• Craig Breedlove, who set astonishing land speed records in the 1960s, has reportedly died at age 86.
  • The news of Breedlove's death comes via multiple media reports, including from a company that made a documentary on his record attempt.
  • Breedlove was the first to exceed 500 mph and then 600 mph in his land speed record runs at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

At 26 years old, Craig Breedlove shattered a land speed record that had been set when he himself was only 10. Gobbling up 11 miles of the Bonneville Salt Flats at 407 mph in 1963 was just the start. Breedlove's skill at setting records was as much about competition as it was a moving goalpost of human achievement. He was the first person ever to exceed 500 mph (October 1964) and reached 600 mph only a year later. Breedlove reportedly died on April 4, 2023, at the age of 86.

Breedlove's turbojet-powered racer, dubbed Spirit of America, was a three-wheeled speed devil. He set three records from inside the first iteration, which used a mighty General Electric J47 turbojet engine. The car was built with a $250,000 budget and continued to push the boundaries of speed up as high as 526 mph in 1965, before a violent crash led to its replacement by the Spirit of America Sonic 1. The Sonic 1 would set Breedlove's highest top speed of his lifetime at 600 mph in 1965, a land speed record that would be held for five years.

'spirit of america sonic i' breaking the land speed record, bonneville salt flats, utah, usa, 1965
’Spirit of America’ at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1965, where the Breedlove vehicle hit a top speed of 600.601 mph.
Heritage Images|Getty Images

Breedlove's passion for driving at speeds once thought impossible started when he was 13 years old. A friend he'd hang out with at drag racing events in Southern California threw him a helmet and let him drive. From that very first launch, his furnace for speed only grew hungrier. Later in life, Breedlove purchased a jet motor for $500 after the Korean War and used welding methods he learned working at a performance shop in Santa Monica to build his legacy.

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He didn't do it alone. He watched then wife Lee Breedlove become the fastest woman in the world when she drove the Sonic 1 to 308 mph in 1965. Together, they would set speed and endurance records at more places than just Bonneville, in an AMC Javelin and AMX. Breedlove was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2009.

Breedlove spent the end of his life working to build a car to beat the current 763-mph land speed record set by Andy Green in 1997. In an interview in 2018, we asked him if there was anything he would've done differently. He told us this: "I don't think so. It's been a pretty exciting ride. Not that it wasn't fraught with a few problems, but that's life, and you grow from that. I'm really satisfied with everything I've done so far, and hopefully we'll get to build this other car. If I last that long."

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Austin Irwin
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Yes, he's still working on the 1986 Nissan 300ZX Turbo project car he started in high school, and no, it’s not for sale yet. Austin Irwin was born and raised in Michigan, and, despite getting shelled by hockey pucks during a not-so-successful goaltending career through high school and college, still has all of his teeth. He loves cars from the 1980s and Bleu, his Great Pyrenees, and is an active member of the Buffalo Wild Wings community. When Austin isn’t working on his own cars, he’s likely on the side of the highway helping someone else fix theirs.