October 31, 2006 In an environment where world’s best practice in any human endeavour is expected to last only a few years, it seems ludicrous that a land speed record could survive for a century but that’s the case with the world steam-powered land speed record. A century ago, when the global automotive industry was in its infancy, the internal combustion engine was by no means the only contender as the power source for the personal transportation revolution – electricity and steam were also viable contenders in the first few decades. Indeed, the steam-powered Locomobile was the world's first successful automobile and a machine based on the famous Stanley Steamer automobile attracted global attention on January 27, 1906 when it smashed the outright world speed record of 109 mph setting a new record of 121.57 mph. Now a British team, the British Steam Car Challenge, is preparing to push the World Land Speed Steam-powered Record past 200mph. The car is powered by a 300 bhp Curtis steam turbine and the team is now completing the high-tech boilers for the car, named Inspiration. The boilers will generate a formidable four megawatts of energy – almost enough to power a small town for a day.
The British Steam Car Challenge aims to set the first record at Verneuk Pan, a lake bed in South Africa's Northern Cape, in June 2007, before decamping to Bonneville Salt Flats USA, in August. The official world record for a steam powered car was set back in 1906 at 127.659mph by Fred Marriot driving a Stanley Steamer. In 1985, Bob Barber reached 145.607mph in a steam car but only made one run – to qualify as a world record the average speed of two runs in opposite directions is taken.
The British Steam Car Challenge was started when Lord Montagu of Beaulieu saw a project undertaken by students at Southampton University. His nephew, Charles Burnett III, was inspired by the proposed steam powered record car and assembled the British Steam Car Challenge team. The car was designed by Dr Glynne Bowsher, who was mechanical director on the British Thrust SSC project – the current holder of the outright land speed record (763.035mph). Frank Swanston, a consulting engineer well known in motor racing circles, is leading the drive to complete the project.
There will be two drivers. One is Charles Burnett III, who has raced dragsters and powerboats. The other is Annette Getty, general manager of high-tech engineering company, PDS – which manufactured the tubular steel chassis for Inspiration. She has been preparing for the record attempts by driving a high-powered rally car.