Words: Ben Abrams | Photos: Drew Larrigan
The relationship of form and function has long been a delicate dance for car manufacturers. In the case of supercars, when speed and handling limits are pushed to the extreme, manufacturers have an even bigger challenge to make their cars safe and sexy at the same time. Take the Bugatti Veyron as an obvious example. Countless dollars were spent on engineering and building a vehicle that was capable of 250+mph while doing it safely. Did they achieve a unanimously beautiful solution to achieve such a feat? I think many would say no. The Veyron was built to go mind-bendingly fast yet also be capable of normal speeds in comfort and luxury. Also, forgive the cliché, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For as many people that believe the Veyron missed the mark aesthetically, you will find those who consider it a gorgeous example of Automotive royalty.
Enter the SSC Ultimate Aero. The car that dethroned the mighty Veyron for almost three years as the top speed world record holder for production cars. It wasn’t built in a state of the art factory under the oversight of one of the world’s largest manufacturers. It didn’t have a blank check for engineering, design, production or assembly. It was built by a small team of dedicated craftsmen, tested at the NASA wind tunnel, and has cemented a well-deserved spot amongst the ranks of boutique supercar manufacturers worldwide.
The car shown in these photos is the last Ultimate Aero built by SSC (previously known as Shelby Supercars) out of their modest garage in rural eastern Washington State. Although it’s impossible not to applaud the Guinness achievement, especially given the fact that it was done on a public (closed) road as opposed to a track specifically designed for top speed, people have found it easier to pick holes in the aesthetic design of the Ultimate Aero. Jerod Shelby was a product design engineer and accomplished kart racer who decided to step into the arena of building the fastest car in the world. This was his first crack at it. At the time of the original design, the Ultimate Aero’s peers were cars like the Saleen S7 and Koenigsegg CCR. Few would argue the appeal of these designs.
As any upstart car manufacturer would likely experience, there were fit and finish issues with the first Ultimate Aeros. That being said, the world record car still exists to this day and is driven regularly. Keyboard cowboys are fond of calling the Ultimate Aero a “kit car”. According to Guinness, the Ultimate Aero qualifies as a production car. Because SSC used parts from other cars to finish theirs, does it negate all of the original parts they designed and fabricated? I personally don’t think so. I’m not sure where the line gets drawn between “kit” and “production” but my stance is that calling the Ultimate Aero “kit” is an empty insult to throw at a car like this.
This car was built to, and did, achieve a ludicrous speed of 250+mph. Its function was the primary reason for its existence. Its form was built to compliment the function and not distract in any way from it. Unlike the Veyron, SSC didn’t have Volkswagen’s resources to tick all the boxes at both ends of the form/function spectrum directly from the start. It took some time and customer feedback for the fit and finish issues to be resolved and each example improved with every Ultimate Aero delivered.
Car #15, the only 2011 SSC Ultimate Aero, was photographed at the Roozengaarde Tulip field about 1 hour north of Seattle. Otherwise known as Tulips.com, these kind folks were nice enough to allow us onto their lawn in the midst of a typical April deluge in the northwest. What better backdrop for a car built in Washington State then the gorgeous flood of colors that come into bloom for only 2-3 weeks in the Puget Sound springtime?
The world anxiously awaits for the Ultimate Aero’s successor to come out of West Richland, WA – the SSC Tuatara. Jerod Shelby enlisted the help of Jason Castriota to make sure there would be no gripes aimed at the aesthetic of the new car. Many believe the Ultimate Aero is a dated design, the Tuatara is seemingly biased towards the future to make up for this complaint.
Whatever your thoughts on the form of the Ultimate Aero, its function can not be denied. Jerod Shelby’s car holds a firm place in the history books as being the only car designed and built entirely in America on the esteemed list of “World’s Fastest Cars”. Maybe, for that reason alone, it deserves the respect of any one who ever scribbled a picture of a car on the back of a notebook and thought, “what if?”
This car is currently for sale at CatsExotics.