How the Fastest Car on Earth Works

All the details about the Speed Demon— and is it a car at all?

In mid-August, on the dried-up salt Lake Bonneville, the Speed Demon car accelerated to 757 km/h, thereby becoming the world's fastest car with a conventional piston engine. We are interested in how this miracle car, which looks more like a jet fighter without wings than a car, works. And we think that it deserves more than a simple news item.

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If you ask the question “which car is the fastest?”, then you will have to answer it — “depending on which globe”. After all, the most official records seem to be those that are fulfilled according to the rules of the International Automobile Federation (FIA) and recognized by it. The Speed Demon set its record without the FIA participation, according to the rules of the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA). But since we are not fans of bureaucracy, we will keep this question quiet for clarity.

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The Thrust SSC is a holder of the land speed record: it accelerated to 1227.99 km/h in 1997

The only thing the Thrust SSC has in common with a car is four wheels: it is driven by a pair of jet engines.

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And what is considered a car? According to the FIA, a record-breaking car can have almost any design: even an ordinary internal combustion engine, even a jet engine, even a rocket engine… The main thing is that there should be four wheels.

And are you ready to consider a car, say, the Thrust SSC, which accelerated to 1227.99 km/h in 1997? It is a kind of plane without wings but with a pair of Rolls-Royce Spey turbojet engines that do not even drive the wheels.

The owner of the new speed record for cars with piston engines George Poteet (right) with another record holder Ron Main, who inspired him to build the streamlined Speed Demon almost twenty years ago The owner of the new speed record for cars with piston engines George Poteet (right) with another record holder Ron Main, who inspired him to build the streamlined Speed Demon almost twenty years ago

Against this background, the Speed Demon is the very embodiment of normality: it has a regular V8 engine (but it is just very powerful, producing more than 3,000 hp), a usual manual transmission, rear-wheel drive… And about a thousand interesting nuances.

Ron Main's FlatFire accelerated to almost 480 km/h in 2001, having become the world's fastest car with a lower-valve Ford V8 engine Ron Main's FlatFire accelerated to almost 480 km/h in 2001, having become the world's fastest car with a lower-valve Ford V8 engine

The Speed Demon is the fruit of twenty years of evolution. Yes, record-breaking races are not Formula One: there are no car manufacturers with space budgets and rich sponsors, so time passes quite slowly here. Most of the participants are just well-to-do fanatics.

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The project was carried out by two American businessmen: Ron Main, a Californian, and George Poteet, from Tennessee. The first man is already 76 years old, the second is 71. There are a lot of elderly people in the top speed races… Remember Burt Monroe from ‘The World's Fastest Indian’? Back then, the elderly New Zealander was a unique exception, but now this is the order of the day.

An impressive achievement: the 1932 FlatFire engine was boosted to almost 700 horsepower — the production one developed no more than 110 horsepower An impressive achievement: the 1932 FlatFire engine was boosted to almost 700 horsepower — the production one developed no more than 110 horsepower

“Where California is and where Tennessee is” — you will say, checking the map of North America. The two petrolheads met each other during races at Lake Bonneville: the both were crazy about hot rods. George Poteet's fantastic custom cars were featured in all the car magazines in America, and Ron Main set records on his streamlined FlatFire (later EcoFire)… In the mid-noughties, the two friends joined forces and took up the construction of the Speed Demon. The car was ready in the spring of 2007.

The car enthusiasts shook up the entire structure: changed the order of the intake and exhaust valves, used heads with two candles per cylinder, changed the output, installed a Vortech centrifugal compressor, radically strengthened the unit and its filling. But the main thing remained unchanged: the cylinder block of 1946 release and the lower position of the valves The car enthusiasts shook up the entire structure: changed the order of the intake and exhaust valves, used heads with two candles per cylinder, changed the output, installed a Vortech centrifugal compressor, radically strengthened the unit and its filling. But the main thing remained unchanged: the cylinder block of 1946 release and the lower position of the valves

The Speed Demon turned out to be very similar to its predecessor, only much larger. Even the nose section of the fairing is entirely borrowed from the FlatFire; the aerodynamics of the both cars were handled by aircraft designer AJ Smith from a small firm Aerosmith Consulting & Engineering.

According to the FIA, all cars that develop more than 550 km/h must pass tests in the wind tunnel for stability According to the FIA, all cars that develop more than 550 km/h must pass tests in the wind tunnel for stability

But the conceptual similarity is more important. The FlatFire was rebuilt from the old mid-engine dragster layout: the car for straight racing was “dressed” in a swept tail made of carbon fiber, and the widely spaced front wheels were replaced with a pair of those installed one after the other. The Speed Demon also received a similar layout.

This photo clearly shows the original layout of the Speed Demon with a tandem arrangement of the front wheels This photo clearly shows the original layout of the Speed Demon with a tandem arrangement of the front wheels

The very first version of the Speed Demon on Lake Bonneville back in 2007. The first version of the Speed Demon was equipped with a four-cylinder turbo Mopar engine producing 1,045 hp. In 2007, it showed a speed of 569 km/h.

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The 3-liter four-cylinder Mopar Hemi engine is produced in small series exclusively for Midget class cars and dirt track racing. The engine was originally naturally aspirated, but it was turbocharged in Kenny Dutweiler's workshop.

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The dressed-up Speed Demon resembles a jet fighter. It looks rather like a piston-engined WWII aircraft without the shell. If you remove the carbon fiber tail, then you will find a simple spatial frame made of steel pipes under it.

The spatial frame of the Speed Demon in its current configuration The spatial frame of the Speed Demon in its current configuration

In 2015, George Poteet experienced its strength the hard way: due to a tire explosion, his car overturned at a speed of more than 500 km/h. Then, everything went well — not only the driver was not injured, but the frame did not collapse.

Consequences of the accident in 2015, when the Speed Demon rolled over at a speed of more than 500 km/h Consequences of the accident in 2015, when the Speed Demon rolled over at a speed of more than 500 km/h

The engine compartment located behind the cockpit is arranged very spacious in length, but the width is packed very tightly; the engine barely fits between the longitudinal tubes of the chassis.

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A curious detail: a fragment of the frame above the engine is mounted on bolted connections to help quickly replace the engine. In the same way, fuel lines, cooling and supercharging pipes snap off at quick-release connections.

In this photo, the engine is not fully assembled. You can see the gearbox shift pneumatic drive unit under the turbines (the unit is powered by a compressed carbon dioxide cylinder). There should be a liquid intercooler between the turbines, but it is dismantled here In this photo, the engine is not fully assembled. You can see the gearbox shift pneumatic drive unit under the turbines (the unit is powered by a compressed carbon dioxide cylinder). There should be a liquid intercooler between the turbines, but it is dismantled here

And it's not even necessary to change the engine in case of a breakdown; it's just that the team usually performs in several classes at once, brings several engines of different volumes with them and changes them right between races.

The exhaust pipes that are brought up at speed create a noticeable downforce due to the flow of exhaust gases. A seven-section dry sump pump can be seen behind the exhaust manifold The exhaust pipes that are brought up at speed create a noticeable downforce due to the flow of exhaust gases. A seven-section dry sump pump can be seen behind the exhaust manifold

Whatever the engine, the layout of the Speed Demon remains unchanged; the engine is installed in a block with a gearbox behind the driver’s cockpit that drives rear wheels through a short driveshaft.

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Due to the very long gear ratios of the transmission record, the car starts to move with the pusher. “The pickup is our first gear,” jokes Ron Main, who is driving a Ford. Only at a speed of about 30 km/h, the Speed Demon driver releases the clutch pedal and begins to accelerate.

The actual implementation of the transmission is pretty interesting. The Liberty transmission is a manual transmission with a pneumatic shift mechanism. And it has as many as seven speeds, which is explained by reliability, first of all.

In this photo, you can clearly see the "rocking chairs" through which the bridge is connected to springs and shock absorbers. There are a fuel tank on the left and radiators for cooling the gearbox and rear differential behind the wheels. To the right of the suspension springs, you can see a cold water tank used for the intercooler (it is placed between the turbines) In this photo, you can clearly see the "rocking chairs" through which the bridge is connected to springs and shock absorbers. There are a fuel tank on the left and radiators for cooling the gearbox and rear differential behind the wheels. To the right of the suspension springs, you can see a cold water tank used for the intercooler (it is placed between the turbines)

They say that transmission components suffer less with more frequent cutting of gear ratios during shock shifts. And the rear axle looks like a real work of art; the main transmission crankcase is carved from a single piece of aluminum in the workshop of the famous Don Ferguson.

The rear axle has an additional quick-change pair of gears, which allow you to quickly change the gear ratio. The main deceleration work is done not by Wilwood brakes but by brake parachutes The rear axle has an additional quick-change pair of gears, which allow you to quickly change the gear ratio. The main deceleration work is done not by Wilwood brakes but by brake parachutes

“If we had a perfectly flat roadbed, we could do without suspension at all,” the team says, “but the salt crust on the lake sometimes resembles off-road terrain.” Many of the cars that are built for races on the lake really do not have a suspension. But the Speed Demon has a rear axle with a system of four longitudinal levers; the springs are conventional, conical. There are also a transverse stabilizer and JRI shock absorbers. But the front wheels installed one after the other do without suspension at all.

The tandem installation of the front wheels made it possible to narrow the front end and reduce aerodynamic drag. This is also safer: one of the front tires exploded during a race in 2008, but this did not affect the stability of the car The tandem installation of the front wheels made it possible to narrow the front end and reduce aerodynamic drag. This is also safer: one of the front tires exploded during a race in 2008, but this did not affect the stability of the car

What engines have not been installed in the Speed Demon for thirteen years: a four-cylinder Mopar from racing “midgets”, several small Chevrolet V8s of different volumes, and a more modern V8 Chevrolet LS. All the engines are traditionally turbocharged.

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Last year, the team's chief Kenny Dutweiler prepared a “big unit” of a 9.2-liter Chevrolet V8 for the first time. The reason for the change was the record in the AA/FS class, which Danny Thompson set on the car of his legendary father Mickey Thompson two years ago. Then the 50-year-old Challenger 2 with two 8.2-liter Chrysler engines running on nitro methane accelerated to 722 km/h.

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This not only set a record in the AA/FS class “over 500cc” (8.2 liters) but also showed the highest speed for a car with a piston engine. The Speed Demon team has set records in all possible classes over the years, and the success of the Challenger has pushed them to move to a higher class.

The 9.2-liter V8 showed a maximum power of 3,155 hp with a relatively moderate boost pressure of 2.4 bar. The throttle is oval and tilted back for a more uniform distribution of air between the cylinders, and the intake receiver is given a "humpback" shape. By the way, the intake manifold is assembled on bolts from two parts made from solid pieces of aluminum The 9.2-liter V8 showed a maximum power of 3,155 hp with a relatively moderate boost pressure of 2.4 bar. The throttle is oval and tilted back for a more uniform distribution of air between the cylinders, and the intake receiver is given a "humpback" shape. By the way, the intake manifold is assembled on bolts from two parts made from solid pieces of aluminum

Previously, this was not done because a large “big unit” did not fit in a narrow chassis. Or rather, this way: the engines with larger racing cylinder heads could not fit, and the more compact ones could not produce the necessary power. Now, Kenny Dutweiler was able to pick up successful but narrow power units.

The engine compartment of the Speed Demon is very tightly packed. Each millimeter was taken into account. For example, to prevent the exhaust manifolds from resting against the frame, the motor had to be noticeably lowered. The edges of the valve covers are almost flush with the casing The engine compartment of the Speed Demon is very tightly packed. Each millimeter was taken into account. For example, to prevent the exhaust manifolds from resting against the frame, the motor had to be noticeably lowered. The edges of the valve covers are almost flush with the casing

The belonging of the engine to the Chevrolet brand is rather conditional; only the geometry of the unit has something in common with serial engines (inter-cylinder distance, fastening of heads, location of the camshaft, dimensions of the main journals). The unit and heads are special racing ones and made by Dart, not to mention the engine stuffing.

Kenny Dutweiler, who built the record- breaking engine, notes that almost all of its elements were purchased in the form of ready-made solutions for sports tuning. Therefore, the unit was relatively inexpensive. In recent times, to achieve such indicators, it would have been necessary to create unique components Kenny Dutweiler, who built the record- breaking engine, notes that almost all of its elements were purchased in the form of ready-made solutions for sports tuning. Therefore, the unit was relatively inexpensive. In recent times, to achieve such indicators, it would have been necessary to create unique components

Oddly enough, many of the components of the engine are serial. More precisely, they are small-scale; various American companies and firms supply parts for motorsport. In addition to the unit and dart heads, these are a Callies crankshaft, Ferrea valves (intake and made of titanium), Precision Turbo turbines, and Jesel rockers. But, for example, the Diamond pistons are made specifically for this engine, as well as the connecting rods of the Swedish company Auto Verdi Racing. The Comp Cams camshaft cam profile is derived from Top Fuel class dragsters.

In this photo, you can clearly see: 1 - a quick-release fragment of the frame, which makes it easier to replace the engine; 2 - a bouncing panel at the top of the intake manifold. The last solution is borrowed from drag racing: in the event of an explosion of the engine, this part should be torn off, which will allow you to keep the plumage of the car intact In this photo, you can clearly see: 1 - a quick-release fragment of the frame, which makes it easier to replace the engine; 2 - a bouncing panel at the top of the intake manifold. The last solution is borrowed from drag racing: in the event of an explosion of the engine, this part should be torn off, which will allow you to keep the plumage of the car intact

All the V8s that Dutweiler builds for the Speed Demon are equipped with two turbines. But the most interesting thing is that regardless of the engine size, they are the same: these are Precision Turbo GEN2.2 Pro Mod 88 drag turbines. This solution makes it easier to quickly replace the engine and you can close your eyes to the convenience of traction control on a record-breaking car.

Like other engines on the Speed Demon, the big unit of the V8 9.2 consumes methanol instead of gasoline. Let me remind you that the caloric content of alcohol is noticeably lower, but the detonation resistance is much higher: the turbines can “inflate” higher pressure without the risk of engine damage.

Thanks to a wide plexiglass lamp, the Speed Demon's cabin has excellent visibility by the standards of record-breaking cars Thanks to a wide plexiglass lamp, the Speed Demon's cabin has excellent visibility by the standards of record-breaking cars

So, this engine develops maximum 3,155 hp at a boost pressure of 2.4 bars. But Dutweiler says that the engine can withstand 3,500 hp without loss of reliability. Another thing is that in record races, not everything is decided by horsepower; due to the constant lack of “hook” during the minute-long race, the engine runs in maximum power mode for literally 7-8 seconds. At the beginning of acceleration, the engine generally produces no more than 700 hp; it is simply impossible to implement more.

This tiny steering wheel in the shape of a curved eight is like that of a dragster. There are gear shift buttons on it. The Motec dashboard allows you to track almost any data; there are a lot of sensors that track the operation of various systems. The brake parachute release lever on the drivers's left hand cannot be seen in the photo This tiny steering wheel in the shape of a curved eight is like that of a dragster. There are gear shift buttons on it. The Motec dashboard allows you to track almost any data; there are a lot of sensors that track the operation of various systems. The brake parachute release lever on the drivers's left hand cannot be seen in the photo

The maximum power frequency is 8,300 rpm. By the standards of serial engines with a lower camshaft and rod-driven valves, this is an incredible amount. But for racing engines of this type, this is far from the limit: the NASCAR series lower-shaft ring motors can produce even more than 10,000 rpm.

To feed this monstrous engine with a pair of huge turbines, each cylinder has three fuel injectors: a pair of familiar Siemens electromagnetic injectors, plus a nozzle of the Enderle mechanical injection system for additional enrichment of the mixture — a total of 24 injectors per motor. After all, fuel consumption is about 590 liters per 100 kilometers in the maximum power mode.

The tires are running at their limit. This is a photo from 2016, when a wheel on the driving axle collapsed during one of the races The tires are running at their limit. This is a photo from 2016, when a wheel on the driving axle collapsed during one of the races

Curiously, Kenny Dutweiler always deliberately chooses not the most voluminous version of the engine available. The explanation is this: this would increase the torque at the “bottom”, thereby increasing the probability of wheel slip during acceleration. And even the volume of the intake manifold was selected so as to reduce the moment at low speeds. Tires are the bottleneck for a record-breaking car: the salt crust is extremely abrasive, and an extra slip threatens to destroy the tire.

After all, the special 18-inch Mickey Thompson tires on the driving axle are only 23 centimeters wide, although they are designed for speeds up to 850 km/h. By the way, the front Goodyear tires are even thinner: the landing diameter is 15 inches, width — 12.5 centimeters.

Ice is added to the cooling system tank right before racing Ice is added to the cooling system tank right before racing

The Motec electronic unit with a lot of sensors and a telemetry system manages all this. One of the key systems is traction control, which allows you to reduce the slipping of the driving wheels (even if not to nullify it). After all, the tires are almost devoid of a safety margin, and the salt crust is extremely abrasive; any slip can lead to the destruction of the wheel and an accident. Eyewitnesses say that it is clearly audible from the side, as if the engine is unstable.

It is easy to notice that the rocket-like body of the car is almost devoid of holes, not counting the air intakes of turbines and slots for exhaust pipes. The secret is simple: the traditional way to cool the engine of record-breaking cars is with a tank of water and ice. This eliminates the need for air intakes installed on the radiator and intercooler; this reduces the aerodynamic drag (a similar solution is often used in drag racing).

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You would have thought that Poteet had a new record in his pocket: a fast, reliable and well-developed car, a suitable high-power engine, and an experienced team… But on the way to the record, the team slurped a three-year portion of problems. Judging by this story, setting speed records can be a very dramatic sport.

This year, a record attempt almost ended after the third race due to a fire on board. Moreover, the study of telemetry showed that it was only the result of a burned-out piston. The data showed that the mixture was “poor” in the fourth cylinder. The team already thought to abandon the highest class race and put a less powerful engine, but the mechanics still wanted to revive the “big unit”.

Oil was squeezed out of the engine because of a burnt-out piston. It broke out on hot manifolds, bringing the whole engine compartment in useless Oil was squeezed out of the engine because of a burnt-out piston. It broke out on hot manifolds, bringing the whole engine compartment in useless

They went reassembled the engine right in the desert: sanded the damaged wall, passed the cylinder with a manual hone, and replaced the burned connecting rod, finger, and leaky piston with spare parts. The electrician spent the night repairing burned-out wiring, replacing part of the sensors and fire-damaged solenoids on the Liberty gearbox. By noon the next day, everything was working again.

Fourth cylinder piston with a hole Fourth cylinder piston with a hole

But even after that, fortune seemed to play with the team of the Speed Demon. The rear gearbox collapsed in the next race… Fortunately, there was a spare unit, it was quickly installed in place of the faulty one, and George Poteet set a new record in the class: 707 km/h.

The team at work: the faulty engine is already half disassembled The team at work: the faulty engine is already half disassembled

However, this was a minimum task for him: the sportsman hoped not only to set a new record in the AA/BSF class but also to overlap Danny Thompson’s result set on a twin-engined Challenger in 2018. Do you think the motorists added boost pressure and everything worked out? Not at all!

It turned out that the seventh gear stopped turning on. Fortunately, the filling of the box was not damaged, and the mechanics gave rise to a temporary solution: to adjust the stop of the transmission fork. The seventh gear was back...

Repairing of the rear gearbox. Its polished body is impressive, isn't it? On the left, you can see a block of replaceable gears designed to quickly change the gear ratio of the main gear Repairing of the rear gearbox. Its polished body is impressive, isn't it? On the left, you can see a block of replaceable gears designed to quickly change the gear ratio of the main gear

But just before the final race, when George Poteet had already climbed into the cab, it turned out that the car's instrument panel was completely knocked out: apparently, the burning wiring was the reason. There were no switch gear indicators, no speed data, nothing… The driver had to switch according to his sensations when the engine clearly stood on the limiter; so the record holder did not know his own results even approximately.

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The engine repaired on the knee not only withstood all the races but also helped Poteet to set a new record. The measured distance of his car flew at an average speed of 757 km/h.

The Speed Demon got close to the level of cars, wheels of which are driven by helicopter gas turbines. This is a level that previously seemed unattainable: now the highest result belongs to the Team Vesco Turbinator II (777 km/h). In principle, only purely jet cars like the Thrust SSC can be faster (without wheel drive at all).

The driver releases brake parachutes at the finish line of the measured distance; they create the main deceleration. But they can also work automatically in one of three cases: if the nose of the car left the ground; if the acceleration sensor did not detect a push from the release of parachutes at the five-mile mark; if data from the speed sensor on the rear axle stopped coming in The driver releases brake parachutes at the finish line of the measured distance; they create the main deceleration. But they can also work automatically in one of three cases: if the nose of the car left the ground; if the acceleration sensor did not detect a push from the release of parachutes at the five-mile mark; if data from the speed sensor on the rear axle stopped coming in

From now on, George Poteet is the owner of the world's fastest car with a piston engine. But it seems that the restless American does not think to stop. Most likely, the next goal for him will be to beat the result of the Turbinator II with a gas turbine, or to overcome the mark of 800 km/h.

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