Let’s get it out of the way straight away. Cross-continent/country speed records are highly illegal, and performed by the kind of people that are willing to perform some ethical mental gymnastics in order to achieve infamy and glory among the car community.
No matter where you might sit on the spectrum between adulation and condemnation of speed records on public roads, the preparation and execution process of record attempts like the Cannonball are fascinating.
For the uninitiated, the Cannonball record is a non-sanctioned, unofficial title given for the quickest trip between Red Ball Garage in Manhattan, New York, and the Portofino Hotel in Los Angeles, California.
It’s a trip made famous in the 70s, with a series of events made famous by Brock Yates. Since then it has been emulated and re-attempted by underground devotees like Alex Roy and Ed Bolian.
From 2013 until very recently, the record for the American cross-continent trip stood at 28 hours and 50 minutes, set by Ed Bolian, Dave Black and Dan Huang in a modified Mercedes CL 55 AMG. It was a time many thought would never be broken, but that’s exactly what records are for – breaking.
Enter Arne Toman and Doug Tabbutt, who have lowered the bar to a staggering 27 hours and 25 minutes. Without context that time is redundant, so let’s give it a little, shall we?
Driving a modded 2015 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, Toman and Tabbutt traversed a 4546 kilometre (2825 mile) route, winding through Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and into Los Angeles.
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To travel that far, that quickly, the pair, along with spotter Berkeley Chadwick, recorded an average speed of 165km/h (103mph) and that includes stopping for fuel.
Their trip was highly illegal, mainly due to the sustained high speeds, which were conducted on roads that never had limits higher than 128km/h (80mph).
In maintaining the frankly ludicrous average speed, stoppages had to be kept to a minimum, with the crew claiming they only spent 22 and a half minutes stationary to fill up the fuel tank, while also committing to a cruising speed of 257km/h (160mph) for much of the journey.
The team spoke to Road & Track magazine to give an insight into the preparation for their record trip.
An E63 AMG was chosen for its all-wheel drive and V8 powertrain, but there were a number of modifications made to the engine.
Upgraded turbos, downpipes, intercooler, and intake were good for a claimed 521kW at the wheels, while a custom fabricated fuel cell was added.
In order to evade police, a pair of radar detectors were fitted, along with a laser jammer system and aircraft collision avoidance system – the latter was intended to find highway patrol aircraft.
"Probably the most trick thing I had was a thermal scope on a roof-mounted gimbal that could be operated via remote control by the back seat passenger," Toman told Road & Track.
“We picked up a cop warning on Waze and we were able to see the heat signature of the car sitting on the side of the road."
A police scanner and CB radio were also utilised, while the spotter sat in the rear seat using gyro-stabilised binoculars to identify roadside police from the rear seats. There were also headlight and tail light kill switches, while much of the car’s exterior was covered with silver vinyl, in an attempt to make the vehicle look more like a Honda Accord, not a Mercedes.
Helping ensure the path was clear ahead were 18 pre-organised lookouts scattered across the length of the route, each scouting the road ahead of the record-chasing vehicle.
Measuring the run was a pair of Garmin GPS units, which were monitored by an independent party.
Somehow, through good preparation and partial luck, the trio were not pulled over by police once during the run. However, there was a close call, with a police car managing to go undetected until it was right on them, heading in the opposite direction.
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Noticing the speed that the E63 was travelling at, the police officer used instant-on radar to ping the trio, which was estimated to be travelling at about 193km/h (120mph) at the time.
For some reason, the police vehicle didn’t perform a U-turn to engage in a pursuit. Other than a mobile speed trap being set-up down the road, this was the closest the high-speed record breakers got to being pulled over.
Don’t do this at home, kids.