On October 10, the SSC Tuatara supercar set the land speed record for a production car. On a stretch of road between Las Vegas and Pahrump, as ideal a place as exists for such an undertaking, the Tuatara ran two trials, the first at 301mph and the second at 331mph. This was then averaged for the official record speed of 316mph.
This record is distinct from the absolute land speed record for any vehicle. The creatively-named ThrustSSC holds that record at a blistering 763mph, which astute readers will note is a smidge over the speed of sound. The difference being that one look at the ThrustSSC will tell you that this thing isn’t meant to be owned. It’s barely meant to be caged. Imagine a sixteen foot arrow with a cockpit, a spoiler, and two massive jet engines and you have a good idea of what this beast is.
Incidentally, the “SSC” you keep seeing means different things. For the ThrustSSC, this stands for “supersonic car,” while with the Tuatara, it stands for Shelby SuperCars, the company that built it. One assumes the abbreviation was picked to evoke the former, though.
Part of what makes this land speed record notable is the fact that Shelby SuperCars is not a large company. They’re an indie shop, they didn’t use any GM parts in the Tuatara (so when you read in some sources that a V8 engine was used, that’s not technically correct), and they built it for a comparatively paltry $1.9 million. That’s still more than you’d want to spend on a machine you can only turn loose on isolated stretches of the 160.
Despite their small size, this is not the first time a Shelby SuperCar has owned the record. Back in 2007, their Ultimate Aero set the mark with a comparatively sluggish 256mph.
The Tuatara sports a 5.9-liter twin-turbo V8-equivalent capable of producing 1750 horsepower. You might be noting that this engine, though undeniably impressive, isn’t enough to set that record. Some of the Tuatara’s speed comes from the unique shape of its carbon fiber body, designed by Jason Castriota who has an impressive resume when it comes to that sort of thing.
As for the name, that’s a little more esoteric in origin. A tuatara is a small lizard-like reptile native to New Zealand. It’s one of those living fossils you hear about and isn’t especially known for its speed. The name sounds cool and it wasn’t taken, the two most important factors when naming a car.
For those who want to own one, good news. SSC has announced that they plan to produce a less expensive model for the market. It won’t go quite as fast—but let’s be honest, how often are you going from Pahrump to Vegas? The projected price tag will be in the $400,000-$500,000 range, cementing the notion that “less expensive” is really doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence.
Since this is 2020, this story couldn’t end without some controversy. When SSC shared videos of the speed trials, keen-eyed observers noted a number of discrepancies. SSC stands by the claims it made and will be doing the speed trials again. The date hasn’t been announced but keep your eye on this space for any updates to the story.