British Team set the Land Speed Record for Steam-Powered Vehicle

The Fastest Steam Car in the World on BBC Two

You’ve got to love the quirky nature of determined British boffins obsessed with testing the limits of engineering for the simple pleasure of setting new world records. It isn’t about trying to advance technology or creating something new but just people pushing themselves for personal satisfaction. Sure they might enter the history books along the way that’s almost a secondary point. It’s all about creativity and determination; all that makes Scrapheap Challenge endearing in a nerdy way.

The Fastest Steam Car in the World is somewhat self-explanatory title as it follows an attempt by a fixated team of enthusiastic engineers, lead and financed by eccentric millionaire Charles Burnett III and including test driver Don Wales, grandson of former record land speed record holder Sir Malcolm Campbell, to break one of the oldest land speed records.

The name too gives away the conclusion as those who didn’t watch it should know the unsurprising outcome. That’s why it wasn’t called The Second Fastest Steam Car in the World.

British Team build Fastest Steam Car

Although hurried at the start of the show the quest for a suitable runway ended with Edwards Air Force Base in California being chosen as the perfect location. Once their members of the team swept the desert to remove tiny stones from the car’s path which could prove to be dangerous once it reaches higher speeds and made the last minute preparations.

Basically it’s kind of what the Top Gear challenges would be like without the over-exhausted hyperbole, pointless explosions and childish behavior of the middle-aged hosts.

After a couple of false steps early on could have left 10 years of hard graft go to nothing but this is television and what’s the gogglebox without an ounce of drama? It came down to one of the final runs where Burnett broke the record with an average speed of 139.843mph over the measured mile…until West, adamant to add to his families impressive legacy, jumped into the car and set a faster average at 148.308mph.

The Fastest Steam Car in the World

In all, it was 30 minute one-off that didn’t overdo the technical details of the process (that’s Horizon’s job) but at the same time skimmed over some of the finer points of how to harness the power of steam to complete such a feat.

However, it seems that far from being a sciencey show delving into psychics The Fastest Steam Car in the World was more about a personal journey and a poignant one given that Frank Swanston, the chief engineer who worked on the project for six years, died before the attempt could be finalised.

Okay, it wasn’t perfect, the programme moved a little too quickly to really understand the scope of the time and effort put into this project and Wales did have an annoying habit of mentioning his family history. (Yes they achieved great feats in the field of engineering but speak more about your own accomplishments.) Regardless The Fastest Steam Car in the World it was a positive sliver of TV highlighting good old fashioned willpower. Who said Britain doesn’t win anything?

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