First Look: SSC Tuatara

Goliath, meet David.

by on Aug.24, 2011

Heading for a new land speed record? The SSC Tuatara will push for 275 mph.

Goliath, meet David.  Oh, and watch out for the rock.

It came as more than a little surprise, a few years back, when a little automotive start-up – from Washington State, no less – bested big Bugatti, the ultra-luxury Volkswagen Group brand to grab the world production car speed record, SSC’s Ultimate Aero topping out at a blistering 258 mph.

Bugatti ultimately got the trophy back, but the world was put on notice: don’t dismiss the folks from Shelby Super Cars.  No, not that Shelby.  This guy made a fortune developing medical devices before getting into automotive manufacturing, but spend a little time with Jerod Shelby and you realize he’s as passionate as anyone who grew up in the car business.

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And he’s got a new passion these days, SSC’s second car finally ready to reveal in time for the past weekend’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. was there for the roll-out – and spent time over a long lunch discussing the oddly-named SSC Tuatara.

Designer Jason Castriota with the SSC Tuatara.

According to Shelby, the name comes from a New Zealand lizard that reportedly has the fastest-changing DNA known to science.  We’re not quite sure how that relates to the automotive business, but we’ll let that slip.  Odd names are becoming increasingly common in the auto world.  VW, for one, named its Touareg after a nomadic African tribe that once traded in slaves.

The Tuatara was designed by Jason Castriota, he of the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, as well as the Saab Phoenix concept car.  It’s a sleek affair that Castriota says puts the emphasis on aerodynamics – no surprise considering it will ultimately seek to set a new speed record of 275 mph.

To get there, weight was another challenge, but as work is completed on the final design SSC is targeting a mass of just 2,700 pounds.

At 275 mph aerodynamics are critical.

To move that metal – and composite, the Tuatara making extensive use of carbon fiber for even its wheels – the development team turned to a modified version of the original Ultimate Aero twin-turbo 6.9-liter V-8.  In the new car it goes to a DOHC 32-valve layout.  Horsepower jumps to 1350, according to Shelby, enough to launch the car from 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds on the way to that record top number.

Curiously, the enthusiastic young entrepreneur insists that going for the record is not his top priority.  “We want to get people to recognize the Tuatara is about more than just straight-line acceleration, he explains.”

SSC founder Jerrod Shelby.

The original Ultimate Aero was an unexpectedly fun car to handle but was largely perceived as a hot rod that couldn’t do much more than accelerate…and accelerate…and accelerate.  Shelby wants to prove the new car is much more than that.

It will also offer a much more lavishly interior than the original, which seemed like it had largely been outfitted with parts cobbled together from the shelves of a radio sur store.

But expect an emphasis on high tech with plenty of LCD displays to keep the pilot, er, driver up on what that big engine is doing.

Plans call for putting the first SSC Tuatara on the road in early 2013, explains Shelby, with a new car rolling off the line in Washington about every four weeks.  That factory will be the only U.S. showroom, he adds, and buyers will be invited to visit to watch their cars come together.

There’ll be another five showrooms in Europe, and five in China.

The price tag for the SSC Tuatara is estimated at just “in excess of $1 million,” Shelby suggests.

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