On this day in 1937, Craig Breedlove, the first person to reach land speeds of 400mph, 500 mph and 600 mph in a jet-powered vehicle, is born.
Breedlove was raised in Southern California, where as a teenager he built cars and was a drag racer. As a young man, he designed a three-wheeled, rocket-shaped vehicle powered by a surplus military J-47 plane engine and dubbed it the Spirit of America. On October 5, 1963, Breedlove became the fastest man on wheels when he recorded an average speed of more than 407 mph in the Spirit of America at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats. Located approximately 100 miles west of Salt Lake City, the Bonneville Salt Flats are a hard, flat 30,000-acre expanse formed from an ancient evaporated lake. In 1914, Teddy Tezlaff set an auto speed record at Bonneville, driving 141.73 mph in a Blitzen Benz. By the late 1940s, Bonneville had become the standard place for setting and breaking world land-speed records and has since attracted drivers from around the globe who compete in a number of automotive and motorcycle divisions.
On November 2, 1965, Breedlove set a new record at Bonneville, driving 555.485 mph in the four-wheeled, jet-powered Spirit of America Sonic 1. Shortly after that, on November 15 of the same year, he set another new record with an average speed of 600.601 mph at Bonneville. According to Salon.com: “At a time when drag racing was the fastest-growing sport in the United States, Craig Breedlove was a hero. While his speed records won him the kudos of his racing brethren, his matinee-idol good looks assured him photo spreads in national magazines.” The Beach Boys even wrote a song about Breedlove’s daring, called “Spirit of America.”
In October 1970, Gary Gabelich broke Breedlove’s record with a speed of 622.4 mph. In the mid-1970s, Breedlove took a break from racing and embarked on a career in real-estate, but he eventually returned to racing. In 1997, Breedlove tried unsuccessfully to top the 700 mph mark. Instead, that year Britain’s Andy Green broke the sound barrier and set a record of 763 mph. In 2006, Breedlove sold the Spirit of America to Steve Fossett, a wealthy adventurer. Before Fossett could set a new land-speed record, however, he died in a plane crash in 2007.