Thrust SSC - Supersonic Race Update

Richard Noble's March 1997 Update

Richard Noble

Well, I guess we’re on our way!

Frankly it has been an appalling series of weeks - whilst the team build operation and the planning has worked really well, the financial side has been very worrying.

As you know we reorganised the company with Nick Dove running the workshop and Jerry Bliss handling planning as well as the myriad of systems work. Glynne had redesigned the rear suspension and a second set of Dunlop rear wheels and the secondary parachute hitch - and Chris Cowell found a fuel pump mount problem which required redesign, fortunately at a time when both engines were out. In addition the specialist aerodynamic tweaks which Ron had incorporated now had to be made by Mike Horne as well as preparing all the panels for painting.

Yes painting! There lies a story: how do you paint such a huge beast? Well first you have to develop the colour. All along we had promoted ThrustSSC as a black and thus evil looking machine - in direct contrast to other LSR cars which tend to be brightly coloured. The problem actually began to develop when we were completing the car at GForce - the reality is that it is a really beautiful shape and it seems a shame to paint it matt black. Our salvation came from Jim Love of BASF Paints in Wolverhampton who design and supply all the paints for Rolls-Royce, Land-Rover, and other motor manufacturers. Jim and his team looked at the problem and came up with a brilliant first shot solution. Take the base black colour and then add a dark blue metallic mica, thus producing a blue sort of gunmetal colour. We tried all other combinations, but the first colour was the best: it's now known as BASF Supersonic Black.

Jim had also found us a ready team of 10 Porsche sprayers who were eager to get started. The first panels were sprayed in the Chinook spray booth at RAF Odiham - you can imagine that we were as anxious as Hell to see what they looked like. No need to worry - the Porsche spray team had done the most fantastic job - and the colour is a winner. There just remained the painting of the rest of the car - and that was finished at 4am this morning. So now we have a Supersonic Black Car.

It's very noticeable that since Nick took over, the workshop runs really smoothly and for once we start hitting our targets. The pace puts a tremendous pressure on everyone - as an example Glynne had redesigned the steering gears in the rear suspension legs. All the gearcutters promised delivery in 8 weeks - there was one exception, Walsh’s of Coventry who delivered on the day in 4 weeks. And as ever our friends in Lancashire, PDS Engineering, and in Birmingham, Survirn Engineering, came up with more machinings working to very tight deadlines. John Getty of PDS had driven down with the parts, and sat down in my office. I thought I would ask him the acid question:

"John, are you getting real industrial benefit for PDS from all this?

"I should say so, Richard. We contacted all your sponsors and we’ve had a huge amount of new business. Paid for itself many times over, has Thrust!"

"Oh, and by the way, Richard, we are your engineering support team. Fax us the drawings from Jordan - we’ll make anything high precision for you and have it on the next plane - you know that!"

It's that kind of support that makes this project not just possible but with a result which is attainable.

When we came back from Jordan we brought with us a great raft of unpaid bills. "No problem," I thought, "We’ll just get more sponsorship in and pay them." Wrong! As the New Year started there seemed to a reluctance from our sponsors to become involved. Perhaps because the initial burst of enthusiasm, excitement and PR was over - they now realised that we are into a long haul. And no doubt there are far more tempting opportunities around. Somehow we had to recover the situation fast, paying our debts, also finally completing ThrustSSC with all the engineering involved - and on top of that building the fund to get back to Jordan.

So whilst I flogged away with the sponsorships, the Mach 1 Club starting arranging a lengthy series of weekend roadshows for the members and Leigh Remfry took to the road to sell Thrust merchandise to the sponsors and their employees. There seemed to be a huge demand for the ThrustSSC green polo shirts and before long we were selling them at the rate of several hundred a day. Over in Wales the factory that produces them and embroiders the logo realised they were onto a good thing and called in their bank manager for an increase in working capital. The last of the silver Lledo ThrustSSC models have arrived - together with Lledo we have sold 7,250 of that edition, and 12,000 of the last edition. We are offering the last for sale now - and at the BBC Tomorrow's World Live Exhibition next week, where ThrustSSC goes on display in her new paint and logos. There will be a new Lledo model, but never again in silver - these are collectors items and like the first edition of black models will revalue very quickly.

On the Web Site, we were faced with another situation. During Jafr the page hit rate peaked at 60,000/day and graph curve showed that the numbers were going to rise beyond that really substantially, but with the onset of the desert flooding people understandably backed off. During January and February, we were faced with the decision of either hyping the site to try to maintain audience levels, or to let things slow until we had real news and a real way forward. We chose the latter, and I apologise for a certain slowness on the site - now we are going forward and there are a myriad of new ideas and promotions that we have been developing which start on site almost immediately.

And while on that subject, watch out for The Duck - more of that later this month! Curiously enough despite our efforts to relax and slow the site during Jan and Feb, the access rate never went below 80,000/week.

The next great event was the arrival of the Pioneer Productions Extreme Machines Land Speed Record video which is being screened in Europe on BSkyB on March 25th. It is very well cut and photographed and sets the pace really well. It was screened on The Learning Channel in the US on the 10th - and we got a flood of accesses into the site that night. We are delighted that Discovery wants to film a second one for this year.

By combining everyone's efforts on the sales activity (we never take donations, have no government or tobacco funding, and we are not a charity) we somehow made it through February and were able to pay the wages. This was a huge relief, because once the car was fully complete to supersonic standard our chances of refunding would improve substantially.

And then the sponsors started making decisions. A major one reconfirmed for 1997, agreed figures and then suddenly hesitated and reversed its decision. Then more and more sponsors started reconfirming - and not reversing their decisions. It brought on a good feeling because this means that they had re-evaluated us, had compared us with the competitive sponsorship opportunities available and then decided to continue with Thrust.

And there is one story which stands out among all. I’ll be able to reveal names later this month, but one of the early product sponsors took on a highly dynamic Business Development Director who came to see us in early February. I think he was impressed because on the way out he stated that he wanted to see the parent company as a main sponsor. Things moved very fast and yesterday one of the country's largest engineering industrial groups joined as a main sponsor.

Back at Farnborough the combined efforts of the Mach 1 Club and Leigh have started to bring large numbers of visitors. The team provide detailed technical lectures and our inside videos - and now that we have kitchen arrangements, Dee, Sally, Ninetta and Susie keep the meals running. And the money keeps flowing.

Andy is doing his stuff - mostly the PR engagements which earn money for the project. Castrol wanted him to go to New Zealand this week, but sadly for Andy the confirmation took too long to get back and the New Zealanders had to look elsewhere. Andy described it as two days sleep and two days promotion: "I tend to sleep well in aeroplanes!"

Over in the US matters are proceeding smoothly and the BLM have indicated that they are prepared to allow the two teams to run on the Black Rock Desert in September. So far so good.

Over in Jordan the weather has been disappointing - there has been far more rain than usual and because Jafr is a sump with 92 rivers flowing into it, it has remained stubbornly wet. But on Monday the message to Andrew Noble was that the desert is dry. There will be a proper inspection this Monday, and if that confirms the earlier report, then we are into D-Day (Dry Day) and the count down has started!

So now to Monday the 17th. Around midnight ThrustSSC will leave Farnborough on its huge trailer and move up to the NEC Exhibition Hall 4 in Birmingham. We have been invited to appear for a few days on the Year Of Engineering Success Stand at the BBC Tomorrow’s World Live Exhibition. You will be able to see ThrustSSC there and also drive the tremendous DERA 850mph simulator that they built for Andy. Andy and I will be there almost every day - so come along and meet us - and don’t forget to take home one of the very last silver ThrustSSC models!

From now on the pace quickens. How soon can we be out in Jordan? Is the desert really dry? What about the dust storms? Have we got the rear-wheel engineering really right? What’s happened to Craig Breedlove? - and what's all this about a Duck?

Its really moving now!

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