Odds are pretty good you've never heard of SSC. That's not because they're new to the scene, though: SSC North America, as it's formally known, has been around for more than two decades, having been founded in 1998 by a fellow named Jerod Shelby. (No, he's not related to Carroll.) They're not new to shattering production car speed records, either; their first car, the SSC Ultimate Aero, nabbed the Guinness World Record for fastest production car with a 256-mph run back in 2007.
Still, fast as it was, the Ultimate Aero was very much a machine made for a mission — a stripped-down, simplistic speed machine, as simplistic and purpose-built as an F-117 Nighthawk was for evading radar. SSC's newest car, the Tuatara, is an F-22 Raptor by comparison: more powerful, more well-rounded and oh so much better-looking.
And, as it turns out, even faster. On October 10th, the SSC Tuatara — a hypercar that'll be limited to 100 units with a base price of $1,625,000 and a fully-loaded price around two million bucks — cracked through the air at a speed of Mach 0.42 to become the fastest production car on the planet.
In the honest fashion of setting true speed records, however, that was an average of two runs conducted within one hour, going in both directions in order to cancel out any effect of wind or elevation change. On the quicker run, the hypercar hit a stunning 331 mph; going the other way, it hit 301 mph. (All the figures were officially verified, including via an average of 15 GPS satellites tracking the runs.)
The 1,750-horsepower Tuatara had more to give, though — at least, according to driver Oliver Webb, the 29-year-old British racing driver SSC chose to shepherd the hypercar to the record along the straight stretch of Nevada State Route 160.
"There was definitely more in there. And with better conditions, I know we could have gone faster," Webb said, according to SSC's press release. "As I approached 331 mph, the Tuatara climbed almost 20 mph within the last five seconds. It was still pulling well."
"As I told Jerod, the car wasn’t running out of steam yet. The crosswinds are all that prevented us from realizing the car’s limit.”
Last year, longtime "fastest car in the world" contender Bugatti reclaimed the title with the Chiron Super Sport 300+, which hit 304 mph in a top speed run. (After which Bugatti said it wouldn't be chasing top speed records anymore.)
How'd the SSC beat the Bugatti's speed? Well, more power certainly helps — 1,750 horses versus the Chiron SS300+'s 1,578. The Tuatara almost certainly weighs less, too; SSC claims a dry weight of 2,750 pounds, which would put the curb weight at somewhere in the low 3,000-lb range. Bugatti hasn't released the Super Sport 300+'s weight, but the regular Chiron weighs about 4,300 pounds.
Of course, design matters when it comes to being the fastest car on the planet, as well. "In designing a 300-plus mph car, you not only need a great power-to-weight ratio, but more importantly you need a low drag body that still has high speed stability, and efficient cooling — three attributes are all in conflict with each other," Tuatara (and former Pininfarina) designer Jason Castriota told Gear Patrol. "For example, a smooth uninterrupted shape will deliver low drag, but without air inlets it wont give you enough volume and velocity of air to cool and ensure the smallest and most efficient radiator package to handle thermal demands. If heat is caught inside the car, you could very easily have a mechanical failure because the car becomes a boiling pot."
"With the Tuatara, I set out to achieve the lowest drag possible and optimize our cooling, but we also had to ensure that we finely tuned the car's center of pressure, axle-to-axle aero balance and still created enough downforce to make sure the car stayed grounded. And we had to accomplish all of this putting too much aerodynamic weight and heat into the tires!"
"This led me to actually design the car from the inside out —because the goal became to maximize getting air into and out of the radiators at high velocity, and creating a long clean wake behind the car would be critical to not only achieving these speeds," Castriota said. "The exterior shape of the Tuatara is unique because every surface has been designed to accelerate air in and out of the radiators, and to keep air as laminate to the surfaces as possible to create a clean uninterrupted wake behind the car."
"The resulting form not only delivers an incredibly low drag (0.279Cd), we have an incredibly low center of pressure, ideal axel to axel balance and a long clean wake that keeps the car stable and instills confidence in the driver to explore the car's limits. "
When people think about hypercars they think about outlandish style," Castriota said, "but the Tuatara was not styled — it was designed. For me, design is about offering a beautiful solution to a problem and our problem was how do we create the fastest car in the world. The Tuatara is truly more akin to a jet than a car because its design is driven by its functionality. Everything you see on the exterior is there to help deliver the most efficient air flow possible."
"When you see the car under a typical warehouse setting [with] long fluorescent lights and you see the striping reflections, they mimic the exact manner in which air flows over the car. But more novel still is that the windscreen is so slippery, at 200mph you can actually drive with the windows down and without any outside air spilling into the car because the laminate air flow creates an air curtain."
Pushing the Tuatara's slippery shape through the air is left to this 5.9-liter twin-turbo V8, which cranks out, as previously mentioned, an astounding 1,750 horsepower. That figure only comes if you're giving it E85 to drink, however; choose premium unleaded instead of grain alcohol, and it makes just 1,350 horses. That power heads to the rear wheels alone through a seven-speed hydraulic automated manual gearbox.
The chassis is carbon fiber, a monocoque built for SSC with the help of the aerospace firms that dot its Washington home. When you're not trying to break 300 mph, an active spoiler pops out to increase downforce.
A tuatara, in non-automotive contexts, is a member of an ancient group of reptiles that flourished at the same time as the dinosaurs but now are found only in New Zealand. They're most notable for having a light-sensitive "third eye" atop their head, and reportedly genotypically evolve faster than any other living species currently studied. Which, we suppose, is as good a reason as any to name your hypercar after something.