Bri­tain’s record break­ers

The Tri­umph TR2 ducked the wind but hit the head­lines at Jabbeke in 1953. We look at how this ar­row-straight stretch of road en­hanced the rep­u­ta­tions of some of Bri­tain’s most revered sport­ing cars

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - News - WORDS Giles Chap­man

Tri­umph takes on Jabbeke

Bri­tain, in case you need re­mind­ing, is a cramped place. We’re just that lit­tle bit pressed for space – or, at least, for us­able space. And that can hin­der progress when you’re a na­tion ob­sessed with mo­tor­ing speed and com­pe­ti­tion.

True, Brook­lands cir­cuit opened in Sur­rey in 1907 as the world’s first pur­pose-built race­track. But that was al­ready be­com­ing too re­stric­tive by 1922 when Kenelm Lee Guin­ness broke the world land speed record there at 133mph in his Sun­beam.

The windswept beach at Pen­dine Sands in south Wales reached its lim­its four years later when Mal­colm Camp­bell’s Blue­bird hit 171mph. Since then, speed freaks like Ge­orge Eys­ton, John Cobb, Richard No­ble and Andy Green have had to travel to the US or Aus­tralia to find any­where with enough flat dis­tance to achieve their goals.

Fol­low­ing World War II – with the engi­neer­ing prow­ess of Ger­many and Italy tem­po­rar­ily in tat­ters – Bri­tain’s car­mak­ers scram­bled to es­tab­lish their ex­cit­ing new prod­ucts as the fastest you could buy. The­ory was one thing but, as ever, with the best parts of our nar­row and wind­ing road sys­tem dat­ing back to Ro­man times, prov­ing such claims was chal­leng­ing.

But just a short sea voy­age away, Bel­gium came to the res­cue. The coun­try joined the mo­tor­way age by be­gin­ning con­struc­tion of its A10 au­toroute in 1937, but the out­break of war two years later halted progress, and the road – which today is sub­sumed into the E40 pan-Euro­pean route – only came into its own in the 1940s.

Start­ing in Os­tend and lead­ing ul­ti­mately to Brus­sels 65 miles away via Bruges, Ghent and Aalst, the road fea­tured two lanes in ei­ther di­rec­tion. Ini­tially they were sep­a­rated by a grass cen­tral reser­va­tion ( later ro­bustly guarded with Armco bar­ri­ers) and the con­crete sur­face in the early days was, for its time, smooth and even.

It was Bel­gium’s first mo­tor­way and, by any stan­dards, it was re­mark­ably straight. But as it passed the town of Jabbeke in the Flan­ders re­gion, just short of Bruges, its pre­cious gift to the high-per­for­mance mo­tor­ing world be­came glo­ri­ously ev­i­dent – an eight-mile stretch that was not only com­pletely flat, but also dead straight.

Army of­fi­cers re­turn­ing from the war were aware of the road’s po­ten­tial as a test track. But it was diplo­matic re­la­tions be­tween the Royal Au­to­mo­bile Club Bel­gium and our own Royal Au­to­mo­bile Club that smoothed the way to hav­ing the Jabbeke High­way closed off for speed runs.

The first such event ap­pears to have been ‘Goldie’ Gard­ner’s visit in 1946 with his dra­mat­i­cally stream­lined MG EX 135. The 750cc car man­aged an as­ton­ish­ing 159mph and, although you couldn’t buy a replica, it en­cour­aged Don­ald Healey to bring along his Healey 2.4-litre a year later. Af­ter he clocked 110mph, he could le­git­i­mately claim his car to be the fastest pro­duc­tion saloon on sale.

There was sim­ply nowhere else within easy reach of the UK where you could drive a car so far, so fast and in such rel­a­tive safety. It was an es­sen­tial test­ing ground for new sports cars such as the Tri­umph TR2, where high-speed ca­pa­bil­ity could oth­er­wise only be guessed at.

Today, the A10/E40 reg­u­larly jams with com­muters in win­ter and tourists in sum­mer. Traf­fic was so light back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, though, that clos­ing the road wasn’t too trou­ble­some, es­pe­cially as record at­tempts of­ten took place in the light of a week­day dawn. There were no di­rect junc­tions to im­pinge, just

sEptEM­BEr 1948

May 1949


oc­to­BEr 1946

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