SSC Tuatara re-takes world's fastest car record after raging brouhaha
Shelby Supercars has cemented its claim that the SSC Tuatara is the world's fastest car – but in a weirdly underwhelming fashion. Its new record of 282.9 mph (455.3 km/h) is nowhere near the previous claim, which was sensationally debunked last year in a storm of internet controversy.
In November, the company claimed its Tuatara hypercar had absolutely obliterated the production car speed record with an astonishing 316 mph (508.5 km/h) two-way average – nearly 20 percent faster than the previous record of 277.87 mph (447.19 km/h) set by the Koenigsegg Agera in 2017.
Smashing through both the 300-mph and 500-km/h barriers for the first time was an unbelievable achievement – quite literally, for a group of YouTube sleuths who put every detail of SSC's record run under extreme scrutiny and found some very weird oddities.
The GPS speed data didn't seem to sync up with the video. Placed side by side against the Agera's run, which happened on the same stretch of Nevada highway, the Agera clearly went quicker between a given two landmarks. The gearbox ratios and engine speeds didn't add up. A helicopter seen out the window of the car on a 360-degree camera shot appeared to be keeping up with the car while the datalogger was showing speeds at which that model of helicopter would literally fall out of the sky.
SSC claimed its record had been validated by Dewetron, makers of its GPS speed tracking box. Dewetron said no it had not. The entire run was thrown into disrepute, SSC withdrew its record claim, and the whole hoo-ha left a nasty smell clinging to the car and the company. Jerod Shelby vowed to run another attempt, this time under every possible form of scrutiny to prove the Tuatara's claims beyond all doubt.
That run was made on January 17, and yes, the Tuatara is once again the world's fastest production car. Among several other official speed tracking experts, Racelogic's Technical Director Jim Lau was on hand to set up and calibrate the multiple VBOX speed tracking systems on the car, and sign his name to certify the new two-way production speed record of 282.9 mph (455.3 km/h), just the thinnest hair faster than the Agera's 2017 run, and well shy of the sensational numbers claimed in November last year.
So why the massive discrepancy? Does this new record prove that the original 316-mph claim was totally bogus, and that SSC was trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the automotive world? Well, no. This official record was set under vastly different conditions.
The biggest change was the location. Instead of some seven miles (11.2 km) of Nevada highway to accelerate on, this time the attempt was made on a space shuttle runway at the Kennedy Space Center. So it was pedal to the metal for just 2.3 miles (3.7 km), leaving a further 0.7 miles (1.1 km) to slow down in.
Then there was the driver; the first attempt was made by pro racer Oliver Webb, who has Formula 3 and Le Mans races on his CV. This record was set by Dr. Larry Caplin, who started out as a dentist, then made multi-millions selling dental care to the US government and military, then got into broader health care work and philanthropy. A well-known supercar collector, Caplin is the owner of the Tuatara, serial #001, which made both attempts.
Caplin, like most of us, doesn't have a whole lot of experience going over 200 mph (320 km/h), so SSC told Car and Driver it actually had the power turned down, about 300 horses less than the full 1,750 horsepower it makes at full tilt, on the first of Caplin's two record runs.
So SSC gets to have its cake and eat it. Yes, the Tuatara is officially the fastest car in the world. No, it didn't get anywhere near 300 mph, but it has credible excuses as to why not, the car certainly didn't top out, and the company definitely plans to take another bite at that cherry.
This is all well and good, but until the Tuatara lays down another 316 mph scorcher, that first attempt still smells dodgy. Perhaps Shelby is stonewalling so as not to throw some hapless minion under the bus, or perhaps, as he claims, he still can't work out what the hell happened back in Nevada. It looks like he'll get another shot at the first official 300 mph run sometime soon, and while Oliver Webb has said he'll never go that fast again, Caplin has signalled that he'd quite like to drive it again in the next attempt.
Either way, the door's still open for Koenigsegg, Hennessey, Bugatti or another dark horse to beat SSC to the punch if they move quickly.
Check out the record runs in the video below.
Source: SSC North America