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Fame on four wheels

A century old record has been broken after Inspiration, a twin-finned car that looks like a prop from Thunderbirds, achieved an average speed of 139.84mph on two runs over a measured mile, at Edwards Air Force Base, California. That may not sound fast when a car has already broken the sound barrier, but this was a steam car, and the record for this type of machine was set in 1906, at an average of 127.7mph.

The British car, with British born driver Charles Burnet III at the wheel, reached a maximum of 151.085mph, a speed greater than the 145.6mph recorded in 1985 by Steamin’ Demon, a car designed by Jim Crank of California and driven by Richard Barber along the Bonneville Salt Flats. Unfortunately, a door flew open on “Steamin’ Demon”, a fire started and the car was unable to make the return run. The Federation Internationale d’Automobiles (FIA), who officially record any record runs, requires cars to run in both directions over a measured mile to cancel out advantages of tail winds in one direction.

(Video after Jump…)

“It was absolutely fantastic,” said Charles Burnett III. “The car really did handle beautifully. What we’ve achieved today is a true testament to British engineering, good teamwork and perseverance.”

A number of minor problems, and the intense heat at Edwards, have held the car back from the record for the last fortnight. But patience finally paid off.

Inspiration is a three tonne construction of carbon composite and aluminium bodywork, space-frame chassis and 300hp twin-stage steam turbines. Painted British Racing Green, the car sounds like a jet fighter and represents the hopes, invention and engineering skills of a team established 10 years ago in Lymington, Hampshire under the patronage of Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.

Design expertise has come from Students at the University of Southampton as well as from Welsh engineer Glynne Bowsher, who previously worked on Thrust SSC, the jet-powered car that broke sound barrier in October 1997, and, at 763mph, holds the world land speed record.

There’s a news video here.