If you’re a fan of the massively popular show Top Gear, there’s a good chance that you remember the time Richard Hammond had an accident while driving a jet-propelled car in 2006. While we heard a lot about the accident, and what went wrong, what they didn’t cover in great deal was the car itself. The Vampire was a truly unique machine, and although it’s since been scrapped as a record-setting machine, it had a long and interesting history that gave rise to a number of records.
The Vampire, despite being decommissioned, currently holds the British land speed record, which has remained in the car’s name for over a decade. The record was set on the 5th of July 2000, where the Vampire hit a maximum speed of 483.3 km/h at Elvington, Yorkshire, England. The Vampire was truly a class of its own, and since the devastating accident that almost claimed Hammond’s life, jet-propelled cars have since faded into obscurity, which is part of the reason the Vampire has yet to be beaten.
Its popularity was felt in my facets of every day life, including television shows, bingo for money cards, games, record books, and much more.
The vehicle was originally designed and constructed by Allan Herridge, an early pioneer of the British drag racing scene. It was part of a pair of identical racing cars that were powered by jet engines in 1982. The sister car, Hellbender, didn’t last long due to a crash that it was involved in 1986 while being driven by Mark Woodley. While Woodley was an exceptionally experienced driver, he was unfortunately killed in the accident, and the Hellbender was consequently scrapped.
The Vampire continued to make headlines over the next few decades, and its immensely powerful engine saw it snag the British land speed record at the turn of the century.
Six years after it set the record, the car was set to be driven by Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond. The idea was to have videos of Hammond racing the car, showing off its impressive acceleration and top speed. During the one run, Hammond actually managed to hit speeds of 505 km/h, which was faster than the record of the time. The speed wasn’t set as a new record, however, as there were not officials on the day to acknowledge the new land speed achievement.
During his seventh run of the day, Hammond suddenly veered off the road due to a malfunction with the Vampire’s one wheel. The crash was almost deadly, and the jet fuel powering the car began to leak, creating a fire. Fortunately, emergency teams managed to save Hammond from the crash, where he later fully recovered in the hospital.
The Vampire would never be repaired or rebuilt, and its remains were sold a year later on eBay UK. While jet-cars may make a come back, their dangers have caused them to be too risky to attempt building concepts.