How The SSC Tuatara Went From Top Gear Joke To World Record Holder

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It wasn't an overnight process.

It seemed like yesterday, when a small American company called Shelby SuperCars created a vehicle called the Ultimate Aero that dethroned the Bugatti Veyron as the fastest car in the world. Bugatti swiftly took back its record with the Veyron Super Sport, but SSC pledged its revenge in 2011 with a concept called the Tuatara. We can still remember the Top Gear news segment mentioning the Tuatara, when Clarkson, May, and Hammond joked about the unpronounceable name.

Almost a decade later, it's SSC that's having the last laugh, as the production Tuatara (pronounced two-uh-tar-a) just broke the production car top speed record with an average speed of 316.11 mph, beating the 2020 Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+. Going from a joke on a TV show to a world record holder was no simple task. CarBuzz spoke with SSC North America CEO Jerod Shelby to find out how much went into making this achievement a reality.

SSC North America
SSC North America
SSC North America
SSC North America

"I know exactly what you're talking about on Top Gear. They were kind of making fun of the name, calling it the Tuatawatta, or whatever," Shelby joked. "But to us, it was like 'Hey, we're being mentioned on Top Gear!' Back then, it was so cool." Obviously, the show hosts had plenty of reasons to laugh, as over the years various boutique automakers have emerged with bold claims that never materialize into anything of substance.

"When we rolled out the concept, I set a lofty set of performance specs. The engineering mantra for this thing was 'exceed,' so, in every area of the car, we wanted to exceed the specification," Shelby explained. "We took the first concept car to the concept lawn in 2011, to see what kind of feedback we would get on the looks. We thought, within the next three to four years, we can get through development." As it turns out, the process took much longer.

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SSC North America
SSC North America
SSC North America
SSC North America

"Multiple things happened," Shelby told us with emotion emanating from his voice. "During that time, I had lost my wife to cancer and was dealing with a lot of personal things, raising a family. And at the same time, our company got defrauded for several million dollars. It was one of those things that I think most companies would have just thrown in the towel. It was just too much to overcome."

But Shelby didn't quit on his dreams. Shelby told us that he felt that the entire SSC package, meaning the car and the development team, was always destined for success. "We just went quiet," he explained. "This is taking us longer than we think behind closed doors. But I'd rather come up with something that blows everybody away than to keep putting out excuses for why we're not out this year or next year. So we were a few years behind schedule, but I always look at the glass half full; it gave us more of an opportunity to keep refining the design."

SSC North America
SSC North America
SSC North America
SSC North America

Shelby's story explains why news surrounding the SSC Tuatara was so scarce up until 2018 when the engine was announced, and then earlier this year when deliveries began. It does almost feel like SSC went from a Top Gear joke to world record holders overnight. We can only begin to imagine what it was like for Shelby and his company behind closed doors, but SSC has emerged victorious and looks to dominate on a world stage for years to come.

SSC North America
SSC North America
SSC North America
SSC North America

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