British Steam Car Hits 80 MPH

The British Steam Car team has rebounded from last week’s aborted test with two successful runs, the last shakedowns before the 25-foot car is shipped to the United States for its attempt to break a land speed record set 103 years ago.

Team Steam hopes to achieve 170 mph when it challenges the land speed record for a steam-powered vehicle and says everything is on track. The car fired up like a Russell Hobbs teasmade and proved the water-filtration issue that stymied last week’s test have been solved. The car hit 60 mph on Wednesday, before test driver Don Wales pulled the chute to end the first run. The second test went even better: Wales achieved 80 mph.

“The car is just so powerful, you can get to feel the immense force and power of it,” Wales said in a press release. “It was just itching to get away at the top,” he said.

Team director Lynne Angel said, “It was fantastic to see. She just roared up the runway and deployed her parachute with a great big whoosh. It proves that it works, and we are going to break the world land speed record in steam.”

The team has a lot of work to do before it makes a run at the record Fred Marriott set in 1906 when he achieved 127.659 mph in a Stanley Steamer Rocket.

“Today marked the first time the car has started in superheated steam and gave both the start team and the turnaround team the chance to get some valuable practice, so it has been a great day,” project manager Matt Candy said.

There are some “cooling issues to address,” Candy said, but nothing problematic.
“We are good to go and hope to come back with the record,” he said.

Team Steam has spent more than 10 years preparing to break the longest-standing land speed record in motor sports, and they’ve shown the kind of devotion that comes only when mechanics get to tinker with truly bizarre machinery. Oh sure, the car is fueled by something as harmless and plentiful as water, but that’s where the simplicity ends.

The car uses liquid petroleum gas and a dozen microboilers to generate 3 megawatts of heat, which in turn creates a steam temperature of 750 degrees Fahrenheit. The steam flows through 1.86 miles of tubing and several valves and into a two-stage turbine at twice the speed of sound. The system can turn 10.5 gallons of water a minute into steam at 40 times atmospheric pressure. The turbine sends 360 horsepower to the rear wheels. The car features a steel space-frame chassis; the body is carbon fiber and aluminum.

Wales comes from a long line of speed freaks. He is the nephew of Donald Campbell, who broke eight land and sea speed records in the 1950s and ’60s. He’s also the grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell, who set several records in the 1920s and ’30s. All told, the Campbell family holds more than 20 land and sea speed records. Wales is confident he’ll add to the tally.

“The car really did handle beautifully,” he said. “After that run I feel more confident about breaking the record. The team has worked really hard over the winter and the last 10 years, and this test puts even more faith into the team.”

The car heads to North America next month and will make its run for the record later this summer. The goal is to achieve 170 mph, which would easily surpass the official record of 127.659 mph. Although the Steamin’ Demon achieved 145.607 during a run in 1985, it isn’t recognized by the Federation International de l’Automobile, the worldwide sanctioning body of motor sports.



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