One hundred and three years ago, American Fred Marriott set a land speed record of 127.659 miles per hour. What's more, he did it in the Stanley Steamer, a steam-powered car.
Whilst internal combustion and other engines have since increased the land speed record many times over, his record still stands as the highest speed ever officially recorded by a steam-powered vehicle. (The Barber-Nicholls team managed a one-way recorded speed of 145 mph in 1985, but could not complete the required second run in the other direction. Both runs are required, the final speed being an average of both, so their accomplishment remains unofficial.)
Now a new vehicle, the British Steam Car, and a new team, are standing by to have a go at this long-enduring record. Their first run will be at 6 a.m. Pacific time tomorrow morning, August 21st. According to the Daily Mail:
The Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) officials, who arrived on the site yesterday, are due to calibrate and record the team's official world record attempt.
It recognises a land speed record as the average speed of two passes made across the same measured distance in opposing directions within 60 minutes of each other. The time of the two runs is then averaged to obtain the official recorded speed.
If unsuccessful tomorrow, runs will take place until August 22, the team spokesman said.
Weighing three tons, the British Steam Car is made from a mixture of lightweight carbon-fibre composite and aluminium wrapped around a steel space frame chassis.
Using Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG), the car is fitted with 12 boilers containing nearly two miles of tubing. Demineralised water is pumped into the boilers at up to 50l a minute. The burners produce three megawatts of heat - the equivalent of 23 cups of tea per second.
This superheats the steam to 400C which is injected into the turbine at more than twice the speed of sound. This in turn drives the rear wheels. Large Goodyear tyres and brake discs help bring it to a stop, and the car is also kitted with a parachute.
In April, during testing at the Ministry of Defence's Thorney Island facility in Emsworth, Hampshire, the car reached a speed of 72mph and all the vehicle's systems worked perfectly.
Officials said the team needs seven miles of track to make the record attempt, which is why it can't take place in the UK.
However the team has had to overcome sweltering heat in California, with temperatures reaching 40C by mid-morning.
The heat has resulted in numerous problems, including causing the car's electrical components to overheat and liquid propane to vaporise.
Project manager Matt Candy said plentiful supplies of dry ice have been used, enabling them to cool the components without the need for using water.
But he added: 'It has another advantage for us - low altitude. Being only 2,300ft above sea level, the air at Rogers Dry Lake Bed is denser than at higher altitude, providing more oxygen for the car's burners.'
There's more at the link, including more photographs.
Here are two short video clips of test runs prior to the record attempt. The first is of a test in England, during which the car reached over 70 mph.
The second is from an on-board camera, showing a recent test run at Edwards AFB in California, with the car reaching a speed of over 100 mph.
Congratulations to the team on getting this far, and the best of luck to everyone for the record attempt. Oh - and if you run out of fuel for the boilers, please feel free to borrow some of our more vociferous politicians. They spout enough hot air to power a dozen steam cars like yours!