When The Land Speed Record Was Set, A Town Thought It Had An Earthquake

Way back in 1997 the first supersonic car ever built smashed the world land speed record. The Thrust SSC was silent in its menacing and deliberate approach, until it finally passed you with a wallop of a double BANG as it crushed and broke through the sound barrier. This is the inside story of that run.


The Guinness Book of World Records, the ultimate arbiter of all things that are the biggest or the smallest or the tallest or the shortest or the thinnest or the fattest and many other things besides, is taking a retrospective look at some of its most impressive records for the 2015 edition to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

To that end, we're getting a look behind the scenes at some of those records, and the land speed record is definitely one of the craziest. Sure, a guy being very tall is definitely a Thing, but it's not like he tried very hard for it. And yes, his life span is probably shortened from all the doorways and enlarged organs and whatnot, but it's not like it's shortened because there's a very significant chance he could go spiraling end over end in the Nevada desert while humanity gets to witness the first sonic boom produced by a human body being dragged along salt.

So it's definitely up there, in the pantheon of records. Is what I'm saying.

Breaking the sound barrier on land isn't just a game of tempting fates, however. It's also an incredible technical challenge. The thrust needed to pass Mach 1.0 at ground level is much greater than that needed to break through in a fighter jet at 30,000 feet, and that's without having to deal with a suspension system. And as Thrust SSC pilot Andy Green points out, the sonic boom was so loud, the nearby town of Gerlach, Nevada (population 206) though it was experiencing an earthquake.

Much of the same team that built the Thrust SSC is now working on its successor, which aims to be the first car to make it over 1,000 MPH.

Once again, Andy Green will be the perfect nutjob to drive the thing.


Chris Clarke

Obligatory photo of sound barrier shockwave.