1899 'La Jamais Contente' (C. Jenatzy 41.42/49.92/65.79 mph)
Jenatzy was a red-bearded Belgian who favoured villainous-looking fur coats and later became a successful racing driver. His rivalry with Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat and the Count's elder brother, the Marquis, who built the cars which the Count drove, led to Jenatzy and Count Gaston, both competing for the World Land Speed Record in electric cars before first steam and then the petrol engine virtually drove the electric car off the roads.
Jenatzy had no backer, but himself headed a company intended to produce electric cars in mass production. Count Gaston took the record first in December 1898. But the next month, January 1899, Jenatzy and Count Gaston met on the same stretch of road outside Paris, between St. Germain and Constans, to pit their skill and their cars against each other.
The Belgian went first and achieved 41.42 mph, a new record. Count Gaston answered with 43.69 mph. Then both returned to their workshops to construct bigger and better batteries to boost the speed of their electric motors.
Jenatzy was ready first and put the speed up to 49.22. Count Gaston with the honour of France at stake, replied with 57.60 mph. At this point the French ruling body of motor sport, the Automobile Club of France, stepped in and announced that in view of the growing interest in these records and the high speeds being reached they would impose a set of rules and themselves appoint official timekeepers.
Jenatzy, not deterred by the appearance of officialdom, turned out again, this time with bigger batteries and more powerful electric motors in his car, which he had named "La Jamais Contente". The body was made from thin metal sheets and he stuck out from the waist upwards. With a speed of 65.79 mph. he took the record for the last time with an electric car.
Although there are few photographs available, no motoring history book is complete without one of "La Jamais Contente", which took the record 3 times and finally vanquished the opposition with the first record at more than one mile a minute.
It was freely said at the time that there was some magic about this figure and that no driver would survive the effects on his breathing and nervous system of travelling at more than 60 miles an hour.
Jenatzy's car was more business-like in appearance than that of his rival and certainly the first recorded vehicle to make use of a wind-cheating shape which later became known as "streamlining". It was torpedo-shaped with a pointed nose and tail, and the driver sat amidships, steering by tiller. All wheels had a primitive form of coach-like spring suspension, and power was transmitted by the 25.6 inch diameter rear wheels. Source of power was electric batteries driving motors which revolved at 900 rpm at full speed.
1902 Mors (W.K. Wanderbilt/H. Fournier/Augiers 76.08/76.60/77.13 mph)
This car is of special interest because it was the first petrol-engined vehicle to take the Land Speed Record.
It was driven also by the first American to come on the world record scene. He chose a model known as the Paris-Vienna, and made his successful attempt at Ablis near Ghartres in August 1902. His time was two-fifths of a second better than that set up by the steam-driver Serpollet along the Promenade des Anglais at Nice.
The Mors was a 60 horse-power model and was really a road-racing model, not a vehicle specifically designed for speed in a straight line, as were later world record cars. As a road car it carried a lot of superfluous weight in the form of brakes, suspension parts, and even coachwork, and for this reason Vanderbilt's effort was a very good one.
But for the same reason his record did not stand for long, once other drivers realised that a similar car could be modified specifically for record purposes and dispense with some of the road equipment necessary for the town-to-town races of the day, which were not abandoned until the disastrous Paris-Madrid race of 1904, which was stopped by the police at Bordeaux after a very heavy toll of casualties along the route.
Henry Fournier drove a similar car to that used only a few months earlier by Vanderbilt, a 60 horse-power Paris-Vienna Mors, but succeeded in making it go fractionally faster. Both cars carried the engine at the front driving the rear wheels by chain, with a big grilled-tube radiator low down in the front and an enormous starting handle projecting through it.
They had a coal-scuttle type bonnet later favoured by the Renault Brothers, and Fournier's car had louvres cut in the front of this bonnet. Vanderbilt favoured a strap round the bonnet - ahead of his time here - but Fournier dispensed with this. Curiously, Fournier's slightly faster car carried head-lamps mounted on either side at the front of the car.
There were of course no windscreens on these cars, nor were there any mudwings covering the artillery-type wheels of the two-seater bodies. The driver sat on the fuel tank, and not only for this reason but for many others had to be a brave man to drive at approaching 80 miles an hour with an exposed chain whizzing round under his right elbow.
Augieres used virtually the same car as that used by the two previous record-holders, Vanderbilt and Fournier. Fournier's record of 76.60 lasted only a matter of weeks, and Augieres came along in the same month, November 1902, and lopped off one-fifth of a second to put the speed up to 77.13 mph.
1903 Ford '999' (Henry Ford 91.37 mph)
Curious though it may seem, Henry Ford, although his name became almost a synonym for motor car, appeared only once on the world record scene.
He proved his point, that he could make the fastest car, then turned to his mission in life of making cars for the millions. He was none too pleased when the French refused to acknowledge his new record, but in any case it only lasted for two weeks, when Vanderbilt with a Mercedes put the speed up to 92.30.
We might have expected Henry Ford, who in his early days was a follower of the creed that racing improves the breed, to come back and try for the magic ton, but he probably realised that much as he valued publicity the whole business would prove too time-consuming. His name is rightly celebrated for what he did to bring motoring to the millions rather than for his early motor racing and record-breaking exploits.
He made his first mass-produced model, the immortal Model T, in 1908 and by 1915 he was selling his two-seater model in England for £115 fully equipped, at a time when the average 12 horse-power English car cost £350 to £400.
Ford was so proud of his methods that he had no secrets and even invited English manufacturers to view his works at Trafford Park, Manchester. His mass-production methods began with simple operations like a machine to drill many holes at once instead of one at a time and grew to the conveyor belt system which is the basis of all modern motor car manufacturing.
Ford built a car quite unlike any he designed later, which he called the 999 Arrow. He drove it on a frozen Michigan lake to be timed at 91.37 mph.
Ford's car was a strange mixture of the ancient and modern. It had no bodywork, tiller steering, and neither gears nor clutch to transmit the power from its four-cylinder engine.
Yet the wheels were wire-spoked, not the old artillery type, the tyres of good section, the power ample without aid from wind-cheating bodywork. Ford was demonstrating that he was then as always a rugged individualist.
1904 Mercedes 90 HP (W.K. Vanderbilt 92.30 mph)
The history of the motor car is full of surprises, and the fact that Mercedes were so late on the record-breaking scene is perhaps one of them.
The Mercedes was named after the beautiful daughter of Jellinek, the Austrian Consul at Nice, who acquired the agency to sell Daimler cars in France. So the Mercedes was really the German Daimler, and Daimler made one of the first cars of all, back in 1883.
Yet we find almost 20 years elapsing before one of the pioneer's cars appears on the record scene, although it was only five years since the first world speed record was set up.
The car which Vanderbilt drove on this, his second successful attempt, was the Mercedes model known as the Ninety, which became well known in European racing.
He was certainly the first man to use Daytona Beach in Florida, which 20 years later became a popular stretch for this purpose, until the cars became too fast.
The Mercedes was an orthodox car of its time, front-engined, driving the rear wheels by chain, with a high seat for the driver, a lower one for his mechanic, cart springs all round, and no weather protection at all. Vanderbilt's special claim to fame is that he was the first American to join in the battle for speed which had up to that time been a purely European occupation. Vanderbilt had one advantage over his competitors in that he was a millionaire and did not suffer from a shortage of finances which embarrassed some of his competitors.
1904 Mercedes 90 HP (Baron P. de Caters 97.26 mph)
Baron de Caters snatched the record in a year which saw no fewer than five changes of title of fastest man, the keenest competition since the 1899 battle between the two electric giants, Jenatzy and Chasseloup-Laubat.
De Caters chose the popular Ostend promenade for his run, driving what was known as a Gordon-Bennett Mercedes. This was a road-racing model which took its model name from successes in the Gordon Bennett cup races organised by the American newspaper proprietor who had become a patron of the new sport.
The car conformed to the pattern of the day, but was remarkable in that it made no concession to streamlining and presented its blunt, square nose to the wind. In spite of this it achieved nearly 100 miles an hour.
The only token admission that perhaps the shape did matter was made by giving a pointed nose to the oil tank which sat at the side of the chassis and not in a position to affect the issue very much!
Shapely or not the Mercedes covered the flying kilometre in 23 seconds flat. The year before he successfully attacked the world speed record de Caters drove a 60 horse-power Mercedes in the Gordon Bennett race in Ireland, one of the few places in the British Isles where a motor race could be run.
In 1904, his year of triumph on the record scene, de Caters also had his first victory in ten years of motor racing. He was first in the Grand Prix class in the Circuit Des Ardennes in France, a well-deserved win after so many years of unrewarded effort. The vehicle de Caters used in his successful bid for the record was very similar to the Mercedes in which Vanderbilt achieved a speed of 92.3 mph earlier in the year.
1906 Stanley (F. Marriott 127.66 mph)
Frank Marriott chose a Stanley Steamer, one of the most successful of steam designs, still made in the United States until very much later in motoring history.
The venue for Marriott's steam swan song was the annual Daytona speed trials in January 1906, where he covered the kilometre in 18.4 seconds and the mile in 28.2 seconds. The kilometre speed works out at 121.57, but the mile speed was 127.66, or approaching 20 miles an hour better than the standing record!
This was such a big jump that it stood unbeaten for four whole years. Another of Marriott's claims is that he was the first man to exceed two-miles a minute, and when we think that this is still a very high road speed nearly 60 years later we must admire his courage.
Marriott's Stanley was impressive because it was so silent in comparison with the thundering many-litred contemporary petrol-engined cars. It was also much lower to the ground, yet surprisingly less of the driver projected from the cockpit. In fact all that could be seen from the front was Marriott's head, wearing a close-fitting Belgian-type beret.
The body enveloped all the machinery in the modern manner and had a knife-edge front. Later he tried to improve on his own very fast speed but lost control and crashed, but was not seriously injured even though travelling at an estimated 120 mph.
This car deserves a special place as the last steam car to hold the world record and the last non-petrol driven vehicle to hold the record until we come to the paraffin-operated turbines of modern times. Its other claim is that it was the first car to hold the record at over two miles a minute, although the 200 h.p. Darracq had achieved this speed but not on a record run.
The Stanley Brothers, probably the best known and most successful of the steam-car makers, started up in 1897, sold their flourishing business to the rival Locomobile Company in 1899 for 250,000 dollars, and later bought it back, apparently for a bargain price.
The Stanleys, F.O. and F.L., were making in 1906 a standard 10 horse-power chassis, and this Marriott used for his record run. But he used a 20 horse-power boiler specially made and tested to withstand much more than the normal pressure. He also used a streamlined body.
The following year, in a machine called the Rocket with an even higher boiler pressure, Marriott reached 190 mph., but crashed. He made no more Land Speed Record attempts.
1910 Blitzen Benz (Barney Oldfield 131.72 mph)
Barney Oldfield was a name well known in the United States to earlier generations of motor sport fans. But his name appears only once in the list of world record holders, although you will find him honoured in many other connections in North America.
There was a gap of four years between Marriott's fantastic 127.57 mph. in the Stanley Steamer and Oldfield's successful attempt in 1910. This was not for want of trying by many contenders, but the record stood for so long because Marriott had pushed it up by nearly 20 miles an hour in one go, an unprecedented jump.
The car Oldfield used at Daytona Beach was the Blitzen Benz which Hemery had pushed to 125.95 at Brooklands track near London the year before in the attempt which he failed to have accepted in the official records.
This was one of the outsize monsters produced at that time, some of which are still running in occasional historic racing car events. Oldfield in fact covered the kilometre slightly faster than the mile, at 132.04 m.p.h., but the slower speed is the one quoted in the official records.
This car was always known as the Blitzen Benz, although it was in reality a 200 horse-power Benz. It looked like a Grand Prix car of about five years earlier, except that it had very clean, modern lines broken only by exhaust pipes from the side of the engine. Its versatility is shown by the fact that it won the Ries hill climb at an average speed of 50 mph. in the hands of Franz Heim.
The car had a four-cylinder engine of 21,500 cc., rated by the R.A.C. at 59.6 horse-power, although it was said to give 200 horse-power at 1,650 rpm. It had a 9 ft 4 in wheelbase and weighed only 32 cwt in racing form. The Benz had push-rod operated valves, two magnetos per cylinder, and contemporary accounts say it "steered like a dream."
Burman covered a half mile at Brooklands in 14.1 seconds in this car from a flying start. He is also said to have driven it at 142.5 mph., highest speed of the time. Oldfield took a passenger on one of his runs at 121.8 m.p.h. over the flying mile.
1922 Sunbeam (K.L. Guinness 133.75 mph)
Guinness, known in racing circles as K.L.G., was only the third Briton to appear in the list of record-holders.
K.L.G. was the younger brother of Sir Algernon Lee Guinness, who had made an unrecognised run at 117 mph. in the 200 horse-power Darracq as far back as 1906, and so came from a motor-racing family. K.L.G. made his successful attempt at Brooklands on May 17th 1922, driving the 350 horse-power racing Sunbeam prepared for the purpose under the direction of Louis Coatalen. The car is still in running order at the Beaulieu Motor Museum.
Guinness had to wait all day at Brooklands because the wind was too strong to drive at high speeds on the steep bankings, and it was not until evening that he was able to make his attempt. He was timed over both the mile and the kilometre in opposite directions, and the average of the kilometre runs was 133.75 mph. and the mile runs 129.17 mph.
International agreement provided for the run to be made in both directions over the kilometre.
K.L.G.'s car was another of the aero-engined specials which had become fashionable for land speed record attempts at this time. It was a narrow single seater with a V12 Sunbeam engine of 18,322 cc., designed to produce 350 horse-power at 2,100 rpm. The engine had aluminium pistons, three valves per cylinder (two exhausts), single overhead camshafts to each bank, twin plugs and dual magnetos, and only two carburettors. There were eight main bearings and a giant flywheel almost two feet across.
This cumbersome affair was persuaded into a narrow but massive chassis with a 10 ft 7 in wheelbase, the outfit weighing nearly 32 cwt. The four-speed gearbox had to be separate since it was mated with an aero engine, and the drive to the rear wheels was, of course, by shaft.
The short tail concealed the fuel tank, and the radiator was hidden by a cowl as was the practice on many of the fast Brooklands cars. Another indication of the car's track-racing ancestry was that the long semi-elliptic springs were tightly bound with cord to restrict their movement on the notoriously bumpy Brook- lands concrete. It was the last car to take the land speed record at Brooklands.
1924 Fiat (E. Eldridge 146.01 mph)
Ernest Eldridge was a Brooklands driver of some note in the 1920's but appeared only once on the world record scene.
His first racing appearance was in 1921 with a rare chain-driven lsotta-Fraschini which was lapping at more than 90 mph. The following year Eldridge startled the Brooklands crowd by appearing with a 240 horse-power Maybach aero engine in his 1907 l.F. chassis, which had been stretched to accommodate the giant power plant. This 20-litre racer had a tiny two-seater body made by Jarvis of Wimbledon and caused something of a sensation, even when monstrosities were not uncommon in motor racing circles.
It won its first race at more than 101 mph. Eldridge then turned to a 10-litre Fiat, which he drove with some success. Meanwhile he was busy fitting the 21-litre A12 Fiat aero engine into old Mephistopheles' chassis.
He retained chain drive and had a two-seater body fitted with the cockpit right on the end of the enormously long chassis. The whole thing eventually weighed the best part of two tons in racing trim.
Eldridge's car was among the last to use chain drive, but the reason for this is that the car started life as a sprint model back in 1907, and was approaching 20 years old when it took the world record!
Mephistopheles was originally a (very) open two-seater with a four-cylinder engine, cast in two pairs, which would achieve around 120 mph. After languishing in a shed during WW1 it appeared again at Brooklands in 1922 in the hands of John Duff of Bentley fame.
But time took its toll in a big way during a race, when the entire engine disintegrated about the heads of driver and passenger. Back into a shed it went, until Eldridge bought it and welded eighteen inches of bus chassis into the frame to enable it to withstand the size and weight of a 21.7 litre Fiat aero engine which produced 300 horse-power at 1,800 rpm. on a 5 to 1 compression ratio. The unit, from an Italian warplane, had a single overhead camshaft operating four valves for each cylinder. The car also had the extraordinary number of four plugs per cylinder, but only two carburettors, which seems a bit mean. The big Fiat can still be seen running in historic racing car meetings today.
1926 Higham Special (Parry Thomas 169.30/171.02 mph)
Parry Thomas, the Welsh wizard of Brooklands, took the world speed record twice in 1926 in his Higham Special which he called "Babs", and was finally killed on yet another attempt at Pendine Sands in his native Wales in March 1927.
He had on this car reverted to chain drive to the rear wheels, long discontinued on other machines, and one of the chains snapped at more than 2,000 rpm., tore through the steel guard and Thomas was killed immediately. The wreckage of his car was buried deep in the sands of the beach and left there.
Thomas was chief engineer at Leylands, the commercial vehicle builders, and one of the great Brooklands figures. He was trying to recapture the record from Sir Henry Segrave when he was killed, after both Segrave and Sir Malcolm Campbell had beaten Thomas' old figure.
Thomas had made many changes to Babs in an effort to find a few extra miles an hour. He was a man who drove himself hard, and was suffering from flu when the Welsh weather relented enough for him to make his last tragic attempt.
Thomas' car was really a throwback to the old idea of "the bigger the better" as far as the power unit was concerned. He bought from Count Louis Zborowski the giant Higham Special, which had a V12 Liberty aero-engine of no less than 26,907 cc., with a bore and stroke of 127 x 177 mm. This outlandish machine had the aero engine installed in a sorely-tried chassis, transmitting the power through a gearbox from a 200 horse-power Benz and chains to the rear wheels, an anachronism in 1926.
The car had been driven at Brooklands by the Count, who sold it to Thomas as a track racing car. Thomas made certain changes which included a longer tail and a different frontal aspect, and drove it at Brooklands, lapping at 126 mph.
He was supposed to get somewhere in the region of 500 horse-power from the Liberty engine, and even sceptics began to believe this when he put the record up to 169.30 mph. at Pendine Sands, which was 17 miles an hour faster than Segrave's existing speed. It was even said that Thomas's engine was mis-firing slightly! On his second attempt he achieved 171.02 mph.
1927 Napier-Campbell (M. Campbell 174.88 mph)
The 450 horse-power Napier-Campbell was built quite regardless of cost and vindicated Malcolm Campbell's belief in what could be done if one only went the right way about it.
For with Napier Lion engines it took the speed record 4 times, and when modified and re-powered as the Rolls-Royce Campbell took it a further 3 times, putting the speed up during its reign from Parry Thomas's 171.02 mph. to a shattering 301.13.
The chassis was built at the K.L.G. sparking plug factory with strong and deep side members made from nickel steel, with four tubular cross-members. It was an orthodox chassis frame, but bigger and stronger than others. Power came from the 12-cylinder Lion engine, which was in three banks, the outer ones at 60 degrees to the vertical centre one. Peak power was 500 horse-power at 2,200 rpm.
The clutch had 16 plates driving to an epicyclic gearbox in unit with the rear axle, the final drive being 1.27 to 1. A safety factor was that the steering was duplicated, with a separate steering box and drop-arm for each front wheel. The body was a single-seater closely enveloping the mechanical parts. Gear lever and handbrake were outside the body.
1927 Sunbeam (H. Segrave 203.79 mph)
Segrave had topped 150 miles an hour with the 4 litre "Tiger", but he wanted something faster, and asked Coatalen to provide it.
His answer was to unearth two 12-cylinder Matabele aero engines from the Wolverhampton works and build them into a massive chassis - one in front of the driver and one behind.
The Sunbeam engineer Captain J. S. Irving designed this frightening machine, in which the rear engine, after being started by compressed air, started the front one through a friction drive, and the pair were finally locked together by a dog clutch.
They drove a three-speed gearbox which sent the power to a countershaft, final drive being by chain to save money. An aluminium body shell hid all these mysteries, with armoured steel guards over the perilous chains.
Segrave did not much care for these, particularly as he heard the news whilst en route to Daytona that Thomas had been decapitated by one. Segrave was supposed to change up at 2,000 rpm. at 74 mph. and 137 mph., with a theoretical top speed of 212 mph., which in the event proved a little optimistic.
1929 Irving Special 'Golden Arrow' (H. Segrave 231.44 mph)
Captain J.S. Irving, who designed the 1,000 horse-power Sunbeam, was also responsible for Segrave's final mount, the Irving Special or Golden Arrow, one of the prettiest record breakers made.
A new idea which was tried and worked was a telescopic sight so that the driver could aim the car without taking his eyes off the oil-slick ahead.
Irving had left Sunbeams by the time he was asked to design the car, and this time decided to use a Napier Lion aero engine of the 900 horse-power Schneider Trophy type as used by Malcolm Campbell at one stage of Bluebird's development.
This engine, as used in the Supermarine S5, ran on a 10 to 1 compression ratio, and BP supplied a special alcohol fuel, used at the rate of three miles to a gallon.
Segrave sat only nine inches from the ground inside the aluminium shell, in a car 27 ft 8 in long, only 3 ft 9 in high, and weighing 3 tons 12 cwt.
This car was believed at the time to have been capable of much higher speeds than it actually achieved, but a fatal accident to the American driver Lee Bible made Segrave give up the idea of further runs before he ever had Golden Arrow fully extended.
His engine turned over at only 3,250 rpm. although he achieved 231.44 mph.
1935 Rolls-Royce Campbell 'Bluebird' (M. Campbell 276.82/301.13 mph)
1937/38 Thunderbolt (G.E.T. Eyston 312.00/345.50/357.50 mph)