Craig Breedlove’s dangerous pursuit of land-speed records at Bonneville

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The name of Craig Breedlove immediately conjures up dramatic world land-speed-record runs on the wide expanse of the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.  Breedlove was a 5-time speed-record holder and the first person to exceed 500 mph in a land vehicle.  A year later, he became the first person to exceed 600 mph. 

His records were set in turbo-jet-powered vehicles that shot across the flats with deafening roars.  Each of his cars was named Spirit of America. 

Today’s video is the first of two vintage films, which shows when in 1964, Breedlove broke the 500-mph mark.  On the return run, his braking parachute ripped away and he couldn’t slow down, dangerously hurtling across the salt out of control. The car finally clipped a telephone pole and crashed into a small lake.  Luckily, Breedlove wasn’t injured. 


The second Breedlove video runs tomorrow.  Recently unearthed by the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, it shows his return the following year with a new jet car, named Spirit of America Sonic 1, and his conquest of the 600-mph speed record.  Again, the chute failed at high speed and Breedlove was on “another wild ride,” though this time averting a crash.

The videos include lots of action footage on the Salt Flats – including in-car sequences –as well as showing the creation of the jet cars, providing a look at the challenges and dangers in Breedlove’s single-minded pursuit of becoming the fastest person on land.

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Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

2 COMMENTS

  1. There’s a magic about Bonneville that is very difficult to explain. It may be the breathtaking vista of a sheet of pure white stretching to a horizon that appears to simply fade away in all directions. Once you arrive where the race courses are laid out by SCTA volunteers you can see the floating mountain range from each of the course start lines. Just standing on those lines, all alone and nothing more than blue sky above and complete silence, the sheer immensity of this unearthly place can be quite emotional. Add the provenance of the speed seekers of the past…the Campbells, Jenkins, Thompsons, Arfons, Poteets, Vescos, Breedloves and the thousands of fellow racers who have been in those exact places…well, it just is overwhelming. The Breedlove video is fascinating and you can’t help but wonder how Craig could emerge from a 500 mile run (think of it…500!) after being doused in one of the scattered salt ponds and laugh with his crew who probably wondered if they had seen the last of him when they saw only the tail end of his rocket car sticking out of the surface. Any gearhead worth his salt (yes, that is intended) must visit the flats at least one time during a speed event. I developed a deep appreciation for these speed racers, past and present, who go to great lengths to do just one thing…go fast!

    • I agree that the Salt Flats is a magical place indeed. I’ve been several times for Speed Week. As well as the stark natural beauty, there are so many wonderful cars that show up, many of them looking much as they would have in the 1950s, which enhances the timeless nature of the record runs.

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