Bloodhound supersonic car goes old school with Rolex analog instruments


May 8, 2014

The Rolex analog speedometer and chronometer for the Bloodhound SSC

The Rolex analog speedometer and chronometer for the Bloodhound SSC

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Digital electronic displays are a tremendous asset until they give out, then you end up staring at a blank screen having no idea what’s going on. That’s bad enough sitting at a desk, but in a supersonic car blasting across the South African desert, it’s brown trousers time. To avoid this, watch manufacturer Rolex has developed a pair of bespoke analog instruments as backups for the Bloodhound SSC, the jet-powered car being built for an attempt to set a new world land speed record of 1,000 mph (1,609 km/h).

The record attempt, which is scheduled to take place in 2016 on the Hakskeen Pan desert in South Africa, is no weekend drag racer. It’s powered by three engines; a hybrid solid fuel/hydrogen peroxide rocket engine that’s the largest built in Britain in 20 years to give it an initial boost; a 750 bhp F1 engine to run the pump for the rocket; and the jet engine off a Typhoon fighter plane to punch it over the 1,000 mph mark. It goes without saying that an arrangement like this requires some fairly advanced digital displays to make sure the record attempt doesn't end in a damp squib or a fireball. It also means a belt-and-braces approach to the instruments is cheap insurance against disaster.

The problem is that you don’t just stick a Mickey Mouse watch on the dash as a backup. You need something that’s both rugged and accurate enough to keep the driver informed as to speed and time in the event of a systems failure. It has to be specially engineered to withstand a buffeting at one and a half times the speed of sound at zero altitude as well as the temperature variations of the South African desert.

Rolex, already the official timekeeper for the Bloodhound project since 2011, came up with a pair of analog instruments to provide the most critical information during the supersonic run. Set in the left-and right-hand sides of the dash, they consist of an analog chronograph and an analog speedometer.

Their styling leaves no doubt these were built by Rolex, with the green and gold Rolex crown emblem and the inverted triangle at the zero mark on the chronograph dead giveaways. The dials are backlit for high visibility and Rolex says that the instruments are a critical backup in case the digital displays go out during the precision braking operation from 1,000 mph and for timekeeping during the two runs needed to set the record. Though the instruments are connected to the Bloodhound’s power system, they also have internal batteries in the event of a system failure.

Mr Arnaud Boetsch, Communication & Image Director of Rolex SA, says, “Given Rolex’s history in the world of speed, which goes back to an association with Sir Malcolm Campbell during his World Land Speed Record successes in the 1930s, and Bloodhound SSC’s mission to inspire the next generation to embrace science and technology, the partnership with Bloodhound SSC is a natural fit.”

Sources: Bloodhound, Rolex via A Blog to Watch

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

Nice to see some practical sponsorship from a good company. Anybody can throw in a little money and put a decal or two on the sides, but this is actually useful. And they are already doing the whole timing thing as well!

The Skud

having a little Mach1 indicator on your dial... at about 75% of clocked Priceless...

Michiel Mitchell

And an analogue instrument can give far more information than a digital display.

Speed for example you don't need to register the value of a number (which if changing more than 14 times a second is unreadable,) with an analogue display the position gives the value without the need for numbers, much as you check speed or time by just glancing at a car speedometer or an analogue watch.

Stuart Wilshaw

When Craig Breedlove lost control of the first Spirit of America, one of the first things he noticed was being unable to read the gauges on account of the vibration.

It got worse but he wasn't worried... until he couldn't tell the Sky from the ground anymore!

That was at about half the speed (around 500mph) that they are looking at... with no supersonic pressure wave.

Supersonic speeds, solid wheels... and no suspension?

3 different engine systems?

Look, I work with jets and I LIKE analog military-style gauges BUT there is NO WAY a person can honestly tout analog over digital with something as complex as this.

In ALL fly-by-wire aircraft, "Glass cockpits" are a REQUIEM.

A large display LCD avionics system can blink,change colors or even be used in auto-initiating critical responses if the pilot is "pre-occupied" with other things.


You can even adjust sizes or numbers of items displayed, at will.

At 1,000mph, a mile is covered in about 4 seconds.

This should be seen for what it is: a nod to traditionalism to gratify a sponsor.


Like you need to know what time it is!


Well, if he dies while trying to read those gauges, maybe Rolex can take up Timex's old mantra- if their fancy clock survives....

Leave it to the Brits to flatter themselves on their ability to unnecessarily complicate things!

I'm NOT impressed- I hope they are satisfied with Rolex's financial contribution to be taking such pointless risks...


Gorgeous , the Mach indicator is a particularly nice touch.

When things are happening fast, analogue instruments are far more informative than digital stuff, you can see things like rate of movement in your peripheral vision without having to shift your focus, when I was racing cars and bikes I always had the rev counter mounted so that when the needle was vertical it was time to change gear, same with things like oil and temperature, when the needles are vertical you know they're OK.


Amazing set of instruments. Then as a designer I appreciate such things.


@ Griffin The human perception of time is subjective: just ask a 5 year old how long he has been in the naughty chair. Clocks fix this.

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