The Early Jet Cars
It all started in the late 1950’s as US Air Force and Navy jet engines hit the surplus market. Guys like Art Arfons, Walt Arfons, and Craig Breedlove jumped at the opportunity to put the power of the jet to the ground. Early efforts were shaky at best, but their was no denying the potential.
In the fall of 1964, the race was on. Art Arfons took his “Green Monster” jet car to Bonneville and set his first World Land Speed Record with a 434.02 mph two-way average (479.62 one-way). Hot Rod Magazine called it “the thrust heard around the world” and while it might not have been just that, it was a new record and a challenge… A challenge that both brother Walt Arfons and Craig Breedlove were willing to accept.
Caption: Art Arfon’s “Green Monster” was powered by a GE J79 jet engine and was the first to utilize a downforce creating wing.
In fact, Art’s record would only last a few days before Craig Breedlove would attack the salt with a 526.20 mph two-way average. The first man over 500 mph on land wasn’t safe though. Two weeks later, Art returned the favor and ignited his jet’s afterburner. The record was Art’s once again at 536.71 mph.
Caption: The first “Spirit of America” – While Art’s cars were known for their brute power, Breedlove’s were known for their craftsmanship and absolute attention to detail.
Caption: Hard to imagine that this car was around in 1964. Gorgeous lines.
The volley of records would slow down for almost a year, but late in the summer of 1965 two new cars were on the scene. The first belonged to Art’s brother – Walt. His rocket-powered “Wingfoot Express” made numerous assaults on the record but ultimately failed to hit the target speed. Just a bit later, Craig Breedlove unveiled his new “Spirit of America – Sonic I”. After four or five shakedown runs, Breedlove crushed Art’s record with a two-way average of 555.127 mph.
Caption: Walt Arfons car was powered by as many as 25 JATO rockets. The timed firings of the rockets proved to be problematic and the car’s potential was never met.
Caption: The “Sonic I” certainly wasn’t as pretty as the original, but it sure did haul ass…
Immediately after hearing the news, Art began preparing the “Green Monster”. He headed out to Bonneville in November and was met with perfect weather and a perfect track. Despite a blown tire at the end of his backup pass and one wild ride at over 600 mph, Art did it again… The new record? 576.55 mph. Amazingly and only seven days later, Breedlove struck again. The “Spirit of America – Sonic I” became the first car to run a two-way average of over 600 mph with a 600.601 average.
Finally, the volley slowed and a record stayed in the books for longer than a year. Art went on to build a few more land speed cars, but mostly drag cars and (oddly) tractor pulling rigs. Breedlove went into real estate, made a fortune, and returned to the salt in 1996 with yet another jet car. After blazing speeds and two-accidents, he sold the car to Steve Fossett and retired.
Granted, jet cars aren’t often considered hot rods or on-topic around these parts. In fact, they weren’t even recognized in the record books until 1964 and after a good deal of controversy. Still… You can’t ignore the excitement of their history or the absolute bravery of the men behind them. These guys were mad geniuses – plain and simple.
Caption: This is the German Infinity jet car pictured at Bonneville in 1962. The car is unrelated to this story, but I had to show you guys this picture… The juxtaposition of the 60’s Ford truck with the hi-technology of the jet car just absolutely amazes me.