Last month, we reported that the British Steam Car had its sights set on several long-standing world records – and we’re happy to report that they’ve smashed not one, but two in the last week of August at Edwards Air Force Base in California. On Tuesday, August 25, they broke the world’s longest-standing speed record with a 139.843mph measured mile and then, the next day, clobbered the record for a measured kilometer with a speed of 148.308mph.
Part of the quirkiness of the project is that, due to the nature of the engine, the British Steam Car takes 2.5 miles to accelerate and another 2.5 miles to decelerate, so each record-breaking run was over 6.5 miles. On top of that, the FIA requires that two runs be averaged to calculate the official recorded speed, and that both must take place within 60 minutes. It proved something of a challenge for the team to turn things around that quickly.
Nonetheless, driver Charles Burnett III managed to break Fred Marriott’s 1906 measured mile record with time to spare. His first run peaked at a speed of 136.103mph, while the second got up to 151.085mph and the average of 139.843mph – while still to be formally confirmed by the FIA – is a substantial advance on Marriott’s old steam car record of 127mph.
Emboldened by their success, the next day the Steam Car team had a crack at a second record – the measured kilometer. By removing a few of the inhibitors from the boilers – and blessed with a perfect, cool day – test driver Don Wales managed a peak speed of over 155mph and a record-breaking average of 148.308mph over the two runs. Again, this new time is subject to ratification by the FIA.
Weighing over three tons, the 25-ft British Steam Car is an eccentric mix of new and old ideas. The space frame chassis, wrapped in aluminum and carbon-fiber composite, is cutting edge. But the steam-powered heart of the beast – with 12 boilers and over two miles of tubing - slightly less so. However the combination achieves remarkable results: the steam is superheated to around 400 degrees Celsius and injected into the turbine at more than twice the speed of sound.
Still, the times achieved would seem to suggest that – even with the advantages of another 103 years of technological advances – a steam car will only ever go so fast. Or is there a further challenge on the horizon?