100 Years in Land Speed Records
The needle has moved. Significantly.
For as long as there’s been one man twirling a keyring ‘round his finger saying, “Check out my new wheels,” there has been an equally vainglorious man on hand to say, “Cool. But how fast does it go?”
So it goes in the land of two-car garages. So, too, it goes in the halls of the moneyed and reckless. Only difference between the two: while factory-fresh automotive speeds have remained relatively flat for the former, we’ve literally had to reimagine what “fast” means for the latter.
To wit: a chronicle of land-speed records over the last 100 years and change. You could say the needle has moved.
1906: 127.66 MPH
The Stanley Rocket
Thing is, this car is steam-powered. Let that sink in. Technically it’s the first land speed record to best 100 MPH. The rub is it was only rated on a one-way run, and with analog timers at that. But still. Steam. Powered.
1914: 124.09 MPH
The 200HP Benz (No. 3)
Technically a step back, but this is the first official, two-way, electric-timer-officiated land speed record certified by the ruling body of the era, AIACR. It’s also a handsome whip made in direct collaboration with the Benz factory.
1925 – 150.87 MPH
The second of many land speed records set by Malcolm Campbell, this one takes the cake as the first to crack 150 MPH. Under the hood: aircraft engine. That will come to mean different things over the years.
1927: 203.79 MPH
Though this record would only unseat the unflappable Malcolm Campbell from record-holder status for eleven months, Henry Seagrave gets top nods for blowing down the 200 MPH benchmark. Sadly, Seagrave would die two years later setting a new water speed record.
1935: 301.29 MPH
Campbell-Railton Blue Bird
Closing out a solid five-year stretch of one-upping his own high score, Malcolm Campbell crosses the 300 MPH threshold, having crossed 250 in the same(ish) car back in ’31. Bonus points for this stretch, where his 1933 record of 272.46 MPH beats out the top speeds of today’s fastest street legal supercars.
1964: 403.10 MPH
The era of land speed records set by powered axles ends here, but the Campbell name’s reign of dominance continues — this time with Malcolm’s son Donald inching the needle past the 400 mark. A few years after drawing this untouched line in the sand, Donald meets the same fate as his dad’s rival Seagrave, suffering a fatal injury while chasing a water speed record.
1965: 600.60 MPH
Spirit of America, Sonic 1
Enter the era of a dude attached to a turbojet attached to wheels. The Sonic 1’s driver, Craig Breedlove, ushered in this lunacy a few years prior with a 400 MPH run, but there was much back and forth competition with speeds escalating quickly before he was finally able to drop the record-holder mic with this ludicrous benchmark.
1997: 763.035 MPH
So, this is pretty much it. Andy Green drives a turbofan-propelled rocket on wheels through the sound barrier (SSC stands for supersonic car) and into land speed history with a record that has rested on its cheek-flapping since the first glimmers of the dot-com bubble. It’s an impressive and understandable conclusion to a century-long race with basically no practical upshot.
But what about the 21st century (where we live)? Just so happens that Green has his sights set on one last milestone. Last month, he pulled the cover off the Bloodhound SSC, with which he intends to conquer 1,000 MPH.
The earth itself only spins 1,040 MPH on its axis.
So here’s to hubris, Mr. Green.
Bloodhound SSC photo: Flock and Siemens
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