It seems that the third time’s the charm for Richland-based hypercar producer SSC.
After two bungled attempts at a speed record, the beleaguered company reported this week that its $1.9 million Tuatara hit an average top speed of 282.9 mph during two runs at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 17. The recorded speed, while not high enough to beat the 304.77 mph a modified Bugatti Chiron achieved in 2019, surpassed the 277.9 mph record time for a production car set by the Koenigsegg Agera RS in 2017.
The news comes after SSC became embroiled in controversy trying to grab top-speed bragging rights last year. On Oct. 19, SSC sent out data and announcements that the Tuatara had achieved 316.11 mph, an average speed between 331 mph driven in one direction down Highway 160 near Pahrump, Nev., and 310 mph driven in the opposite direction. Oliver Webb, the 29-year-old Briton who piloted the vehicle, called it “a Neil Armstrong moment.” Much was made about the supposed achievement.
But eagle-eyed YouTubers called foul, pointing to discrepancies in at least three different videos produced by Driven+ that claim to depict the cockpit of the Tuatara on its record run. Some pointed to blurring of speedometer and dashboard gauges covered by video graphics.
Others were more exacting. In a 21-minute film, YouTuber Tim Burton dissected the videos, using landmarks on the road, screenshots from the cockpit, and GPS tracking data to argue that the Tuatara could not have been traveling as fast as the videos reported. Burton even noted discrepancies among the gear ratios, the measurement of the Michelin tires used, and the car’s rev limit — figures often used to triangulate speed.
Tuatara’s claim soon unraveled. Dewetron, the Austria-based company that supplied the GPS speed recorder, published a statement refuting an SSC news release that said the company had validated the record. And on Oct. 28, SSC published statements admitting that the onboard videos released depicting the alleged 331 mph run were “substantially incorrect.”
A second attempt on Dec. 12 and 13, posted to YouTube by car world personality Robert Mitchell, ran into issues that included overheating and a hood that wouldn’t stay shut. (Larry Caplin, a Tuatara owner and Philadelphia-area physician, was behind the wheel.)
Mitchell was also the only person not directly associated with SSC who was on site during the Jan. 17 run. No media or Guinness witnesses were in attendance. SSC founder Jerod Shelby told Bloomberg in an email that he had “personally” invited Burton, who blew the whistle on the last attempt, “as a show of full transparency,” but said the credential process required to get him onto the military base took too long for a non-U. S. citizen. (Burton is British.)
“Robert [Mitchell] ended up acting as the eyes and ears for Tim as well, and the message that they now will be releasing in the coming days is quite positive for SSC, and myself,” Shelby said, noting that the speeds recorded Jan. 17 used multiple satellite tracking systems from Racelogic, Life Racing, Garmin and the IMRA (International Mile Racing Association). A certification letter of time and speeds from Racelogic was included in his email; Jim Lau, the technical director of Racelogic for North America, was also there to verify and validate speeds.
So far it seems to check out, including an independent verification commissioned by Motor Authority.
World records are big business for companies like Bugatti, Koenigsegg and Hennessey, attracting wealthy collectors obsessed with owning the car that holds the title. A car that loses the title, or worse, is discredited and instantly loses its allure. A spokesperson for SSC declined to say if the company had lost orders as a result of the conflict over the initial run in October, though in previous interviews Shelby had said up to one-third of SSC customers buy the car because it is the fastest in the world.
For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.