Weird Ride Wednesday: The Record-Setting BMW H2R

bmw-h2rAutomakers are all trying to leave their mark on the next generation of transportation. For BMW, the future is hydrogen, and like other companies they’ve trotted out plenty of hydrogen-powered concept cars. But there is a hydrogen concept that stands out though because of how it looks and how it performs; the BMW H2R, the “Hydrogen Record Car.”

Conceived and built in just 10 months, the BMW H2R debuted in 2006 with the sole purpose of setting hydrogen-powered speed records. And it did just that, setting or breaking 9 different FIA and international records, including the fastest hydrogen-powered top speed in the flying-kilometer (187.5 mph) and the fastest standing-start mile (98 mph).

Anyone who knows drag racing or top speed runs knows that these aren’t exactly mind-blowing speeds, but for a hydrogen-powered vehicle this is pretty damn fast. Still, you would think that with a 6.0 liter, V12 engine the BMW H2R would deliver a ton of power. Alas, it makes a rather wimpy 232 horsepower, though it could achieve a top speed of over 187 mph.

An artist's interpretation of the BMW H2R hydrogen racer.
An artist’s interpretation of the BMW H2R hydrogen racer.

That is largely because of the lightweight, aluminum alloy body and super-slippery body design. The advanced suspension eliminated virtually all internal vibrations, though the heavy drivetrain and fuel tank system pushed the curb weight over 3,400 pounds with a full fuel tank and driver. Not exactly a featherweight, but it was still cool enough to serve as the inspiration for the 16th BMW art car, a spikey block of ice (because ice is made of hydrogen and oxygen).

While the BMW H2R set an impressive number of records, they didn’t stay for long. Ford ran an unofficial top speed of more than 207 mph, and Ohio State’s Buckeye Bullet team smashed the hydrogen speed record by going over 304 mph in the flying kilometer, leaving the BMW far behind. Even Monster Garage host and hot rod builder Jesse James built a faster hydrogen-powered racer.

Still, the BMW H2R is an impressive feat of engineering all around, and considering that it came together in just ten months, I think Bimmer’s engineers did a bang-up job. This is definitely a museum piece for now, but one day BMW historians may look back fondly on the H2R as the beginning of a new era in clean car performance.

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.