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Spirit1.jpg (48686 bytes)

377.754 MPH in 4.65 Seconds

15,000 Horsepower

10,000 LBS of Thrust

112 Gallons of Fuel Per Mile

100 MPH Per Second

5G's Constant Acceleration

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In late 1969, Craig Breedlove, the king of land speed racing, desired to become the "Fastest Man on Earth" for a sixth time. Craig had held the unlimited world land speed record for automobiles five times previously. From1963 through 1965 his series of turbojet-powered "Spirit of America" cars had annexed the world land speed record at, 400, 500, and then 600 miles per hour. His 1atest record of 600.601 mph had just been eclipsed (622.407 mph) by the "Blue Flame" driven by drag racer Gary Gabelich.

Craig realized that in order to regain the land speed record he would need a whole' new type of car. A rocket car, with more power then any man had previously conceived of putting in an automobile seemed the answer. A car that could break the sound barrier at ground level and keep accelerating, ie. A supersonic car Wow! At the Bonneville Salt Flats (the prime venue where historically such speeds could be safely attained) the speed of sound is about 760 mph. Craig's goal was to build a car that could hit 1,000 mph! To power such a car, Craig would employ a "hot rodded" lunar descent engine from the Lunar Module that NASA had used to land Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon earlier that very year.

In 1969, the country was dealing with internal political and economic turmoil due to the Viet Nam war and racism disputes. Sponsorship for such a radical car was hard to come by. People did not believe that such a car could be constructed. A demonstrator was clearly needed. Craig decided he would build a rocket dragster and tour the various drag strips, ultimately setting track records wherever he went. He was showcasing the successful and outrageous performance of this radical design as the test bed for his proposed 1000 mph rocket car simultaneously promoting its sponsorship.

American Motors Corporation (AMC) had entered into a contract with Craig Breedlove to build a highly streamlined, wheel-driven car powered by a supercharged AMC 390-cubic inch V8 automobile engine. The end result was the most aerodynamically clean car ever built for a land speed record attempt. American Motors Corporation spent in excess of $250,000 engineering this arrow-shaped car. It had a coefficient of drag of a mere 0.25 and an overall frontal area of 10 square feet. So small and efficient was this design that AMC was confident this car could exceed the current wheel-driven land speed record of 409 mph using only one engine! In 1969, this record was held by the Summers Brothers "Golden Rod", a racer that used four in-line Chrysler 426-cubic-inch "Hemi" engines burning alcohol. Later, American Motors suffered economic problems and reluctantly had to shelve its racing activities.

However, all was not lost. Craig Breedlove knew this was the perfect vehicle. It was to be the test bed for his newly conceived and proposed 1 ,000mph supersonic rocket- engine car program. Development work began. Over $100,000 was spent on the conversion and development of the modified Lunar Descent engine. Rocket engineers who worked for TRW and Morton Thiokol (builders of the Space Shuttle's solid rocket engines) were brought in to design Breedlove's Hot Rod Rocket Engine. It could be lighter than its aerospace counterpart because it would be run only for a short period of time (less than 6 seconds). "Fire it full blast and shut it off before it melts!" was the idea. The flame (or plume as it is technically referred to as it left the engine) would be at 5,700 degrees Fahrenheit. The exhaust gases were then traveling at over 6,000 feet per second or Mach 5-plus i.e. the heat of steel-cutting welding torch at ten times the speed of a tornado!

The end result was a bi-propellant rocket engine using unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH), a highly refined, caustic and corrosive acid, as fuel. The oxidizer used was nitrogen tetroxide (NTO). These fuels are "Hypergolic" which means that they only need to touch each other to explode. No ignition system was necessary to light them. They were blown into the stainless steel engine with inert nitrogen gas and lit upon contact. The dragster would burn 28 gallons of fuel in 6 seconds! It would not win any fuel economy awards at this rate, as it would consume 112 gallons of fuel per mile! The "Spirit of America" (as it was christened) dragster was the only car in history to use a real rocket engine. Rockets incorporate a fuel and an oxidizer so that they can run in the vacuum of space or even underwater. The specific impulse for this type of engine was about 240, which means that for every pound of fuel burned per second 240 pounds of thrust would be produced!

The "Spirit of America" accelerates at 100 mph per second, constantly. It develops 10,000 lbs. of thrust, and 15,000 horsepower, equivalent to the power of three modem day Top Fuel dragsters. The difference is that a nitro-fueled dragster makes 5000 horsepower, but only for part of the time it is under power during a drag race. Craig's rocket delivered 15,000 horsepower constantly! When Breedlove's car was completed it weighed 1,600 lbs. In comparison, the current holder of the world land speed record, Richard Noble's Thrust SSC from Great Britain, produces 96,000 horsepower and weighs 22,500 lbs. Its power to weight ratio is 4.26. The Spirit of America's ratio is 6.25, a whopping 68% greater, making it pound for pound the most powerful automobile ever built.

The completed car was built using a steel tube frame wrapped with a body of aluminum and composite materials. The rocket components were built of stainless steel. Breedlove, who is an excellent fabricator, also had talented input from famous former drag racer, Tony "The Loner" Nancy. George Britting developed the distinct "supersonic droop nose." He was also the creator of the "Britting Bridge", a design for dragster chassis, which is still employed today. Through the years of 1971-1973 the car was run at many drag strips and set track records all around the country. It ran straight and true, even at speeds over 300 mph. The car was usually under power for one-eighth mile because the shutdown area at most V4-mile facilities were not designed to accommodate a 300+ mph car. In this endeavor, Breedlove had on board sponsors such as Goodyear, Firestone, Dupont, Valvoline, Cragar, Bell, Ovaltine, English Leather, General Foods and Shell. (There were as many paint schemes on the car as there were sponsors.) In the fall of 1973, Craig took the rocket dragster-now christened "The English Leather Special"- to the famous Bonneville Salt Flats to see what it could really do. It had been modified and lightened. The steering fin and the symmetrical nose had been changed to George Britting's sleek droop-pointed nose. This snout design was also to be incorporated on his proposed future 1,000mph-rocket car.

At Bonneville, after a series of test runs, Craig was ready for afull-tilt,full-thrust engine blast. Even though he was strapped into the car so tightly he could barely breathe, he forced himself against the seat and held his head perfectly straight. He knew that when the rocket engine lit, his neck muscles were not strong enough to bring his head back to the forward position! The Spirit of America rocket dragster can accelerate at over 5Gs constantly. In comparison an astronaut aboard the Space Shuttle only experiences 3Gs on his way into orbit. A fast sports car, a Corvette for example, will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds. The Spirit of America rocket dragster accelerates from 0 to 100 in 1second! Craig was about to use full duration at full thrust. He set the regulator and sequencer accordingly. He was nervous, even though he had driven land speed cars at over 600 mph, none of his creations could accelerate as hard as this machine. As one of his crewmembers said, "This baby really hurries!"

Given the all clear, Craig stepped down on the sequencer pedal, which opens the low-flow circuit. This lights the engine, stabilizes the burn and reduces the initial impact on the car and driver. The car lurches forward and then Craig pushes the button on the steering wheel, which opens the high-flow circuit. With a mighty blast the engine comes on to full power in a fraction of a second. The car seems to explode behind him as he is hurtled forward. So sudden is the impact of the rocket blast, it startles the waiting crew. The instant power of rocket engine lighting is something you never get used to. Craig disappears down the salt flats trailing forty feet of flame, accelerating at 100 mph per second.

Inside the cockpit, Craig only hears a low, loud rumbling sound. The force of acceleration is tremendous and he is pushed back hard into the seat. His breathing is labored and his heart is pounding trying to force blood through his body, which under acceleration now weighs 800 lbs. The car tries to dart left and right as he corrects its movements. Through the traps and a fraction of a second later the engine runs out of fuel. Shutdown! 4.2 seconds and he is traveling at over 425 mph. He is slammed forward against the six-point harness from the air drag. Something went wrong... the car snaps right, the nose lifts. He popped the parachute and it tore off. The car cartwheels down the salt, banging, slamming and dancing on its edges. It finally comes to rest on its wheels facing almost totally backwards. By the grace of God, Craig lives to race another day. He duly established a new Federation International Motorcyclist (FIM) quarter-mile speed of 377.754 mph in the traps, peaking at 425 mph with an elapsed time of 4.65 seconds before crashing. Craig is distraught and swears he will never race a car again. Craig says, "As much as I drove that car, I never got used to it... ." (Craig later deduced that the cause of the crash was caused by the extra heavy NHRA-spec fuel bottles making the rear of the car too heavy, resulting in nose lift at high speed, and subsequent loss of control.)

Maybe, Craig, there are some things a man isn't supposed to get used to. To this day no nitro-fueled dragster has even come close to this speed. The fastest terminal speed at time of writing is just over 330 mph. The Spirit of America rocket dragster, having successfully completed its purpose of being the test bed for his proposed 1,000 mph rocket car was sold to raise money for the new project. Fate stepped in. Laws were passed that prevented the fuels used by the rocket dragster to travel across state lines (UDMH and NTO are extremely volatile). Two drivers were killed in rocket cars that ran simpler monopropellant rocket engines running at speeds around 290-300 mph. The days of the rocket dragster were relegated to the pages of history. Maybe automobile racing wasn't quite yet ready for NASA -based rocket propulsion systems. As for Craig Breedlove, it took him almost twenty years to want to speed-record race again. Today he is back with his new land speed car patterned after his proposed 1,000-mph rocket car and utilizing lessons learned from his rocket dragster. Instead of a rocket however, his latest car is powered by a turbojet. Maybe a rocket is just a little much!

The Spirit of America rocket dragster changed hands being bought and sold by various wealthy automobile collectors. Eventually Joe "Mr. Custom" Moreno a well- known custom car builder of national and internationally shown lead sleds and hot rods entered the scene. In May 1994, by a zillion to one chance of fate, Joe accidentally discovered it. He found it literally out in the middle of nowhere in a barn forlornly hanging from the rafters. Its then-owner and patron had since passed away. There it was-a one and only piece of LSR history, now alone, neglected and virtually forgotten. Had Joe not entered the scene at this most critical time, this once famous Craig Breedlove rocket- powered dragster might have been lost for all time and quite possibly ended its fabled life in a junkyard. Horrors!

Immediately, Joe began negotiating purchase of the car and three days later he owned it. Its rejuvenation and rebirth program was duly set into motion. Some of the finest Southern California artisans and talents were commissioned and brought on board for this project. Original crew member Al Sharpe, world renowned conceptual artist and designer Steve Stanford, master metal craftsman, Robert Zeller, House of Color's, Pete Santini, Michael Schartel ofSchartel's Lines and Graphic Designs, and designer/drag car builder Tony "The Loner" Nancy. Under Joe's direction, and with the help of these expert craftsmen, refurbishing of this historic vehicle began. It consumed the following three-plus years. The car's fuel tanks had, incidentally, corroded over time due to the caustic fuels left in them. For safety and future legal consideration, the hazardous, volatile and corrosive tanks have been removed. Joe reckons she could run again, but the question is, who is man enough to handle her?

Are you that man?

In 1997, a European show car tour schedule was compiled. In 1998, the Spirit of America rocket car- looking more beautiful then ever- was finished and back in the limelight headed for Europe for the 1998-1999 show tour. The exquisite Stars and Stripes paint scheme finished in pearl accented with 24 carat goldleaf lettering and pyramid gold dust in the clear lacquer top coats combined with the intriguing feminine lines of the car wowed the Europeans!

In the summer of 2000, following a well-received, successful show run, the rocket car came back to Southern California. It has never been shown or put on public display in the United States. It has been kept under wraps to allow its new owner exclusivity in along with the accompanying kudos.

During the active life of the Craig Breedlove rocket car it had many sponsors and consequently a variety of different paint schemes. Joe's artistic vision inspired the Stanford/Santini car's current pearl paint job that surely even Craig Breedlove would be proud of. It is absolutely beautiful!

Joe spent countless dedicated hours and thousands of dollars bringing the Spirit of America Rocket Car back into fighting trim. The Stars and Stripes theme of the Spirit of America truly complements the purposeful, feminine curves of the racecar. A fast All-American woman, what could be more perfect? And as Craig said, "beauty, design, and aesthetics are equally important as horsepower! If it's pretty, it'll go fast!"


Car Craft Magazine, May 1971 Playboy Magazine, May 1972 Hot Rod Magazine, May 1971

Harvey Shapiro, Faster Than Sound. A.S. Barnes and Co. 1975

Cyril Posthumus, and David Tremayne Land Speed Record. Osprey Publishing Ltd. 1985 Dean Moon, Moon Equipment Co. Video Breedlove Rocket at Bonneville 1973

Craig Breedlove and Bill Neely, Spirit of America. Henry Regnery Company. 1971

Thanks to: Craig Breedlove, Ky Michaelson, Franklin Ratcliff, Tony Nancy and Phyllis Moreno

Note-- How the survivability of Breedlove's crashes of both his JET and rocket cars attests to the fom1idable engineering and strength of design.

1963 Bonneville JET car @ 400+mph, loses parachutes sliding sideways-whacks telephone poles ending in lake and submerged over his head right side up-He and car survive!

1972 Dallas Speedway-ROCKET Dragster 1/8 mi @ 300mph air borne along guardrail-He and car survive!

1973 Bonneville-ROCKET Dragster after 1f4 mi traps continues to accelerate to

425+mph then airborne sideways-stops right side up @1800- He and car survive!

1996 Black Rock-JET slides on side @ 675mph stops right side up @ 180- He and car survive.

In both of the above mentioned Rocket Car airborne incidents, Craig's strongly constructed and well designed errant machine miraculously emerged virtually unscathed!!