- On October 10, the Shelby Supercars (SSC) Tuatara—its creator is no relation to Carroll Shelby—has claimed a world production-car record with a 316.11-mph average speed.
- The Tuatara’s quickest run was 331.15 mph, beating a record set by a Koenigsegg Agera on the same Nevada highway in 2017.
- SSC intends to build a production run of 100 Tuatara hypercars.
They’ll post one sign—”Speed Limit 316,” it says–on the side of Nevada Highway 160, between Las Vegas and Pahrump. They’ll give another just like it to Oliver Webb, because when you break a speed record in 2020, you’ve earned a souvenir.
On October 10, on a closed seven-mile stretch of road, Webb piloted a $1.9 million Shelby Supercars (SSC) Tuatara to a world record for fastest production vehicle. Over two one-way runs, the Tuatara averaged 316.11 mph. The quickest run, at 331.15 mph, broke the previous one-way record of 284.6 mph, set by Koenigsegg on the same stretch of road in 2017, by 46.6 mph. Another notable speed record by a production car happened in September 2019, when a Bugatti Chiron reached 304.773 mph on the Ehra-Lessien test track in Germany.
As for the “world record” designation: The speed run was measured and tested in accordance with Guinness specifications, but has not yet officially been certified by Guinness as a world record.
“Carmakers like this road because it’s long and straight, and there tends not to be much wind,” Webb said. “But they don’t pay attention to the width. It’s quite narrow, with low tolerances on either side of the car, so drivers hate it.”
Jerod Shelby (no relation to Carroll) launched SSC in 1998, setting up shop in his hometown of Richland, Washington. “Nobody knew who we were,” he said. “I decided that this top-speed record would be a good way to get mentioned in the same sentence with Bugatti, Koenigsegg, and Ferrari.”
Shelby grew up obsessed with speed, karting competitively at the national level. After studying mechanical engineering at the University of Washington, he helped start a medical instrument company that produced imaging devices used for early detection of breast cancer. He parlayed earnings from that into a namesake boutique car company dedicated to going very fast.
His first supercar, the Ultimate Aero, clocked 256.18 mph in 2007, stealing the top speed record from the Bugatti Veyron. Shelby had loftier goals for its successor. “Step one, let’s break the current world record, which is 277 mph,” Shelby said. “And if that went well and we felt good about where we were at, the next achievement would be let’s try to bump it up and surpass 300 mph, which would be monumental for us. And the overarching goal, which we set seven years ago now, was to hit 500 kph [312 mph].”
Jason Castriota, formerly of Pininfarina and Bertone, penned the slippery shape and much of the overall engineering concept, drawing on his work for Ferrari and Maserati. The chassis was built around a special carbon-fiber monococque, contributing to its incredibly low 2750-pound dry weight. But the heart of the vehicle is its drivetrain, created by Tom Nelson of Nelson Racing Engines in California.
“Jerod had a specific set of goals—he wanted to have his cake and eat it,” Nelson said. “He wanted a car that’s drivable, a car that’s reliable, a car that revved really high, and something that had a really unique sound, and it also had to have an amazing amount of power.”
The powerplant they settled on was a ground-up design: a custom, all-alloy, flat-plane-crank 5.9-liter twin-turbo V-8 that puts out 1750 horsepower (with E85) and 1341 lb-ft of torque. It redlines at 8800 rpm and makes quite the wail approaching that limit. “At higher revs, at 7800 rpm, it sounds like a symphony to me,” Nelson said. “At idle, it doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard, either.”
Every component was carefully considered. The connecting rods are made out of a special grade of titanium and cost over ten thousand dollars for the set of eight. The crank and cam were custom cut from bars of solid billet steel. The exhaust valves and the turbine wheel are made out of an austenitic nickel-chromium-based super-alloy called Inconel, capable of withstanding immense heat and pressure (SpaceX uses it in the Merlin engines that power the Falcon 9). Even the electrical setup was deliberately over-engineered. “We used machined gold pins for every connector in electrical harness,” Nelson said. “So we won’t have to worry about corrosion or the pins getting loose.”
Chris Muzio from Danzio Performance Engineering created a high-tech package that provides sophisticated traction control, integrating into the transmission for sub-100-millisecond shifts in track mode and ensuring they’re matched to peak rpm. “The amount of sensors that we have on that engine is probably four times what I normally put on an engine,” Nelson said. This means eleven exhaust gas temperature sensors, four oxygen sensors, and seven pressure sensors measuring manifold pressure, turbo pressure, exhaust turbine pressure.
All of this power is routed through a seven-speed robotic-controlled hydraulic, paddle-shifted manual transmission, made by Cima in Italy. “This gearbox actually was originally designed for helicopters, and it’s one of the few on the market that could handle the torque that our powerplant puts out,” Shelby said.
Shelby believes, for the moment, that he’s done chasing this particular milestone. “As far as top speed records, I think we achieved what we wanted to do,” he said.
Webb, for his part, concurs, if a bit more vehemently. “I hope to never do that again,” he said, laughing. “I actually don’t think anyone is crazy enough to attempt it anytime soon. I think it’s unwise to even try.”
“No one needs to go any faster than that.”
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