Engineering Inspiration: SSC Tuatara

Apparently, my interests have been well defined from a very young age. I’m told that I was able to say the names of car brands and models before I was able to say the names of my younger sisters. Clearly, I had my priorities in the right place. 

Growing up around cars at our family mobile car wash, I grew to love and appreciate the evolution of their designs and technology. My room always contained posters of my favorite vehicles on the wall and scale model cars that I saved up to buy. Fun fact, the first thing I ever bought was a light-up Hummer H2 from Walgreens – best ten dollars I’ve ever spent. Still, my love for cars is very untraditional as I have rarely had the opportunity to mechanically work on them. Instead, I spent hours combing through Motor Trend, Auto Week, and Road and Track clipping pictures of new vehicles and then writing down information about them on the back. My thesaurus-like knowledge of new cars led to nicknames from friends like “Hot Rod,” which only further defined me as a car guy.

Exerting the expertise that I’ve built over the past 18 years of my life, I must say that October of 2020 has been the most significant in the history of modern vehicle performance.

The automobile, much like its predecessors, was created with the intention of making travel easier. Over time, its’ purpose has shifted to meet different needs such as higher efficiency, larger size, greater luxury, and of course – speed. The past century and a half have been jam-packed with speed records that were continually broken, evermore pushing the boundaries of what a car can do. The most significant up until this month had been back on April 27, 2005, when the Bugatti Veyron broke the 400 kilometers per hour barrier that no production vehicle had ever reached. Reaching a single direction top speed of 411 kilometers per hour (255 miles per hour), no production vehicle had ever accomplished the feat. The Veyron became known as the first “Hyper” car as it was no longer competing with a regular “Super” car. It was in a category of its own.

The Bugatti Veyron served as the pinnacle of automotive engineering for nearly 15 years, challenging the boundaries of automotive and aerospace engineering as many of its instrumentation were developed by the aero industry. Bugatti not only sat at the top of the top speed pedestal but aimed for more, eventually making an iteration of the Veyron (the Veyron Super Sport) that was able to go 268 miles per hour. As unattainable as that speed sounds, there have been a handful of companies that had officially challenged the Veyron. Companies such as Hennessey and Koenigsegg were creating their own “hypercars” and getting the Guinness world record officials out to officiate. Interestingly, they’d occasionally be granted the record but the “Big Boss” Bugatti, would never say anything or retaliate. You see they are too refined for that sort of child’s play and would instead focus on developing the next monstrous vehicle.

With speeds already creeping up towards 300 miles per hour, it was only a matter of time before the record was to be attained. On September 2, 2019, a factory modified Bugatti Chiron (which would later go on to have a very short production run) reached a top speed of 304.7 miles per hour in a single direction. The single direction part is very important because it does not qualify for the record unless it can hit that speed again in the opposite direction that it did on the first run. That’s because the record is taken by averaging the speed that the vehicle reaches on opposite runs. Guinness was not going to give them the record unless they could prove that they could meet that requirement. They couldn’t meet it but they also couldn’t care less. They had created the first production (or near production) vehicle to travel at speeds over 300 miles per hour and every automotive news publication had already pressed publish. There was no changing the fact they had accomplished the feat even if they weren’t going to be granted the record.

Still, someone was going to get the official record and the industry had no idea when, where, how or who. That was……..until October 10, 2020, when the unheard of SSC Tuatara had the world-renowned Top Gear publish footage of their hypercar achieving the absolutely absurd speed of 331.1 miles per hour in one direction with an average of 316.1 miles per hour over two runs. The company was unknown to most. The vehicle is typically agreed to not be very handsome. Still, the hype was there and there was footage to prove them right. The industry was in a state of confusion, shell-shock, and joy in the fact that the record had been completely decimated. How had a newcomer to the “hypercar” realm break the record that the established brands had not yet done? Maybe the answer lays in the fact that they were not newcomers and they had “not” broken the record.

SSC was founded by Jarod Shelby (no connect to Carol Shelby) in 1998 and their first vehicle was created in 2003. That first vehicle, the SSC Ultimate Aero actually held the top speed production vehicle record in 2007 for a little while before Bugatti came back and created the Veyron Super Sport. Clearly, the engineers over at SSC have pretty good experience in creating ultra-fast vehicles. So, that establishes some credibility for them but what about them “not” breaking the record. Being that SSC is not an established brand name, the majority of the press they got besides Top Gear was from automotive YouTubers like “The Stradman.” These influencers posted it all over their social media and even made videos promoting the vehicle and its amazing feat. Still, as with all things on the internet, there were skeptics that didn’t quite believe what they had seen. One of those was the wildly popular YouTuber “Shmee150,” who posted a video where he claimed to have solid evidence that they had indeed not broken the record.

In his video, Shmee goes on to mathematically disprove the video evidence provided by SSC by comparing it to a run that Koenigsegg had made a few years before on the same road in Nevada. In his video, he shows how the Tuatara claims to be significantly faster than the Koenigsegg but when the videos are put side to side starting at the same comparison point, it is actually slower. Later in the video, he even explains that according to SSC’s specifications, it was physically impossible to achieve that speed in the gear they said they did with the gear ratios of the transmission. So, they lied right?

Well, after many publications reposted and elaborated on “Shmee150’s” video, SSC’s founder Jarod Shelby, faced the public by posting a video on YouTube. In the video, he tells the story of the company, the struggles they’ve gone through, and addresses the controversy head-on. He says the footage and video had been outsourced to an external company that did everything, including sending it to the press. SSC had never seen the footage themselves since after all they witnessed it in person in real-time. Although the claims made are quite illogical, the promises made at the end of the video break the bad habits that Bugatti had made the standard. Mr. Shelby promised to redo the record-breaking run again, use a different company for the footage, and invite all those who recognized the flaws in the footage (including Shmee150) to come and watch it live.  

After that entire fiasco, the record now lays in question, and seemingly no one knows what to believe. A question entered my mind after looking at the entire situation which is, “Does it really matter if the SSC Tuatara’s footage was accurate or not?” Much like when Bugatti did not care about establishing the official record with the Chiron, the fact that they achieved a speed of over 300 miles per hour opened the stage for a new generation of vehicles and engineers to beat it. In my engineer mindset, I feel that innovation should be an inspiration for more new projects to come. In our ever-evolving world, no process (besides life lol) stops, they are always evolving into something new. It’s like when people say “Get with the times already!” because if you are not at the same point as everyone else or ahead of them, you are behind. That’s why fashion trends are always changing, new phones are always made, and why everything is becoming better with every iteration (ie. Compare a Kia from 20 years ago and one from now, you’ll be amazed). 

I truly believe that whether or not SSC actually hits 331 miles per hour again (or 350 like they claim they can), there will always be people who saw that figure and were left stunned. Those people much like myself when I first saw the Bugatti achieve its insane top speed, will be inspired and motivated to want to fly high and above those speeds someday. As I further my education as a mechanical engineer with the goal to eventually work in the automotive industry, I’m so excited to learn and see the capabilities of an engineer first hand. One day I’ll be out there pushing the boundaries that no one thought could be moved and shattering the record that we all thought were unbreakable.

Assumptions

I wake up to the sound of my rock n’ roll inspired alarm blaring out the tunes that get my day started. Rolling out of bed, I begin to make myself look presentable for the many zoom calls and trips to the dining hall that I will be taking today.

As I open the door to head out for my favorite meal of the day, breakfast, I , by force of habit, check my pockets to make sure I have everything. “Key, wallet, phone- what am I missing….” tends to happen often. Nowadays, I can’t forget to grab a mask and have it on properly until I gladly consume my entire container of home fries and eggs. Leaving with my fish-patterned mask, I head downstairs and out of West Hall seeing the same people that I encounter daily. With a “Hi” and an air wave, I let them know of my intention to greet them and receiving a similar gesture, I assume with the same ecstatic feeling.

Inside the CC, I swipe my ID, ask for some of the day’s food specials, and try to engage in small talk with some of my favorite dining staffers. I assume their reactions and facial expressions to our conversations and wish them the best as I head to my every-morning spot. Sitting, I remove my mask and expose my excitedness to my fellow household members as I take in the view of my meal. They, way more than any others, get to see and understand my almost consistent facial reactions. I wish I could share them with more people. I wish more people could share theirs with me.

Still, if you see me around- whether it be over zoom or on campus- there is no need to assume what I’m thinking. I’m excited to be here. Everyday as I wake up, hearing that same alarm sound, I grow exponentially happier at the thought of where I am. I look forward to holding the door open for someone and love watching people do incredibly cool things outside. I love everything about out school. I love Olin.

More than ever, I think its important to express yourself outwardly because it is so hard to assume what someone else is trying to convey behind their mask. Make it known how much you love your project team meetings! Exclaim why you cannot do without the garlic knots in the dining hall! Project how much you love having access to unlimited Zoom meetings! People need to know how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and how you’re doing. So let’s stop assuming that others assume you’re “doing well today.” Let them know.

A Fresh Man Amidst COVID

When I left Candidate’s Weekend, I knew that I had found my new home and that I wanted to return this fall. I dreamt of working next to my roommate, disassembling our entire room, and building a penthouse in our hotel room of a dorm. The aroma of the top-notch food coming out of Rebecca’s Cafe followed me around as I sat at my high school’s cafeteria. I envisioned all of the custom parts I was going to create in the shop to put on my car that I had planned on driving to campus. Campus is Oz and I am young Dorothy on the yellow brick road that leads up to the Oval in the middle of Needham. The difference between my dream and hers is that my Wizard of Oz isn’t a person; instead, it is the changes that the global pandemic instituted.

My hopes and wishes for my previous dreams to come true will have to wait as now I, with my peers, have to enter into uncertainty. The uncertainty of a school year unlike any other, where things change quite literally every day leaves room for a lot of doubt, confusion, anxiety, and questions that cannot always be answered. Throw on top the fact that I’m a first-generation college student and now you have the Wicked Witch of the West’s cauldron of “Not knowing what to do” stew. Still, as much as COVID has changed the course of this year negatively, at least for me, it has radically changed me for the better too.

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that this pandemic has created a lot of change from the routine lives we have all been living. My entire junior and senior years of high school were nothing but routines and conformity to the path of least resistance outside of the classroom.I had always been told that I should take the hardest classes I could and be involved with clubs in school. In order to avoid any unnecessary stress, outside of class I kept doing everything that I thought was helping me, regardless of how detrimental it actually was. I would get home, eat dinner, do homework, shower, do even more homework, and then go to sleep everyday at the same exact times. I was in the same relationship for the entirety of those two years and never even questioned why I was in it in the first place. I ate the same junk food that kept me full of energy and allowed me to grind hard all day. Clearly the grind worked because I’m here now.

Yet, as things got increasingly harder and more stressful, I relied more on the aforementioned routines than before. I ate more junk food, slowly pushed sleep back as homework took more time, and slowly distanced myself from the relationship I was in. The life I had grown accustomed to served its purpose. But, unbeknownst to me, I was no longer the same guy that entered his junior year with aspirations to go to engineering school. When, COVID hit California hard and I had to take classes from our dining table, I recall opening the portal to see I had been accepted into Olin. I had now reached my lifelong goal but had no-one around to celebrate with besides my immediate family. Where was the yelling and partying that all of the television shows I had watched growing up told me I needed to do with that news? Seemingly, the hugs and praises from my family were not enough as I felt the result deserved more of a reaction. The “friends” and “relationship” I thought I had were only useful when the grind was on but no longer there. Now that I’m telling everyone that I got into this small engineering school that MIT ranked number 1, no one cared. The food I thought had given me the world’s energy, had really only gave me a belly that I hadn’t noticed. Much like the world around me, I now had to change.

I learned that Olin has “core personal values” that it expects Oliners to strive towards during their 4 years. The fifth one, Openness to change, states that continually improving requires change even if that may lead to failure or more change. I was already committing myself to changing my entire life by accepting my offer of admission to Olin. I knew I was going to move across the country, leave my family back in California, and have to adapt to a new culture and climate on the east coast. How much harder was it going to be to try and lose some weight in the process, focus in on the people who actually care about me, and to try and return to my once ambitious self? In my head, if I was already doing that much to change my life, it couldn’t hurt to take it a step forward (almost like when you’re at the buffet and ask yourself should I get another plate, yes you always should). So, much like I had done before, I grinded all summer to accomplish my goals that I set on that revolutionary day that I got into Olin. Now as I arrive to campus, I’ve lost nearly 40 pounds and gained back strong bonds with my family and those who cared for me when I had lost self-care. 

Conformity is dangerous as it can lead to a blindness to what may lead on the side of risk. As we all begin our journey towards becoming the greatest engineers in the world we should consistently look towards innovating and improving in all aspects of our lives and work as the greatest changes happen when one takes risks.