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Fastest Aussie on earth, Rosco McGlashan - interview

By Boris Viskovic | Photos: Jordan Leist, 22 Oct 2018 Features

Fastest Aussie on earth, Rosco McGlashan - interview

The fastest Aussie on earth is planning to go a hell of a lot faster

This article on Rosco McGlashan was originally published in the October 2018 issue of Street Machine

HE MIGHT have a few more grey hairs, but 68-year-old Rosco McGlashan has no plans of slowing down thanks to a fire in the belly that was lit 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 that was quicker than the world record at the time, Rosco’s not even close to satisfied.

Rosco McGlashanAussie Invader III with its draped flag livery must go down as one of the best-looking paintjobs of all time. This car was designed to go over 800mph, and managed a maximum of 638mph in 1996 but could not make a return run due to weather. Thrust SSC then went 763mph and broke the sound barrier in the process

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.

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We caught up with him at his shed in Mullaloo in the northern suburbs in Perth. Yep, like a lot of SM 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 $3 million 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?

Yes, it’s taken us nine long years, but our car is now completed.

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Rosco McGlashanIn between world land speed record tilts, Rosco has been a regular competitor in jet-powered dragsters

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.

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.

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Rosco McGlashanHow 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 has done a lot of the work and the calcs and is really old-school. Paul Martin is a computer whiz and does all the FEA [finite element analysis] and CFD [computational flow dynamics]. The Australian Defence Force Academy has done a lot of CFD work, Frank Soto in Wollongong has done a shitload, Curtin University has 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.

Rosco McGlashanHave 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 anymore, 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, 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. So 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.

Rosco McGlashanDesigning 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 suspension 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.

Rosco McGlashanYou’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 RFNA [red fuming nitric acid], we’re going with WFNA [white fuming nitric acid] 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.

Rosco McGlashanIt’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.

Rosco McGlashanYou’ve been the fastest Aussie for a long time, but it’s the world record that 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.

For more information and to help support the effort, go to aussieinvader.com.

Rosco McGlashan1. At the moment the car is fitted with a hydrogen peroxide/aviation kerosene rocket engine, with other options being liquid oxygen/kerosene or white fuming nitric acid/turpentine engines. The wheels look pretty simple, but a lot of work went into them; there is 50,000G of force put through the wheels at 10,000rpm. “The final FEA report was done by a guy who works for NASA, who lives on a farm in Wales with sheep and goats, no TV or nothing. He’s a mate of John Ackroyd’s, that’s how I got on to him,” says Rosco. 

Rosco McGlashan2. The first stage of slowing the car down is with the air brakes, which are deployed using hydraulic rams. Once the car gets down to 600mph, the two ’chutes will slow it down to 200mph before the wheel brakes can be applied.

Rosco McGlashan3. While the majority of the car is constructed from 10mm-thick steel plate rolled into a tube, regulations require that the driver still be protected by a rollcage. It’s a pretty tight fit in there, and everything has to be in close reach, as Rosco won’t want to take his hand off the steering wheel for too long.

Rosco McGlashan4. Yes, that’s Rosco in a rocket-powered go-kart that he helped develop in the US back in 1980. It went 5.9@253mph and is still the fastest go-kart in the world; it’s on display at the York Motor Museum in WA.

Rosco McGlashan5. You think a rocket-powered go-kart is crazy? How about a motorbike then! This thing was so fast they wouldn’t let it race on Aussie tracks. They weren’t too crazy about the hydrogen peroxide fuel, either.

Rosco McGlashan6. The aptly named Crazy Horse was a drag bike powered by an injected 327 Chev. It had no clutch so Rosco rocked it off a cradle with the wheels spinning to take off. Yes, it spat him off quite a few times!