Callaway Cars turned the performance car on its head one October 33 years ago, when its one-off C4 Corvette, nicknamed “Sledgehammer” recorded a top speed of 254.76 miles per hour driven by the late John Lingenfelter. The location was the former Transportation Research Center, now owned by Honda, which features a 7 mile oval, and the banking is neutral at 150 mph. While not an “official” Guinness World Record for a production car, no other salable Corvette offered by General Motors or reputable aftermarket company has come close to achieving this feat. Fast forward to 2021, and it’s time to see if things will change.
MC&T recently caught up with Callaway Cars founder, Reeves Callaway, and here’s what he had to say about the possibility of a new Sledgehammer, and setting speed records otherwise:
“The strict answer today is no,” said Callaway, when asked if his company is planning a successor to the Sledgehammer Corvette. “The great problem of top speed demonstration is not building a car that will do it, but finding a place where you can do it safely.”
With that said, it appears impossible that we’ll see a 250+ mph C8 Callaway Corvette in the future. Perhaps when the record was still hovering closer to 200 mph compared to the 300+ mph targets that some hypercar companies are racing to set, finding a high-speed venue appeared more tangible. But in the days of the SSC Tuatara, Koenigsegg Jesko, and Bugatti Chiron Super Sport, setting things up has gotten more than just a little bit tricky.
“Back in the days when you could rent the TRC and use it for high speed testing, it very quickly shown what the problems were,” Callaway began to explain. “We’re talking about speeds 250 mph and above, so that track doesn’t become suitable anymore, because the lateral loads are too high, and then you can only use the straightaway portion for top speed. And then that leaves you with the problem of the next corner, entering speeds way beyond what the vehicle could handle. So you really need something, at the 300 mph point, you need a sensible location like Bonneville to do it.”
Below is a 45 minute documentary that showcases the 1988 top speed run of the Callaway Sledgehammer Corvette at TRC. Reeves Callaway is the articulate, Bill Murray-looking fellow:
If you watch the video in its entirety, you can see how far 33 years have come in regards to top speed testing, in terms of both safety equipment, and ease of holding the event. And while it’s true that top speed records have always been about entering uncharted territory, it would seem that there simply isn’t enough tarmac out there required from speeds the most modern crop of hypercars are marketing.
“At the end of the day there isn’t enough straightaway. I don’t know what the real value of top speed testing is other than bragging rights,” said Reeves Callaway. He did note that off-road locations such as the Bonneville Salt Flats and Black Rock Desert are possible options, but says that taking things off the pavement “loses appeal” for on-road vehicles.
To Reeves Callaway’s point, SSC North America founder Jerod Shelby is keeping things on the pavement, and had to convince the State of Nevada to close a public road to perform a top speed run on the Tuatara, which took over six months. There are plans to re-run the SSC Tuatara top speed attempt later this year, which went into planning starting last year. All of this work is being done to prove that the American machine can in fact break the 300 mph barrier. In doing so, SSC seeks to establish the Tuatara as a globally elite hypercar that’s worth its seven-figure price tag. Oppositely, Reeves doesn’t think pursuing top speed would help sell more Callaway cars.
“I don’t think it’s important to our owners. I think it’s largely a waste of time,” he said.
We’ll have more stories from our exclusive Reeves Callaway interview very soon, so be sure to check back to Muscle Cars & Trucks to see what’s next.