a run of 536 mph. Craig does still own another record; 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. His speed records won him several kudos and 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.
Art Afrons “Green Monster” had Crag so worked up he could not let go of his desire and passions. He began to work on another project called the Sonic I also named the Spirit of America, only this one would have four wheels. August 1963 the record would change hands again when Craig went 555 MPH, then again when Afrons took his machine to 576 a week later. Later in the season would be another record breaking barrier by Mr. Breedlove, 600 MPH. With freezing rain water standing on parts of the course a determined Breedlove would set a new Unlimited World Land Speed Record of 600.601 mph.
The record of 600.601 made Breedlove the first man to break the 400, 500 and 600 mph barriers on land. The last time the record had been broken six times in a single year was 1904 and Henry Ford was a part of it. Afron was never able to better this mark set by Craig Breedlove although giving it his best attempt. Both Americans would break the land speed records 11 times between 1963 and 1965. Over a 200 MPH gain in just over 28 months.
After finally satisfying this area of need “Captain America” Craig Breedlove would retire his Sonic I and begin a new chapter in history. Craig set a number of long-distance speed records for American motors, driving AMC passenger cars.
Breedlove drove a 1968 AMC AMX to a speed and endurance record in with a 24 hour average speed of 140.79 MPH. Craig established fourteen USAC certified speed records for cars of any engine size as well as 106 national and international speed and endurance records.
The famed land speed record of 600.601 miles per hour would hold on for another five years until 1970.
The next recorded land speed record would be held for 13 years. This milestone was accomplished by the “Blue Flame” rocket car of Gas Co. driven by Gary Gabelich . Blistering the record by 22 miles per hour left Craig with the decision to retire his Sonic I. The Sonic I car is now on special loan to the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.
During the 1970’s Craig Breedlove campaigned a hydrazine fueled rocket dragster powered with a lunar module. This experienced left Craig with the idea of another land speed creation with rocket power. Craig eventually abandoned this idea in the mid 80’s due to increased restrictions on rocket engines.
The record is currently held by a man by the name of Andy Green. In October of 1997 he took the record to a crazy fast 763 miles per hour, a record which still stands today. This F-4 Phantom II jet powered ThrustSSC is recorded as the first ever land vehicle to break the sound barrier. Andy Green a Royal Air Force fighter pilot Squadron leader accomplished the supersonic record on the desert of Black Rock Nevada.
Breedlove began work on another vehicle to break the land speed record in 1992. The first run ended in a crash on October 28th 1996 after hitting a speed of 675 miles per hour. Returning in 1997 badly damaged the vehicle would do no better 676MPH. Breedlove believes the vehicle is capable of exceeding 800 miles per hour but has yet to demonstrate this. In late 2006 Craig sold his creation to Steve Fosset an aviator who had his own list of accomplishments. Fosset was to make his attempt at the record in 1997 with the General Electric J79 but tragically died in a plane crash. Steve Fosset was unable to make any runs with the unleaded fueled aluminum space framed vehicle he had bought from Craig.
Engine tests have shown this masterpiece generating over 45,000 horsepower. With financial backing from Chevrolet, AutoZone and Alcoa it comes equipped with solid carbon glass tires. Actor/racer Craig T. Nelson attended the unveiling at Bonneville and has since bought the movie rights to the Craig Breedlove story. Spirit of America 3 carries 118 gallons of fuel, 2.4 gals of oil and weighs 9000 pounds.
December 5th 2007 long time rival, nemeses and good friend Art Arfons passes away. Art left his stamp on the flats with his legendary Green Monster and 3 world land speed records.
After taking a nasty fall in the late 90’s while jogging, Craig was off to undergo outpatient surgery on a torn rotator cuff. He says the delay doesn´t bother him too much. He´s been patient a long time, and besides, "Spirit of America 2000" has a nice ring to it. Whether he takes the record or not, he says he won´t quit. He´d also like to try his hand at the water speed record, currently held by Australian Ken Warby (317 mph).
At the age of 72 there have been no reports of a planned record run by Craig Breedlove.
MyQTRMile has attempted to make contact with Mr. Breedlove and some of the members of his team but have yet to make contact. When we do you all will be the first to know!