Eagle-Picher Silver Eagle

It is a long-held axiom that racing improves the breed, and while the 1971 Eagle-Picher Silver Eagle is no exception, it certainly is the product of an exceptional race: the race to the moon. For the Silver Eagle runs on the same power used in the Apollo 15 mission, first in breaking its Earthly bonds, in both landing and then launching the Lunar Lander and in powering the Lunar Rover in its forays on the surface of the moon.

The Silver Eagle is a battery-powered electric vehicle that set 14 national and seven international land speed records in August 1971 at the Bonneville Salt Flats, where it reached a top speed of 152.598 mph, at the very same time the Apollo 15 mission was under way. With 40-year-old Jack Reed of Huntington Beach, California, piloting the Silver Eagle in two perfect runs through the measured mile, the car racked up speeds of 146.437 mph for the mile and 146.147 for the kilometer, beating the previous best for an electric car by almost 8 mph.

Built on a 111-inch wheelbase, weighing between 1,070 and 1,160 pounds depending on classification and sitting less than 3 inches from the salt, the Silver Eagle employed a 180-cell silver-zinc battery of the same type used in the Saturn rocket, in the ascent and descent stages of the Lunar Lander and the Lunar Rover in the Apollo 15 mission. Manufactured by Eagle-Picher Industries, Inc. of Joplin, Missouri, a prime contractor for the Apollo Space Program, the battery powered the car’s 102 HP General Electric DC electric motor to propel it to over 150 mph in its two-way run to establish the new mark.

Cocooned in a tubular space frame covered in lightweight sheet aluminum, the driver is faced with a drag racing-style butterfly steering wheel and an instrument panel housing a tachometer, an ammeter and two groups of switches: one group of four to activate the speed controller and main drive motors, onboard systems, instruments and drive motor cooling blower; another group of eight switches to incrementally increase voltage to the drive motor by adding cell groups to the power circuit, the effect on performance similar to shifting through the gears in a conventional transmission.

The Silver Eagle’s mechanical complexity is belied by its simple appearance - that of the low-slung, teardrop-shaped speedster common to the Bonneville Salt Flats, its tube front axle, narrow spoked front wheels and rear slicks borrowed from the drag strip. The car’s low profile is made possible by reclining the driver to an almost completely prone position, his view of the bleached horizon facilitated by the plexiglass windshield molded to the body’s wind-cheating contours. The drive motor, batteries and onboard systems are neatly packaged in the rear half of the car between the driver’s seat and the tail, where a spring-actuated Simpson cross-form drag parachute mounted to the main frame rails initiates the slowdown from top speed.

Interestingly, the very first official land speed record was set in France by Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat, also in an electric car, in 1898 at a speed of 32.49 mph. Over seven decades later in August, 1971, man had landed on the moon four times and was in the process of repeating that feat again. It was the first time a wheeled vehicle had rolled under its own power on the moon; at the very same time, an electric-powered car using identical energy technology became the first to exceed 150 mph on Earth, a fascinating convergence in the history of the human quest for speed and adventure.

Part of the Mecum Auction in Monterey on August 16-18, 2012.

Source: Mecum Auctions


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