He might have a few more grey hairs but 68-year-old Rosco McGlashan has no plans of slowing down thanks to a fire that was lit in his belly when he saw Donald Campbell break the world land speed record as a kid. Already the fastest Aussie on Earth with an official record of 500mph (805.5km/h) and a 638mph one-way run which was quicker than the world record at the time, he’s not even close to satisfied. With the Poms currently holding the land speed record at 763.035mph (1227.985km/h), Rosco wants to smash that and then be the first person to reach 1000mph on land. To do it, he’s moved away from his previous jet-powered cars and gone to rocket power. We caught up with him at his shed in Mullaloo in the northern suburbs in Perth. Yep, like a lot of magzine feature cars, this one’s been built at home in the garage, admittedly, it’s a very long garage.
You really built the car here in your garage?
We’ve built a three million dollar car with nothing. Wednesday is our big day, all the guys are here.
So, a handful of blokes built the car, not some giant team of engineers?
My head guy went over and had a look at Richard Noble’s Bloodhound team and there are 26 guys in a room all messing around on computers, they’re paying all these guys on wages and they’ve spent 62 million pounds so far on the project. In all fairness, they’ve put an education program together as well. Engineering-wise, it’s a masterpiece. The windscreen, the composite work, the titanium bulkheads – they used nuclear mills to cut the bulkheads out – no one in this country has heard of a nuclear mill.
Do you get along with the other teams chasing the record?
Richard Noble, who is spearheading the Thrust Bloodhound project, rang me up and said: “I wanted you to be one of the first guys to know that we’re building a 1000mph car.” Richard Noble and Andy Green have both stayed here at my place
You’re now on your fifth Aussie Invader in your quest to be the fastest man on land.
Cars become redundant, it’s been a problem all the way through and it happened to us with Aussie Invader 3. We built that to go 800mph and then the Poms went out and ran 763mph, so we thought the next car had to be a rocket because a jet doesn’t like supersonic airflow and has a lot of issues at ground level. We knew we needed a shitload of power – 62,000lb of thrust – more power than any car has ever had with the ability to go 1000mph.
How do you go about designing a car like this?
I’ve got some very good people behind me, the concept is mine, but the engineering is very complex. I’ve got two really good engineers; Johnny Ackroyd who’s done a lot of the work and the calcs and is really old school. Paul Martin, who’s a computer whiz and does all the FEA (Finite Element Analysis) and CFD (Computational Flow Dynamics). ADFA (Australian Defence Force Academy) have done a lot of CFD work, Frank Soto in Wollongong has done a shit load, Curtin University have helped too.
Your previous records were set on salt but now you’re looking for a suitable clay surface to run on, why’s that?
Even taking off on the salt it’s scary as shit and skates around. Any steering input you put in, one wheel is slowing down and the other is speeding up and you’re always chasing it. We want the car to sink into the surface a little.
Have you ever raced on clay before?
No, but I’ve been to Black Rock many times and done some testing. Funnily enough, the Poms put Black Rock on the map when they couldn’t run at Bonneville any more because they needed a softer surface. John Ackroyd was one of the guys that discovered it. Richard Noble set the record at 622mph back in ’83.
The new car is quite different in that it doesn’t use a spaceframe.
If you want to go to the Moon, that’s what you do. You start off with a cylindrical shape with a point at the top, you sit on the point and have a rocket motor out the arse end. Basically, it’s a space rocket lying on its side, but we’ve got to sit on the centre of gravity, so we sit in the middle of it.
Designing and mounting the front suspension must have been a challenge!
No one has ever conceived anything where you’ve got a pipe and then you’ve got to somehow put a suspension on the front of it. Everything else you see has a really good structure for the suspension to mount. Some of the best suspensions guys have looked at it and to get the caster right is a really tricky thing. It’s going to be one of those “suck it and see” things, it may not even work, it might not steer, it’s never been done before! If we get to 600mph in this car and it’s not self-steering, going straight dead ahead and if I’ve got to put any steering input into it, then I’ll have to shut it down.
Are there any suitable lakes here in Australia?
It really depends on the sponsor. If we pick up American Red Bull, for example, we’ll run at a place called Diamond Valley near the Nevada-Utah border. If we run in Australia, it will be at the Bilpa Morea Claypan in Queensland, but the big problem with that is that the nearest LOX (Liquid Oxygen) tank is in Mt. Isa about 480km away. You can’t put LOX in the car and have it sit for a long period of time or it will freeze our mainframe up and it could snap.
You’re keeping your options open with the type of propellants you might use, why is that?
We’re doing some testing with Interorbital at Mojave and instead of Red Fuming Nitric Acid (RFNA), we’re going with White Fuming Nitric Acid (WFNA) and Turpentine as a fuel, but it’s a special mix that they have developed. It’s not hypergolic [self-igniting] by itself, so they’ve developed an inhibitor that you put in with the turpentine that makes it hypergolic. Everything is so guarded in America, so to pass on the secret of doing it can be considered arms dealing. We’re going to do a test with them, and if we’re happy with everything, then we’re going to use one of their 50,000lb thrust motors that they’ve already developed for their launch to get the car rolling, but still keep all the big tanks in it for the 62,000lb thrust motor. We’d possibly be able to run 800mph with that [smaller] motor but there’s a bit to do yet. The record is 763mph, so 800 would get us on the drawing board.
So where is the car at right now?
Everything we’ve got right now is set up to run Hydrogen Peroxide, but because of how hard it is to source these days, we’ve got to go over to WFNA. If we decide to go with the Interorbital engine and fuel, then we have to go through the whole rocket system again and figure out what sort of performance we’re going to get out of the motor, what sort of flow rate we’re going to need and make sure we’ve got all the fuel side of it worked out.
It’s not a big drama to change the engine at this stage?
The rocket is on rails so we can change the motor easily. The big thing is the tanks, they have to be filament wound out of a thing called Nitronic 40 stainless steel and we need to confirm that the tank volume we have is sufficient.
So what’s the hardest part or the biggest challenge you face building the car?
The hardest part is trying to go down to Bunnings to buy a handful of nuts and bolts and you can’t get the money to buy ’em, but it’s never been any different. We sell a bit of real estate to pay the bills, but that’s about it, the financing has always been the biggest struggle. We really have to get an injection of cash pretty soon. Everything we’ve ever done, we’ve done it without any money – and I’m not crying – that’s the most exciting thing about what we do. I’ve been doing it for that long, I must have “Professional Bum” written on my head. Wherever I go in to get something, they’ll put the stuff on the counter, we’ll talk for a while and when I ask what they’re worth, they’ll say: “Just take ’em, mate.” Shit like that happens all the time, that’s how we built the whole car.
You’ve been the fastest Aussie for a long time but the world record is what you really want?
I’ve said forever, I’ve only got to hold that world land speed record for a day and I’ll be a happy man.
Words // Boris Viskovic
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