(This story was updated to note the correct location of SSC’s headquarters.)
Unless you’re a true performance junkie you might never have heard of SSC but the little company, based in West Richland, Washington, just landed an impressive spot in Guinness World Records latest book, its Tuatara hypercar posting an average speed of 316.11 mph on a stretch of blacktop outside Las Vegas last week.
That positions SSC ahead of such formidable competitors as Bugatti and Koenigsegg, both of which had previously set land speed records – and which are expected to protest SSC’s claim to the title.
It’s actually the second time since the company nabbed the speed record a first time with its original model, the Ultimate Aero, noted Jerod Shelby, SSC’s CEO — a one-time medical equipment inventor who is not related to that other legendary speed junkie, the late Carroll Shelby.
“It’s been 10 years since we held this record with our first car, the Ultimate Aero, and the Tuatara is leagues ahead. Its performance reflects the dedication and focus with which we pursued this achievement,” said Shelby. “We came pretty close to meeting the theoretical numbers, which is astonishing to do in a real world setting on a public road. America’s new claim to victory in the ‘land-based space race’ is going to be tough to beat.”
Rumors that something big was going on had begun to circulate on social media during the last few weeks, fanned by reports that Nevada officials were planning to shut down a portion of state Highway 160. Initially, SSC executives downplayed the reports, noting they frequently used that stretch to test out a prototype of the Tuatara.
But then, on Oct. 10, they made their official run along a seven-mile stretch of the smooth, two-lane blacktop. The 29-year-old driver, Oliver Webb, actually hit an astounding 331.15 mph on this second attempt, but Guinness rules call for averaging two runs in opposite directions. The first effort was a more modest, albeit blindingly fast 301.07 mph, so the number going into the record book is 316.11, or 508.73 km/h.
And that means the Tuatara has a solid lead over its two most formidable competitors. A year ago, Bugatti had nabbed the speed crown with an average of 304.77 mph with a prototype of its Chiron model, taking the crown away from the Koenigsegg Agera RS which, in 2017, had averaged a seemingly mundane 277.87 after its own twin runs.
SSC actually gets to claim four records with its Oct. 10 effort, not only that of Fastest Production Vehicle but, also:
- “Fastest Flying Mile on a Public Road” at 313.12 mph (503.92 km/h);
- “Fastest Flying Kilometer on a Public Road” at 321.35 mph (517.16 km/h); and
- “Highest Speed Achieved on a Public Road” at 331.15 mph (532.93 km/h).
If anything, Webb seemed almost disappointed with the results. “As I told Jerod, the car wasn’t running out of steam yet,” he said, adding, “There was definitely more in there. And, with better conditions, I know we could have gone faster.” Webb blamed crosswinds “as all that prevented us from realizing the car’s limits.”
SSC, which was founded in 1998 and originally known as Shelby SuperCars Inc., managed to create the Tuatara with an in-house team of just 24 employees. It does rely on outside help, however, notably including designer Jason Castriota who has worked for brands as diverse as Pininfarina and Ford – helping pen the new Mustang Mach-E battery-electric vehicle for the latter manufacturer.
Intentionally looking a bit like the New Zealand lizard for which it is named, the SSC Tuatara is powered by a 5.9-liter twin-turbo V-8 producing as much as 1,750 horsepower using an E85 gas/alcohol blend. With its carbon-fiber monocoque, it weighs just 2,700 pounds, giving it an almost unheard-of power-to-weight ration.
SSC plans to produce just 100 of the hypercars in the next five years. But it’s also working on a slightly tamer model expected to make around 800 horsepower. By comparison, it will be reasonably affordable — at least for those capable of stroking a check for somewhere around $400,000 to $500,000.