Thrust SSC

Chapter 3 - Shaping Up
The Build Programme, England, June 1994-6

Noble then set about his fund raising, and the contract to build the car was awarded to specialist race-car builder, G-Force Engineering, in Fontwell, Sussex. There skilled craftsmen laid out the enormous spaceframe - 54ft long and 12ft wide - before beginning to fit the myriad of components to the car. Funding was extremely tight and the build program consequently delayed, but supplementing the sponsorship deals raised by Noble was the income from the Mach 1 Club. The brainchild of Robin Richardson, a long-time enthusiast of the World Land Speed Record, the Club was formed of people around the world who shared the vision and wanted to do their bit to make it happen. From the beginning Noble and Richardson intended that the Mach Oners (as they have become known) should have the opportunity to get as close to the project as possible, but never in those early days did they realise quite how crucial the support of the Club would become.

In April 1995 Robin Richardson's value to the project was again demonstrated when he suggested the formation of a Web Site. His employers, Digital, joined the list of project sponsors and the ThrustSSC Digital Web Site took shape. Like the Club, no-one then dreamed of the heights the Web Site would scale.

The build of the car progressed slowly, but by the autumn of 1995 the shape of the vehicle was clear to visiting Mach 1 Club members at the Open Days. An invitation was received to exhibit it at the London Motor Show at Earl's Court - and for the first time the SSC left Fontwell. With access to the workshops restricted, the car was extracted by crane, being lifted over power lines onto a waiting lorry on the adjacent race-course. The exhibition on a huge stand provided by Digital was exhausting for the team - but the merchandise sales and publicity achieved were invaluable. Helped by the Internet kiosks on the stand, the Web Site achieved its first notable peak of 5,600 accesses in one day.

The Motor Show had another significant impact on the Web Site, for it was there that Noble, Richardson and Mach 1 Club member Jeremy Davey met and agreed to meet again to discuss the possibility of the latter helping move the Web Site forward. They met in November, together with another Club member, Nick Chapman, and the newcomers were offered the chance to take on responsibility for the content, with a target of the New Year for their first re-vamp of the site. The rest is history - the site and its development team have grown enormously, with Team members providing articles, and more Club members joining in the production.

Two traditions were quickly established on the Web Site in its new guise as an online project newspaper - regular Lead Articles brought the news to the readership, while each month Richard Noble would present his summary of the previous months achievements and the challenges ahead. Serious and detailed coverage of the project on the Internet began at this point - and there is no better way to tell the story than to lead you through that coverage.

Optimistically it was calculated that ThrustSSC would be completed by April 1996, so an exhibition of the completed car at Beaulieu was announced, including photographs of the part-completed car being craned out for the Motor Show. Noble's January update showed the first hints of the engineering minutiae that still remained, and that would cost many thousands of man-hours yet, while Breedlove's plans to test run at Edward Air Force Base were revealed.

At the end of the January Noble flew out to California to meet Breedlove, and they produced and signed an agreement on the shared use of the Black Rock Desert in September. The schedule was set for the race to the Sound Barrier.

Noble's February Update spoke again of the financial struggles as the build of the car consumed every penny - a theme which was to recur again and again. The site continued to report on the build progress - for the first time it was being made clear to the world just what is involved in building such a car.

March began - as every month does - with Richard Noble's update and an outline of the future with airfield testing and continued hints of progress in the search for a second desert. The latter would be crucial - with Breedlove's test sites virtually on his doorstep by comparison with ThrustSSC's situation, it was essential to give the car high-speed testing before the big showdown in America. Every desert in the world that might be suitable had been identified and examined, and an excellent candidate was found that would be dry long before Black Rock - but for the moment Noble was not saying where.

The Club meanwhile held another Open Day at Fontwell with the chance to see the car and listen to presentations by the Team. Those who attended were able to take the opportunity to sign the inside of ThrustSSC's engine cowlings - a tradition started many years previously by Charles Lindbergh's crew, and continued by another team aiming for a famous World First.

The Web Site popularity was growing rapidly, and as the Motor Show peak was being reached and surpassed, the hardware was upgraded to take the increasing load. With the trial running and attempt in Black Rock approaching, the necessary support equipment was planned. Centring around the mobile computer centre - eventually to be known as the Pit Station - the capabilities would include satellite telecommunications back to the UK to transmit data from the car to the research institutions for analysis, as well as to receive the results back on the desert.

Finally in April the team's new base was announced. ThrustSSC was moved from Fontwell to be finished off and tested at the Defence Research Agency's base in Farnborough. The pace of work became frenetic as the team fitted wiring looms, hydraulic systems, instrumentation and thousands and thousands of parts. More Open Days gave the public a chance to see the car - as well as providing much-needed merchandise sales.

June was when the team was supposed to go to Jordan - but that summer the car was still in thousands of pieces. More parts kept arriving by the day, and equipment spaces became fuller and fuller - making the task fitting the next parts even harder. The number of manhours worked hugely exceeded expectations as the team worked day and night to finish the car. As well as parts for the car, the support equipment began to arrive in Q Shed - Supacats, Scania trucks and a satellite dish.

At the end of June ThrustSSC made a very popular visit to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, taking pride of place in front of the stately home. The car looked good, but the truth was that there was still an enormous amount of work to do. The project continued to consume funds at an incredible rate - the lull for Goodwood at least helped put some cash back into the coffers while the technicians took a few days rest.

Out in Jordan meanwhile, Andrew Noble was hard at work making the preparations for the team's arrival. The tracks were being surveyed and marked, the dips where Bedouin desert routes intersected them filled and rolled, and an access road built onto the playa to enable the large trucks to reach it.

Back in England, the engine team were preparing their pairs of Speys for use - checking out the 202's and getting the 205's uprated and balanced. Finally, in August, the car was ready for its first tests!

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