British Steam Car: Think quick

The car's backers have called the 3-ton contraption "the fastest kettle in the world." Hunkered down in a California desert, now they just need to make it official.

In this day and age, it's hard to imagine that there might be an automotive speed record left that's only slightly north of 100 miles per hour. Heck, I've been passed by Audis on the autobahn that seemed to be going twice that fast.

But then, we've grown accustomed to cars with internal combustion engines. The record in question, which could finally fall this month after standing for more than a century, is held by a Stanley Steamer. In 1906, a gent named Fred Marriott drove a cigar-shaped steamer at Daytona Beach, Fla., to the then amazing speed of 127 mph.

Now along comes a 21st-century contender called the British Steam Car, which looks about as much like a Stanley-built vehicle as an F-16 looks like a Sopwith Camel. Looking for a catchier point of reference, the car's backers have taken to calling the 3-ton contraption, in at least one press release, "the fastest kettle in the world."

It's been a long road already this year to get the Brit-mobile ready for a record run, now set for sometime between August 18-22 after a postponement or two and some technical and logistical challenges. But just today, the steam team proudly proclaimed that in test runs on the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, their vehicle had--unofficially--bested the record, hitting a not-street-legal 131 mph.

Will they be cooking with, um, gas later this month when officials of the record-vetting Federation Internationale de l'Automobile join them in the desert? We'll know soon enough.

About the author

Jonathan Skillings is managing editor of CNET News, based in the Boston bureau. He's been with CNET since 2000, after a decade in tech journalism at the IDG News Service, PC Week, and an AS/400 magazine. He's also been a soldier and a schoolteacher, and will always be a die-hard fan of jazz, the brassier the better.

 

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