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Spirit of America Land Speed Record Was initially A Motorcycle Record

Three Wheels But Classed as a Motorcycle

Craig Breedlove’s 1963 land speed record attempt in Spirit of America resulted in a new record of 407.45mph. However, FIA rules at the time stated that a vehicle had to have four wheels, with at least two being driven. As Sprit of America was a thrust-driven vehicle and ran on three wheels, it was classed as a motorcycle.

When a car is a motorcycle

In 1963, Craig Breedlove took his new vehicle, Spirit of America, to the Bonneville Salt Flats in order to attempt to set a new Land Speed Record. Powered by a General Electric J47 turbojet engine in what virtually amounted to a jet fighter with no wings and three wheels - two outrigged at the rear and one up front - he set a new record of 407.45mph, the average of his two timed runs.

Spirit of America Land Speed Record Was initially A Motorcycle Record
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A Controversial Land Speed Record
LSR cars were supposed to have four wheels, with two of them driven. Spirit of America had none of that so was classed as a motorcycle!

Later, with competition coming from Walt and Art Arfons in the Wingfoot Express and Green Monster respectively, he upped the record to 468.72 and finally 526.28mph.

Spirit of America Land Speed Record Was initially A Motorcycle Record
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Turn Around
For a record to be legal, two runs have to be completed in opposite directions within an hour, which necessitated some smart work by the crew

But that first record caused a controversy. Because the FIA (Federation Internationale Automobile - the governing body of all motorsport, based in Paris, France) rule book stated that a ’car’ had to have four wheels and be driven through at least two of them, in their view Spirit of America was not a car, but a motorcycle as rules then dictated that any vehicle with two or three wheels was a motorcycle.

Spirit of America Land Speed Record Was initially A Motorcycle Record
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Towing The Line
To keep him on track on the featureless salt flats, a line was ’painted’ with old engine oil.

As thrust-driven vehicles were clearly the future, the FIA then ratified a new class of record-breaking car powered by thrust engines and so Breedlove’s record was reinstated as a car LSR.

But, for a short while, a motorcycle held the outright Land Speed Record!

Spirit of America Land Speed Record Was initially A Motorcycle Record
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Job Done
Breedlove climbs out after setting a two-way average of 407.45mph

Oh, and then to have the Beach Boys make a record about it was pretty cool, wasn’t it! Can’t imagine Taylor Swift making a record when Bloodhound reaches 1000mph, can you?

Harry Fisher
Harry Fisher
Motorcycling Contributor
Born and raised in England, he has lived in South Africa with his family since 2002. Harry has owned examples of Triumph, Norton, BSA, MV Agusta, Honda, BMW, Ducati, Harley Davidson, Kawasaki and Moto Morini motorcycles. He regrets selling all of them.  Read full bio
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