Steam-engined vehicles are quaint, retro and obsolete ... right? Well, maybe not. The current land speed record for a steam-powered vehicle currently sits at 148 mph (238 km/h), set by the British car Inspiration team in 2009. Now, Chuk Williams’ U.S. Land Steam Record (USLSR) Team is hoping to steal that title in its LSR Streamliner, powered by a heat-regenerative external combustion Cyclone engine – an engine that could someday find common use in production automobiles.

The Cyclone is heralded as being able to run on any fuel – including biofuel – while producing far fewer emissions than internal combustion engines. A full explanation of how it works is available on the company website, but the basic process goes as follows: a fuel-air mixture is ignited to heat coils filled with water, creating super-heated steam which is used to push the pistons down in sequence, thus turning the crankshaft. The “used” steam condenses into water which is then pumped back into the coils (it’s a closed system), while the hot air released with the steam goes to a heat exchanger, where it preheats air headed for the combustion chamber, and cools the exhaust fumes.

The engine used in the LSR Streamliner will be a stock 6-cylinder Cyclone Mark V automotive engine, intended for use in regular cars. It is said to be capable of producing 100 HP with a maximum starting torque of 850 ft/lbs, and should hopefully propel the car to over 160 mph (257.5 kph). However, as the record breaking attempt will only require a run of a few minutes meaning the water won't need to be reused, the engine won't have a full condensing unit.

“Our calculations show that we can break this record with our stock automotive engine,” said Cyclone founder and USLSR team member Harry Schoell. “We considered modifying the engine and combustion chamber to increase power output and speed, which we may do in the future. But for right now, we think it’s important to demonstrate the power, clean emissions and multi-fuel qualities of a Cyclone engine as you may possibly see it one day in an American made Ford or Chevy.”

The fiberglass body of the Streamliner is still under construction, although it is planned to be 21 feet (6.4 meters) in length, weigh 1,600 pounds (726 kg), and have a sub-.2 coefficient of drag.

The USLSR team hope to break the record at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, possibly as early as this August.

Photos courtesy USLSR