Steam-Powered Car Breaks a Century-Old Speed Record

By Eliza Strickland | August 26, 2009 1:14 pm

steam carAn unusual vehicle known as “the fastest kettle in the world” has busted the speed record for steam-powered cars, a record set at the beginning of the automobile age. The sleek car, named Inspiration, achieved an average speed of 139.8 miles per hour over the course of the two required runs at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The Inspiration may sound like a crawling turtle compared to the jet-powered car that holds the world’s land speed record: Thrust SSC roared up to a speed of 763 miles per hour in 1997. But the Inspiration, a British-built car, can claim other bragging rights: The car’s boilers can produce steam at a rate fast enough to make 23 cups of tea a second–an enjoyably British fact [The Guardian].

The previous steam-powered speed record of 127 miles per hour was set in 1906 by Fred Marriott at Daytona Beach, driving a modified version of a popular car known as the Stanley Steamer. Many of the earliest road vehicles were powered by steam, which were easier and safer to start than early gas-powered cars, which had to be cranked by hand. But by the 1920s, the convenience of the internal combustion engine had essentially made steam cars obsolete [New Scientist].

The British Steam Car Team has been tinkering with their design for the Inspiration for years, and even after they arrived at Edwards Air Force Base they were bedeviled by electrical faults and valve problems in the car’s complicated boiler system. The car’s engine burns liquid petroleum gas to heat water in 12 suitcase-sized boilers, creating steam heated to 400°C. The steam then drives a two-stage turbine that spins at 13,000 revolutions per minute to power its wheels [New Scientist]. But you aren’t likely to see steam cars on the race track anytime soon: Inspiration required two miles to accelerate to its record speed, and another two miles at the end to slow down with the aid of a parachute.

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Image: British Steam Car Challenge

  • b16

    This is a awesome achievement. It is great to hear that a team is working on another type of car power rather then what is being talked about in the media.

    Keep up the Steam Work Team!

  • John

    That sure was a lot of fuss to add 10% (13 mph) to the record.

    Actually this makes the original car a much more spectacular achievement in the early 1900s time frame.

  • Anibal

    I read the acticle let me tell you ive have not seen no thing like it before
    Do know that it looks like thy space shuttle specally the way the motor runs
    Look at the somke at the back of it so powerful.And of cousted thy speed of-
    it whan it runs look its over 100mh listen that very fast.
    Some thing like this well take you across the thesouted in fact in about a –
    hour probilie even faster thing that and thy collor is not easy to spot at -all in the night time. Because of thy dark green with it blance in with the-
    buchies and trees .

  • Anibal

    Let me take alittle tine to talk about the car the came out this year.
    Its call and eletric car.It can take any where at regouler car can take.
    And sheck this out you just need to power up about a full hours and you are-
    ready to hit the roed.And the way it looks better then the cars you see out-
    in thy street very day.

  • Brian

    I gotta say, this seems pointless.

  • ContainsCaffeine

    Keep in mind that steam powered cars like this still use petroleum fuel, they just have engines that use steam to turn. This is not a competitor for environmentally friendly cars. I don’t think the point was to build a prototype that would be used in the real world. The point is to experiment with technology and try to break a record. Engineers love to break records 😉

  • OneGuy

    Make one of these that will burn corn. Like corn burning stoves for heating homes. Inexpensive, reliable and renewable heat source. Must be a way to make a steam powered vehicle that would work well around the farm and on country roads.

  • A10roothog

    Your article says…. “But by the 1920s, the convenience of the internal combustion engine had essentially made steam cars obsolete.” This,ppl, is only PARTIALLY true. While yes, it is true that the internal combustion was more convienant, the ACTUAL truth is that the BIG OIL companies had done got a good bite on the worlds consumers pocketbooks, and they STILL HAVENT LET GO TODAY!!!! If you try to build one of these “EARTH FRIENDLY” vehicles today and market it (that is, a steam powered car)… just see how fast your “favorite” Uncle Sam will come in, bust up your invention, STEAL the copyrights so you cant ever do it again, and basically leave your life in shambles….and they call this the land of oppurtunity….BAH HUMBUG, I say!!!!
    And the “electric car” is supposed to be earth friendly? Think about this… and this is something the media or your “favorite” Uncle Sam isnt telling you also. Every night, when we all have to plug our cars in… well, what do you think will happen to the electric companies when 150 million cars get plugged in at 6 PM every night we get home from work? I will tell you what will happen…the oil needed to produce electricity for our homes will increase 10-fold. So, the electric car is no more “earth friendly” than my current gas guzzler. PEOPLE…. its time to WAKE UP!!!!!!!! The steam engine is THE ONLY WAY TO GO!!!!!!!!!! But dont tell your ‘favorite” Uncle Sam that… they will call you a heretic and throw you away for a very long time, just like old school Russia. So, after reading this… if anyone gets the idea to build a steam car…. just build it for yourself. They cant get you that way, because you aint marketing it, kinda like they havent told us (yet) that we cant have solar power for our houses….but just wait, they will, because somebody out there will be whining that they arent making money anymore…. FREE WORLD indeed…BAH HUMBUG again, I say….there is NO MORE free world.


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