America’s King of Speed
Craig Breedlove became one of the most popular motorsports personalities in America after breaking the land speed record five times between 1963 and 1965. He was born in Los Angeles, California in 1937 to parents who worked in the movie industry. He bought his first car when he was only 13, and at 16 drove his 1934 Ford hot rod with a supercharged V8 engine to a recorded speed of 154 mph on the dry lakes of the Mojave Desert. Four years later, he drove a supercharged Oldsmobile-powered streamliner to 236 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
After high school, Breedlove worked at Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica as a technician in structural engineering where he learned many of his design and engineering skills. In 1959, he bought a military surplus jet engine for $500 to create his first land speed record vehicle. Inspired by President Kennedy’s “Ask what you can do for your Country” speech, Breedlove named his car “Spirit of America” with the goal of being the first American in 30 years to hold the land speed record. Breedlove finished his revolutionary new jet-car in 1962 and took it to Bonneville. However, he was unable to break Englishman John Cobb’s land speed record of 394 mph. Breedlove made improvements to the car and returned the following year to set a new record of 407 mph.
His record would be broken the next year, however a few days later, Breedlove set another new record of 526 mph. The new record came at a high price. During the run, Breedlove lost both drag parachutes and brakes. His car sliced through a row of telephone poles at 400 mph and stopped nose down in an 18-foot-deep salt brine pond. He had to swim out of the wreck, but was miraculously unhurt. Breedlove set another speed record in 1965 when he became the first human ever to drive faster than 600 mph. Thanks to his courage and tenacity, Breedlove would become a household name, and he is regarded by many as America’s king of speed.