The British Steam car team today successfully carried out two test runs ahead of its bid to break the century-old world land speed record for steam-powered vehicles. The 25ft-long British Steam Car reached speeds of over 80mph on tarmac at the Ministry of Defence's Thorney Island facility in Emsworth, Hampshire.
Test driver Don Wales - the nephew of the late speed ace Donald Campbell and grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell - then deployed the supercar's parachute to help bring it to a halt. Mr Wales said: "It was absolutely fantastic and put paid to all the frustrations of the last few months. I enjoyed every moment of it as I went along. The car is just so powerful, you can get to feel the immense force and power of it. It was just itching to get away at the top."
"We reached nearly 60mph on the first test before I applied the parachute. All systems worked perfectly, it was a really good test. The second test run went even better and we clocked a speed in excess of 80mph. The car really did handle beautifully. 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 team hope to break a 103-year-old record by improving on the 127mph reached by American Fred Marriott driving a Stanley steam car in 1906 at the Daytona Beach Road Course. It is the longest officially-recognised land speed record but the British team hope to overhaul it by reaching a target velocity of 170mph with their car.
Weighing three tons, the sleek British Steam Car is made from a mixture of lightweight carbon-fibre composite and aluminium wrapped around a steel space frame chassis. It is fitted with 12 boilers containing nearly two miles of tubing. Demineralised water is pumped into the boilers at up to 50 litres a minute and the burners produce three megawatts of heat. Steam is superheated to 400 degrees Celsius which is injected into the turbine at more than twice the speed of sound, according to a team spokesman.
Today's successful run followed disappointment earlier this month when a test- launch had to be aborted because of technical difficulties involving impurities feeding into the water system.
The team's director Lynne Angel burst into tears after seeing Mr Wales power the supercar up the tarmac with steam belching from its back. She 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."
On board to give Mr Wales luck during the run was a St Christopher pendant handed down to him by his grandfather Sir Malcolm Campbell, and a sovereign coin inscribed "to Daddy, love Jean". Malcolm Campbell and Donald Campbell were the original speed-kings, achieving over 20 land and water speed records.
Project manager Matt Candy said: "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! We've got some cooling issues to address before we go out but other than that we are good to go and hope to come back with the record."
Today was the final time the car was being tested publicly before it is shipped out to the US for the record attempt. It will depart from Portsmouth next month.