Meet America’s latest supercar, SSC’s first production Tuatara
Back in 2007, with the twin-turbo version of the Ultimate Aero, Jerod Shelby’s company SSC secured the Guinness World Record for the fastest production car. It lost that trophy to the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport in 2010 and produced no more than 16 examples of the Ultimate Aero before the even-faster SSC Tuatara was supposed to take over. Yet after the white concept’s 2011 debut, SSC needed another eight years to show off its first functional prototype.
This almost decade-long delay only proves how hard it is to reach production with a supercar concept without the backing of a huge parent company, even if somebody approaches the challenge with previous experience. Still, the first customer Tuatara is now officially ready, ordered by long-time friend of SSC Larry Caplin through his organization, CF Charities of Philadelphia. The Tuatara made its debut at the 2020 Philadelphia Auto Show.
Theoretically limited to 100 units, the SSC Tuatara packs some impressive numbers. Built around a carbon-fiber tub with a mid-mounted 5.9-liter twin-turbo V-8 hiding LS architecture backbones, this supercar is claimed to be a 1750-horsepower affair on E85, still pushing out 1350-horsepower on 91-octane pump gas. This twin-turbo unit weighs 428 pounds, sporting an 8.80:1 compression ratio. SSC is using Italian CIMA’s sequential manual transmission to handle this power, which offers seven speeds with a single clutch and sub-100 millisecond sfiting times.
Riding on a 105.2-inch wheelbase, the Tuatara comes in at 2750 pounds dry, which explains why SSC is confident it will eclipse the 300 mph barrier. Thanks to former Pininfarina and Bertone ace Jason Castriota’s design, the Tuatara is one sleek speed machine. The active aerodynamics onboard provide a class-leading 0.279 drag coefficient in low drag mode, raising up to 0.335 for as much as 1200 pounds of downforce from that semi-transparent rear wing between 93–198 mph. Past 200 mph, “Wing Mode” reduces downforce to 800 pounds for a drag figure of 0.303. In track mode, ride height is lowered to 2.74 inches at the front and 3.25 inches at the rear, changing the geometry of the suspension for the ultimate lap times.
Despite its Italian gearbox, the Tuatara is really an all-American effort, with a carbon-fiber skin made by Nevada-based Customs Factory, and a 366-cubic-inch V-8 is built by Nelson Racing Engines.
Now, the big question that remains is who can get to 300 mph first? Will it be Koenigsegg with his small-winged version of the Jesko, John Hennessey with his “311 mph” Venom F5, or SSC with the long-teased and rather promising 1750-horsepower Tuatara? However it turns out, twin-turbocharged V-8s are getting seriously hot and loud.