Is the SSC Tuatara the Fastest Car in the World After All?

On October 10th, 2020, automotive history was made.

Local news outlets broke news of a mysterious top-speed run taking place on State Route 160 in Nevada. Witnesses recalled watching a black teardrop reach indescribable speeds from a distance. Official news broke only days later. After 55 years of foreign dominance, an American car manufacturer was back at the top of the hypercar heap after setting a new top speed record. The manufacturer in question was SSC North America, formerly known as Shelby SuperCars (not to be confused with Shelby American with whom the previous American top speed record belonged to).

What exactly was SSC’s ticket to hypercar history? The Tuatara. It had purportedly reached an average speed of 316mph going two directions, with a max speed of 331mph.

SSC is not new to the hypercar game. If anything, they’ve always been a bit ahead of their time. The Tuatara is a successor to the Ultimate Aero, SSC’s first model which fought tooth-and-nail for a top speed record with the Bugatti Veyron back in the late-2000s. However, calling the Tuatara a successor to the Aero almost doesn’t do it justice; it’s a completely different beast. To the untrained eye, the Tuatara looks like a typical bodacious render from an Italian design house. That’s not a coincidence, as SSC’s founder Jerod Shelby picked up ex-Pininfarina and Bertone designer Jason Castriola to do the handiwork for the Tuatara. Yet, besides its exotic looks, the Tuatara is as American as it gets: everything including the motor, transmission, and frame were designed and built at their sole assembly facility in Richland, Washington.

When SSC released their official documentation of the October 10th speed record attempt, the car community met their achievement with widespread praise and admiration. Top Gear got in on the action, and their video covering the speed record reached #2 on YouTube trending in the United States. Even all the major mainstream media outlets briefly paused their 2020 election coverage for a quick piece on the American car maker’s feat.

Despite this, it didn’t take long before suspicions began to arise. Mere months after Bugatti crossed the coveted 300mph mark for the first time, was it really possible for a car to smash the production car speed record by such a wide margin? Not to mention that Bugatti’s ticket, the Chiron SS 300+, was a prototype vehicle on specialized tire and the Tuatara was production ready and set the record on off-the-shelf Michelin Cup 2s.

The first major voice to express their concerns was Tim Burton, better known as Shmee150, a popular YouTube creator who has amassed an impressive internet following for his supercar content. On October 26th, he published a video called Did the SSC Tuatara REALLY set a 331mph World Record?. Within hours the video garnered nearly a hundred thousand views. In typical Shmee150 fashion, Tim laid out a detailed outline of his concerns with SSC’s top speed run. Since the Koenignegg Agera RS, the sitting fastest production car, set the world record on the same piece of Route 160 in 2017, Tim was able to geolocate medians along the strip of highway and track the speed of both cars given the videos and using the family-favorite D = RT. I highly suggest you watch Tim’s video since he does a phenomenal job explaining his findings, but the long story short is that the Agera RS was able to travel farther along Route 160 (corresponding to the medians) than the Tuatara did in the same duration. This is problematic because the Tuatara was supposed to be traveling at far greater speeds.

Nothing has resulted from Shmee150 “exposé” yet as SSC or anyone affiliated with them have not released any statements. Comments were turned off on all of SSC’s social media posts shortly after the video was released, however, which raises a few eyebrows.

So is the Tuatara the new production car top speed record holder? We’re not sure. The situation is still ongoing, and even though it’s possible there’s a reasonable explanation to counter Shmee150‘s findings, we’re not exactly sure who to believe. For the time being, we still consider the fastest production car in the world to be the Koenigsegg Agera RS.

Stay tuned for further updates.

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