Craig Breedlove


(23/03/1937 - )

Craig Breedlove is a five-time world land speed record holder. He was the first to reach 400 mph (640 km/h), 500 mph (800 km/h), and 600 mph (970 km/h), using several turbojet-powered vehicles that were all named "Spirit of America".

During 1968, Lynn Garrison, President of Craig Breedlove & Associates started to package a deal that saw Utah’s Governor, Calvin Rampton provide a hangar facility for the construction of a supersonic car. Bill Lear, of Learjet fame, was to provide support, along with his friend Art Linkletter. Playboy magazine hoped to have the car painted black, with a white bunny on the rudder. TRW was supplying a lunar lander rocket motor. A change in public interest saw the concept shelved for a period of time.

They also negotiated for the use of the late Donald Campbell's wheel driven Land Speed Record Bluebird.

After a lengthy break from world records and making his name as a real estate agent, Breedlove began work on a new Spirit in 1992, eventually named the Spirit of America Formula Shell LSRV. The vehicle is 538 in long, 100 in wide, and 70 in high (13.67 m by 2.54 m by 1.78 m) and weighs 9,000 lb (4,100 kg), construction is on a steel tube or space frame with an aluminium skin body. The engine is the same as in the second Spirit, a General Electric J79, but it is modified to burn unleaded gasoline and generates a maximum thrust of 22,650 lbf (100.75 kN).

The first run of the vehicle in October 28, 1996 in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada ended in a crash at around 675 mph (1,086 km/h). Returning in 1997 the vehicle badly damaged the engine on an early run and when the British ThrustSSC managed over 700 mph (1,100 km/h), the re-engined Spirit could do no better than 676 mph (1,088 km/h). Breedlove believes the vehicle is capable of exceeding 800 mph (1,300 km/h), but has yet to demonstrate this.

In late 2006 it was announced[1] that Breedlove sold the car to Steve Fossett who was to make an attempt on the land speed record in 2007, marking the end of an era of land speed record breaking. Tragically, Fossett died in a plane crash in 2007.

Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
September 5, 1963 Bonneville Salt Flats, USA Craig Breedlove USA Spirit of America
J-47 Jet Engine
408.312 mph (657.114 km/h) 407.447 mph (655.722 km/h) First person to set record over 400 mph, first to use Jet Engine
Record not accepted by FIA as the car was three wheeled and not powered through its wheels but it was recognised by the FIM as a 'motorcycle and sidecar'
October 13, 1964 Bonneville Salt Flats, USA Craig Breedlove USA Spirit of America - Sonic 1
J-79 Jet Engine
  468.719 mph (754.330 km/h)  
October 15, 1964 Bonneville Salt Flats, USA Craig Breedlove USA Spirit of America - Sonic 1
J-79 Jet Engine
  526.277 mph (846.861 km/h) On that run both parachutes failed, disk brakes burned out and Breedlove wrecked the car ending up in irrigation ditch.
November 2, 1965 Bonneville Salt Flats, USA Craig Breedlove USA Spirit of America - Sonic 1
J-79 Jet Engine
555.485 mph (893.966 km/h) 555.485 mph (893.966 km/h) First person over 500 mph
November 15, 1965 Bonneville Salt Flats, USA Craig Breedlove USA Spirit of America - Sonic 1
J-79 Jet Engine
600.842 mph (966.961 km/h) 600.601 mph (966.574 km/h) First person over 600

Craig Breedlove and Spirit of America, 1962 - RARE!

SPEED DUEL: The Inside Story of the Land Speed Record in the Sixties
Craig Breedlove
Craig Breedlove
Craig Breedlove, with the original Spirit of America. Photo courtesy NHRA Museum.
Had Breedlove waited for rescue in October 1964, we wouldn’t be publishing what would’ve been a tragic photo, indeed. Luckily, Craig swam free to celebrate a new land-speed record of 526.277 mph with these early arrivers and Dean Moon, ace photographer. Source: Hot Rod Magazine, Photographer: Dean Moon
When Craig Breedlove hit the salt in October 1964, Dean was there to document his attempt to reset the LSR and break the 500-mph barrier. We only wish that Moon were still around to tell us whether the run getting underway here is the record-clincher that totaled the car and nearly killed the driver at least two different ways—in which case this would be one of the last pictures of the Spirit, intact and dry. Source: Hot Rod Magazine, Photographer: Dean Moon
If you don’t believe that this was the coolest guy this side of the Beatles in 1964, why did their archrival, the Beach Boys, release a record called Spirit of America? Like Mickey Thompson before him, Craig proved that a California hot rodder with little backing and no formal engineering training could outrun the wealthy Europeans who’d traditionally owned the sport of “record racing.” Unlike M/T, Craig realized their common goal of bringing the LSR back to America, repeatedly. Source: Hot Rod Magazine, Photographer: Dean Moon
Moon’s camera followed Breedlove’s 1964 LSR attempt right through to its successful—and nearly fatal—conclusion. Dean’s excellent composition leads the eye to a telephone pole that snapped like a matchstick on Spirit of America’s return run and to the water beyond, in which the jet “tricycle” wound up mostly submerged. Last time we looked at a Guinness Book of Records, these five-mile-long tracks were still listed as history’s longest set of “skid marks, ” though Craig had lost his brakes just after clearing the timing lights. Source: Hot Rod Magazine, Photographer: Dean Moon

Speed records in an AMX

American Motors' two-seat performance car, the 1968 AMC AMX was heralded before its official introduction in 1968 when Breedlove established fourteen United States Automobile Club (USAC) and Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) certified speed records for cars of any engine size, and 106 national and international speed and endurance records for cars with less than 488 cu in (8 L).[2] Two cars were prepared for the speed runs. The shattered records included a Class C AMX (standard engine with 4-speed manual transmission) 24-hour average of 140.79 mph (226.58 km/h) that was set by Craig and his wife Lee. New records in a Class B AMX (390 cu in (6.4 L) V8 with a 3-speed automatic) included a 75 miles (121 km) flying start at 174.295 mph (280.501 km/h), and 173.044 mph (278.487 km/h) for 100 miles (160 km) from a standing start.[3]


He was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1993.

In 2000, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and still has no signs of giving in.


August 5, 1963 Breedlove reached 407.45 mph (655.73 km/h) in the Spirit of America at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, thus making him the holder of the land speed record.
October 13, 1964 Breedlove reached 468.719 mph (754.330 km/h) in the Spirit of America Sonic 1 at Bonneville Salt Flats, reclaiming the land speed record from Art Arfons.
October 15, 1964 Just two days later, Breedlove beat his own record and breached the 500 mph barrier at 526.277 mph (846.961 km/h), still driving the Spirit of America Sonic 1 at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah.
November 2, 1965 Breedlove reached 555.485 mph (893.966 km/h) in the Spirit of America Sonic 1 at Bonneville Salt Flats, yet again reclaiming the land speed record from Art Arfons.
November 15, 1965 Thirteen days later, in order to compete with Arfons, Breedlove breached the 600 mph barrier at 600.842 mph (966.961 km/h) in the Spirit of America Sonic 1 at Bonneville Salt Flats.


Racing Heroes – Craig Breedlove

Kurt Ernst - Hemmings Daily

For those coming of age in the 1960s or 1970s, the name Craig Breedlove is indelibly linked to the quest to be the fastest driver on land. Immortalized in song by the Beach Boys for his very first land speed record in 1963, Breedlove would go on to set a total of five land speed records in the following two-years, becoming the first to post two-way average speeds of 400, 500 and 600 MPH in the process.

It’s probably safe to say that Breedlove was wired from birth with a need to drive faster than anyone else on the planet. At age 13, when most of his peers were content with riding bicycles or minibikes, Breedlove convinced his parents to help him buy a tired 1934 Ford coupe. Part of the agreement was that the car would remain parked until he was old enough to qualify for a driver’s license, but that didn’t keep him from driving cars belonging to others. Breedlove first piloted a dragster at age 15 (a fact he kept from his parents), and a year later this experience put him behind the wheel of a friend’s 1932 Ford Coupe for an illegal drag race on Culver Boulevard outside of Los Angeles.  Breedlove rolled the borrowed car after hitting a set of railroad tracks, but somehow escaped injury, as if the ambitious Californian had a guardian angel watching over him. This same incredible luck would follow him through much of his career.

Undeterred by the potential danger, Breedlove sank money earned working at a local body shop into his 1934 Ford. Donated parts were welcomed, too, and the young Californian soon had a car worthy of a speed record attempt. Shortly after earning his driver’s license, Breedlove drove his Ford to a class record speed of 148 MPH on the El Mirage dry lake bed.

If Breedlove learned anything from his first speed record attempt, it was this: There was no such thing as “fast enough.” Setting speed records, however, was an expensive proposition, and Breedlove was already saddled with the cost of supporting a family (he’d married his first wife at the age of just 17). It’s often said that necessity is the mother of invention, so Breedlove made do with the plentiful military surplus that was available in Southern California in the late 1950s. Following in the footsteps of earlier speed record seekers, Breedlove embraced the concept of using a surplus airplane fuel tank for the body of his next speed-record car. With a supercharged Oldsmobile V-8 powering his streamliner, Breedlove’s first trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1958 delivered a run of 236 MPH before mechanical trouble cut his initial record attempt short.

Inspired by John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you” 1961 inaugural speech, Breedlove finally realized his calling: While he’d never become an astronaut or cure cancer, he could use his unique talents to wrestle the land speed record away from the British. Doing so would cost serious money and require engineering skills beyond Breedlove’s comprehension, so his first goal became finding sponsorship and recruiting those with a background in aerodynamics, a subject he’d soon immerse himself in.

Believing that the speed limits of wheel-driven land speed racers would be far below his goals, Breedlove again turned to available military surplus, this time in the form of a used General Electric J47 jet engine. Using a body styled after the fuselage of a jet aircraft and a freewheeling tricycle layout (with two wheels in back and a single wheel up front) Breedlove’s Spirit of America would tackle the speed record attempt with a turbojet engine instead of the more traditional piston engine. The design itself did not comply with FIA regulations requiring four wheels (and propulsion via two wheels), so Breedlove instead ran under FIM (the Federation Internationale de Motorcyclisme, or International Motorcycling Federation) rules, amended slightly to accommodate the car and its record attempt.

Breedlove faced many challenges with his first Spirit of America, including how to get the car to turn with a fixed front wheel. The original design proposal called for steering via rear-wheel braking and a front-mounted rudder, which proved to be problematic due to the rudder’s limited movement (something overlooked in the car’s shakedown testing). Despite sponsorship from Goodyear and Shell, funding dried up before the car was truly prepared for its record run, and the 1962 attempt at a new land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats yielded little more than an extensive amount of test data and a pair of frustrated sponsors.

Still convinced that Breedlove was capable of achieving the record, Shell provided additional engineering assistance ahead of Breedlove’s 1963 record attempt. An engineer from Hughes Aircraft  suggested a design for a steerable front wheel, which, when coupled with the addition of a tail (for stability) and a modified front rudder, gave the car far better directional control. By August of 1963, the Spirit of America was ready for its first real attempt at a land speed record.

Breedlove managed a two-way average of 407.45 MPH over the mile-long course, enough to best the previous record of 394.196 MPH set by British driver John Cobb in 1947, driving the Railton Mobil Special. With his two-mile trek across the Bonneville Salt Flats, Breedlove had achieved his goal of bringing the land speed record home to the United States.

The glory would last for a little more than a year. On October 2, 1964, Tom Green would set a new record with an average speed of 413.2 MPH behind the wheel of Walt Arfons’s Wingfoot Express. Three days later, Art Arfons (Walt’s brother) would set a new record, driving his Green Monster to an average speed of 434.03 MPH. The pressure was clearly on Breedlove, and an early run in the Spirit of America produced a speed of 513 MPH over the first half of the course. On the return run, the car’s parachutes failed, leaving Breedlove with nothing but the Spirit’s ineffective wheel brakes to slow him down. The car coasted for a terrifying five miles before narrowly missing one telephone pole, glancing off a second,  jumping an embankment and landing in a saltwater lake. Though the Spirit of America was damaged beyond practical repair in the accident, Breedlove had managed a two-way average of 526.28 MPH (making him the first to top 500 MPH on the ground), giving him a new land speed record. It was to be short-lived, however, as 12 days later Art Arfons would put up a new record speed of 536.71 MPH to close out the 1964 season.

Breedlove now had less than a year to build a car capable of reclaiming the record. With this ambitious goal in mind, Breedlove and his team constructed the Spirit of America Sonic I, a four-wheeler that met FIA requirements for sanctioning, in time for the 1965 land speed record season at Bonneville. With little time for testing, the Sonic I proved challenging to control at speed; worse, the car had a propensity to lift the front wheels at speeds above 500 MPH, leaving Breedlove with no way of controlling the car’s direction. Though few would be willing to climb into such a vehicle, Breedlove was undeterred; changes to the car were hastily made at Bonneville, and the Sonic I soon set a new record speed of 555.485 MPH. Not convinced this record would stand against the onslaught of Art Arfons’s Green Monster, Breedlove tweaked the Sonic I until he believed it capable of a 600 MPH pass. On November 15, 1965, he recorded a one-way pass of 593 MPH and a return run of 608 MPH, giving him a new average speed record of 600.601 MPH; this would stand for nearly five years, until Gary Gabelich topped 622 MPH in 1970 in his Blue Flame.

Though Breedlove wanted to push for ever higher speeds, attracting the sponsors necessary to do so proved difficult. Goodyear, the primary sponsor of the Sonic I, saw no marketing benefit in sponsoring a car faster than the existing 601 MPH record, and Breedlove met with similar resistance from other potential sources of funding. A new car was announced in 1968, but this never really progressed beyond the planning stages, due in part to a lack of public interest in land speed records. The glory that had accompanied earlier attempts, and the drama inspired by the back-and-forth dueling of Breedlove and the Arfons brothers, had disappeared.

Following his fourth speed record in 1965, Breedlove also set some 23 FIA speed records behind the wheel of a 1965 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, adding to his list of lifetime achievements. (Though the Green Monster’s crew would be quick to point out that doing so was a thinly veiled attempt to monopolize the salt and degrade the quality of the course ahead of their scheduled session.) In 1968,  he was  hired by American Motors to promote its Javelin and AMX muscle cars, and the world-record holder would set a series of United States Auto Club (USAC) and FIA records in these cars, often with his (similarly fearless) wife Lee as a co-driver.  Lee Breedlove also made four passes behind the wheel of the Sonic I, temporarily earning her the title of the world’s fastest woman and giving the pair the distinction of being the “world’s fastest couple.”

Following a successful career in real estate, Breedlove returned to his original passion again in 1992. With Shell once again backing him, Breedlove began work on the Spirit of America Formula Shell LSRV, with the goal of recapturing the record (then at 633.47 MPH) from Richard Noble and the Thrust 2. Its first test run, in 1996, ended in a crash at a speed of some 675 MPH. A second attempt at a speed record in 1997 resulted in a speed of just 676 MPH before a damaged engine dashed the team’s hopes. Later that same year, Andy Green would go on to claim two land speed records (714.144 MPH and 763.035 MPH) piloting the Thrust SSC.

Breedlove semi-officially retired from the sport in 2006, though he hinted in May of 2012 that he’d like to have a go at being the first to top 800 MPH on the 50th anniversary of his original 1963 record. At age 76, such a plan seems beyond ambitious, but the same could be said for Breedlove’s early (and often under-funded) attempts at a record. Whether or not Breedlove ever sets another record is, in some ways, irrelevant: No other American land speed record contestant has ever managed to achieve the list of firsts realized by the fearless Californian.

Video from the 1963 record

Goodyear commercial

Craig Breedlove


External links