SSC has blown Bugatti out of the water, again

We’ve been waiting on SSC (Shelby Supercars) for over seven years as the American manufacturer kept upping the hype on its upcoming Tuatara hypercar that was meant to pick up where the SSC Ultimate Aero left off as the fastest car in the world. With 304 mph the target set by Bugatti, SSC hit the Nevada desert and more than made up for the wait by exceeding 330 mph in what was considered as tough conditions.

The king of speed is American again!

Video: SSC Tuatara Hits 331 MPH; Is Now The World's Fastest Production Car Exterior
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SSC has basically put itself on the map by virtue of building the world's fastest car of the noughties, namely the SSC Ultimate Aero TT.

Since that record was taken away, in succession, by Bugatti, Koenigsegg, and then Bugatti once more, company founder Jerod Shelby has vowed to bring SSC back to the top of the pile sooner rather than later. Now, the Tuatara has done just that on the same stretch of highway used by Koenigsegg in 2017.

It’s only in August that we compiled an exhaustive timeline of the fastest production road cars in the world over the years, an article we’re now seemingly bound to update as SSC has just gone faster than anyone ever before - both over two-way average and in a one-way run. The car that SSC used to set the new records is the much-lamented Tuatara, a car that was announced all the way back in 2011 before being unveiled as a prototype at the 2013 Dubai Auto Show.

Video: SSC Tuatara Hits 331 MPH; Is Now The World's Fastest Production Car Exterior
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A handful of delays later, SSC took to the Nevada desert with FIA World Endurance Championship driver Oliver Webb as the wheelman in order to bring the speed record back to the US.

In its record-breaking specification, the ultra-slippery, F-18-esque Tuatara is powered by a twin-turbocharged, 5.9-liter, flat-plane crank V-8 producing 1,750 horsepower. With 150 ponies more than the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+, the Tuatara is also lighter at 2,750 pounds dry although the 0.279 drag coefficient is something that played a key part in the record run.

Penned by Jason Castriota, the Tuatara needed a seven-mile strip of open, two-lane highway to do the deed. The site was Nevada Highway 160, between Las Vegas and Pahrump, SSC going there earlier this month hell-bent on breaking all the records. And they did just that. With a one-way top speed of 331.15 mph (532.93 km/h), the Tuatara became the fastest road car in the world while also achieving the fastest speed ever by a car on a public road.

Video: SSC Tuatara Hits 331 MPH; Is Now The World's Fastest Production Car Exterior
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What is more, thanks to a two-way average of 316.11 mph (508.73 km/h) (the top speed on the first run was 301.07 mph or 484.53 km/h), the Tuatara sealed the deal.

If you remember, Bugatti - that had the entire Ehra-Lessien proving grounds to play with - couldn’t do a 300+ mph two-way run with the Chiron Super Sports 300+ meaning that model’s key claim to fame was its one-way top speed of 304.77 mph (490.47 km/h). The two-way record was still Koenigsegg’s as the Swedish Agera RS had gone 277.9 mph (447.23 km/h) on the same road as the Tuatara. The Koenigsegg topped out at 284.55 mph during its quickest run. By comparison, the SSC Ultimate Aero TT reached 255.83 mph or 411.71 km/h down Route 93 in Washington state back in 2007 to take the speed record away from the original Veyron.

Video: SSC Tuatara Hits 331 MPH; Is Now The World's Fastest Production Car
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"There was definitely more in there," Webb said quoted by Top Gear. "And with better conditions, I know we could have gone faster, as I approached 331 mph, the Tuatara climbed almost 20mph within the last five seconds. The car wasn’t running out of steam yet. The crosswinds are all that prevented us from realizing the car’s limit," he added

How much faster we don’t know but we do know the car was built to go fast and not break while doing so. Tom Nelson of Nelson Racing Engines built the Tuatara’s engine from scratch to match Shelby’s ludicrous spec requirements.

The whole car costs almost $2 million which isn't surprising when you consider that only the titanium connecting rods inside the engine cost over $1,000 apiece.
Video: SSC Tuatara Hits 331 MPH; Is Now The World's Fastest Production Car Exterior
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The list of exotic materials on the Tuatara doesn’t end there either as Nelson told Car & Driver: "We used machined gold pins for every connector in electrical harness, so we won’t have to worry about corrosion or the pins getting loose."

With gold in the engine bay, carbon fiber almost everywhere else on the surface, the car’s 1,341 pound-feet of torque also needed something special to reach the wheels. "The gearbox actually was originally designed for helicopters [by Clima in Italy], and it’s one of the few on the market that could handle the torque that our powerplant puts out," Shelby said. The car it’s been put in, however, goes quicker than some choppers and has even surprised the people behind it with Shelby adding that "we came pretty close to meeting the theoretical numbers, which is astonishing to do in a real-world setting on a public road."

Video: SSC Tuatara Hits 331 MPH; Is Now The World's Fastest Production Car
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Now, then, it’s up to Bugatti, Koenigsegg, or somebody else (does Hennessey read this?) to get to it and build a better mousetrap because SSC is seemingly done with chasing records. "As far as top speed records, I think we achieved what we wanted to do," Shelby said with driver Webb agreeing, "no one needs to go any faster than that. I think it’s unwise to even try." But, hey, who thought, two decades ago that going 252 mph in something other than a plane is wise? Surely no one besides VW’s Ferdinand Piech. We’ll just have to wait for the next madman.

Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read More
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