Here's how Alex Tremulis described his 1946 proposal for the Novi-powered streamliner: "Ab, in his greatest moment of frustration, asked: "Alex, What is wrong? I had my foot in the Mormon Meteor as deep as any man could go. One hour at 191 MPH and on one lap on the 10 mile circle when the oil and the grease in the axle got thin and warm I covered one lap at 196 MPH. All I needed was 4 more MPH, I would have settled for one lap at 200 MPH and forgotten about 200 MPH for one hour. I told Ab it was a question of aerodynamics. 750 HP simply wasn't enough - but don't worry about the Mormon Meteor. It is old and ancient, its streamlining belongs to the last generation. I'll give you 200 miles in the hour and then put you through the measured mile and we'll knock off Rudi Caracciola's 268 MPH in the Mercedes on the Autobahn. All I ask is that you let me streamline the vehicle with all four wheels fully enclosed. I had even incorporated the first adjustable aerodynamic wing to stabilize the C/G [center of gravity] on the 10 mile circle."
Here's how Tremulis described the jet car concept to Jenkins: "I told Ab if he wanted to be the fastest on earth that I would design a jet car for the record, designed around the 4000 lb thrust TG-180 gas turbine that we used on the P-80. When I first saw a print of the engine early in 1944 instead of designing an airplane around it I immediately laid out a land speed record jet car design. Ab wasn't enthusiastic at first. He really thought it best to do it with a wheel driven vehicle. He said: "How about two Curtiss Conquerers?" Not enough power. "Then how about two Allisons?" No Ab, the British will kill us with their two stage Rolls Royce supercharged job and Fred would come back to haunt us the rest of our lives if Rolls Royce ever knocked us off. It had to be an all-American project including the tires. Dunlop had the only 400 MPH capability. Our tires could be no larger O.D. than 36 inches for my design and knowing Dunlop they would probably go 48 inches or more for 600 MPH. Ab said he would look for a sponsor and not to worry about tires that Firestone could do anything in the world."
Photo from SonicWind.com.
As Tremulis described it: "Well, we had a press conference at Indy and the news clipping stated what we were going to do. I had sent a letter to General Le May as Lou Welch said if I could get a jet engine he would sponsor the car. As luck would have it good old Bim Wilson was his deputy. Naturally I couldn't get the TG-180 but the I-40, so what, it was only 4 more inches in diameter instead of the 36 inches I had designed for. The I-40 still had 4000 lbs thrust and who was I to look a gift horse in the mouth. A couple of calls to Washington plus an agreement with the Air Force that they would work out the air entry duct system and my agreement that we would allow for 500 lbs of AF instrumentation in order to justify the loan of the engine to the taxpayers. It looked like we would have an engine. As the engine was still restricted we would be given a wooden mockup of the engine in which to build our car and upon delivery to Wendover Air Base the engine would be installed and prepared for the Bonneville record runs upon 30 days notice. I had moved too fast for Lou Welch. Frankly I always believed that he thought that I would never be able to get an engine from the Air Force and that it was just a good publicity stunt anyway. I was embarrassed no end - having grabbed the ball and running with it and then being forced to drop it."
The descriptions in the 1953 article duplicate the 1946 descriptions from the newspapers with the exception that the TG-180 powerplant had been replaced with either a J30 or J34 turbojet engine to drive the wheels. Oddly enough, seven years after first discussed as being powered by the more powerful TG-180 (alternatively known as the J35), the direct-drive J30 or J34 engines seemed to be obsolete by 1953, so possibly these potential powerplants were leftovers from earlier descriptions. After seven years, apparently there were still no sponsors willing to take on such an ambitious task, possibly not wanting to be associated with it if it were to harm the ageing national hero in any way. It's interesting to note that the US Army stepped up to loan a jet engine for the American Meteor's record attempt, just as they had offered support to Frank Lockhart and his Stutz Black Hawk back in 1927 to help with wind tunnel testing in his quest the break the land speed record. Patriotism ran high back in those days.
On closer examination of both the sketch and the model, it appears the design was based on the development for the fuselage of the XP-80 (Shooting Star) that was tested in the wind tunnel around 1943 or 1944. The large tail on the model is a near copy of the tail on the XP-80A which was originally designed around the I-40 powerplant, slightly larger than the TG-180. It suggests that the model was built during the period that the project had planned to use the P-80 as its base rather than the later jet designs that followed. If so, the odds are very high that the model was built by Alex Tremulis himself, who by that time was a master at building scale models of concept cars and jet aircraft. The photos shown below of the XP-80 in the wind tunnel and the P-80 Shooting Star give a good indication of what the basic shape of the jet car would have looked like at full scale. The two entry ducts for the American Meteor look nearly identical to those developed for the P-80. Also, what initially looks like an exaggerated tail design on both the sketch and the model now becomes clear that it was a wind tunnel-proven design for the P-80 jet. Tremulis said in 1946 that the vehicle would be 30 feet long which is about 5 feet shorter than the P-80. This would add to the appearance of an oversized tail, even if it was of the same height as the P-80's tail.
To put this project in perspective, this was a full decade and a half before the first serious jet-powered vehicles would be making any land speed record attempts at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and almost 20 years before the Art Arfons/Craig Breedlove speed duels.
POTENTIAL INFLUENCE OF THE AMERICAN METEOR ON AUTOMOBILE DESIGN
To think that Tremulis' designs are not relevant in today's quest for the absolute land speed record would be severely underestimating the project's foresight. One needs to look no further than his original concept and compare it to any one of the latest efforts in land speed racing: Craig Breedlove's Spirit of America and the North American Eagle Project. Breedlove's car is an all-new design while the NAE bases its car on the workings of a wingless F104A Starfighter aircraft of the 1960's. Reducing the frontal area for maximum speed is critical in order to minimize the drag, so looking at the frontal views for each of these cars tells a compelling story: The similarities of the 70 year old American Meteor to the current contenders are astounding and a testament to its advanced design.
As Alex Tremulis often said while recounting his many automotive projects: "Maybe the future has finally caught up with the past".