SEMA News - October 2009
By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy the Source Interlink Archives
October 1964 was a busy month on the Bonneville Salt Flats. During the span of just a few weeks, the land speed record changed hands no fewer than five times. Tom Green, driving Walt Arfons’ jet-powered Wingfoot Express, set the wheels in motion with a 413.199mph record on October 5. Two days later, Walt’s younger brother Art upped the record to 434.022 mph in the Green Monster, a car he built in his Akron, Ohio, shop using a military surplus, 17,500hp GE jet engine. Here, Art’s jubilant crew helps him out of the Monster’s cockpit after a one-way run of 479.62 mph, then the fastest speed ever clocked through a measured mile on the ground. That’s chief mechanic Ed Snyder wiping the tears of joy with his
handkerchief. (We found this photo and others in a press kit generated by Firestone, which supplied Arfons’ high-speed tires.)
A week later, Craig Breedlove—the first to go 400 mph in his Spirit of America in 1963—bested Arfons’ record; and two days after that, he broke the 500-mph barrier with a 526.277mph record. It was during this attempt that Breedlove experienced the parachute failure that sent him into a salt pond at 200 mph.
Within two weeks of Breedlove’s swim, Art Arfons was back on the salt. This time, the Green Monster moved the record to 536.710 mph and clocked a one-way pass of 559 mph. But months would pass before Arfons’ record was deemed official by the FIA and the FIM, the international sanctioning bodies governing land-speed records. It took them that long to agree that vehicles did not have to be wheel-driven to hold the absolute speed record.
To this day, land-speed-racing fans make a clear distinction between Andy Green’s jet-car record of 763.035 mph set in the Thrust SSC and the wheel-driven mark of 470.444 mph held by Don Vesco’s Turbinator.