The SSC Tuatara Sets Production-Car Speed Record, for Sure This Time

The SSC Tuatara hypercar.
Photo: Courtesy of SSC North America.

On January 17, while many of us had our eyes glued to the NFL playoff games, Dr. Larry Caplin focused on a 2.3-mile stretch of concrete at the Kennedy Space Center’s Johnny Bohmer Proving Grounds in Merritt Island, Fla. There, on the same runway formerly used for space shuttle landings, Caplin took his own SSC Tuatara hypercar to a new production-car speed record with two passes averaging 282.9 mph, a feat officially announced this morning by SSC North America.

The accomplishment eclipses the former 277.87 mph benchmark set by the Koenigsegg Agera RS in 2017. Bragging rights almost went to Bugatti in August of 2019, when a Chiron charged to 304.77 mph. Unfortunately for the French marque, the car went only one direction (not the two traditionally required) and was not a production version of the model.

Even SSC North America had a recent claim dismissed. In October, engineer and company founder Jerod Shelby (no relation to Carroll) and crew brought the 1,750 hp, carbon-fiber Tuatara to Nevada and initially reported an astounding pair of runs that averaged 316.11 mph. The would-be milestone was quickly contested and Shelby soon acknowledged the inability to accurately verify results.

“We couldn’t make full sense of our data and we were not 100 percent able to come out and refute these doubts,” Shelby told Robb Report by phone yesterday. “So we made the decision, in-house, that the only right thing to do would be to go rerun for the record,” he added, “and this time, do it in full transparency.”

The SSC Tuatara at the Kennedy Space Center’s Johnny Bohmer Proving Grounds.

The SSC Tuatara at the Kennedy Space Center’s Johnny Bohmer Proving Grounds. 

Photo: Courtesy of SSC North America.

For the second try, transparency included GPS and measurement equipment from four separate companies who each brought their own staff and installed and monitored everything themselves, without the involvement of any SSC North America members. “We did our research and Racelogic seems to be the most respected GPS measurement company out there, so we wanted them to be the third party to release all the data and verify the results,” noted Shelby. And Racelogic did just that, issuing its own press release and providing video documentation of each pass.

The 1,750 hp SSC Tuatara tears down the runway on its way to a production-car speed record.

The 1,750 hp Tuatara tears down the runway. 

Photo: Courtesy of SSC North America.

At exactly 2:38:09 local time, Caplin hit 279.7 mph going north. Another 50 minutes, 42 seconds later, he topped out at 286.1 mph heading south over the same section, both speeds faster than that of the space shuttle at touchdown. Perhaps more impressive is that Caplin is not a professional driver, rather, he’s the first customer to buy a Tuatara, which starts at $1.6 million.

Dr. Larry Caplin gets ready to drive his SSC Tuatara hypercar to a production-car speed record.

Dr. Larry Caplin and crew discuss the record attempt. 

Photo: Courtesy of SSC North America.

For October’s try, Caplin handed the car over to racer Oliver Webb, but, this last time, he asked to take the wheel himself. Shelby remembered questioning him, “You want to throw in the variable of a customer driving, and one who has spent almost no time at 200 mph?” According to Shelby, Caplin’s response was simply, “You know, what if we pull it off? How big would that be?”

Training sessions in Florida were done with the car’s engine, a 5.9-liter twin-turbo V-8 making 1,242 ft lbs of torque, detuned for substantially less output at first. “We pulled a lot of power out of the car and had Larry get used to it,” explained Shelby. “As he got more and more comfortable, we continued to add power back in.”

SSC North America founder Jerod Shelby looks at his SSC Tuatara hypercar.

SSC North America founder Jerod Shelby gives the thumbs-up. 

Photo: Courtesy of SSC North America.

Along with the choice in pilot, the team also had a different approach to acceleration on the redo. “When we were in Nevada, we brought the car up really slow and easy to about 180 mph, and then only had full throttle for about 20 seconds,” shared Shelby, elaborating that, in Florida, the track was far shorter and called on them to go “drag-race mode; we were full boost for 40 to 50 seconds from a stop, and the car was still accelerating like it had a rocket attached.”

Dr. Larry Caplin gets ready to drive his SSC Tuatara hypercar to a production-car speed record.

Dr. Larry Caplin in the cockpit of his hypercar. 

Photo: Courtesy of SSC North America.

Surprisingly, that performance was done with the car’s full power only made available at the middle of seventh gear, leaving room for considerable improvement as far as Shelby’s concerned: “We already have plans of going back and feel that, if we give him [Caplin] full power now, we have a really good shot at hitting 300 mph—just in that little 2.3 miles.” After what happened on January 17, very few may be questioning that.


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