A brief his­tory

Land-speed records

Top Gear (UK) - - CONTENTS -

1898 Mag­nif­i­cently named French­man Gas­ton de Chas­seloup-Laubat sets the first recog­nised land-speed record, hit­ting a dizzy 39mph in his elec­tric-pow­ered Jean­taud Duc. “See? Told you this petrol thing would never catch on,” says ev­ery­one. Sev­eral dis­grun­tled horses point out they can do 39mph no prob­lem, but no one’s ever given them a shiny cer­tifi­cate.

1902 Amer­i­can mogul William K Van­der­bilt reaches 76mph in his petrol-pow­ered Mors Z. “See? Told you this elec­tric thing would never catch on,” says ev­ery­one.

1904 In Os­tend, Bel­gium, Louis Rigolly and his Go­bron-Bril­lié pass the 100mph bar­rier for the first time. To this day, this re­mains the most ex­cit­ing thing to have hap­pened in Bel­gium.

1924 Bri­tish dare­devil Ernest Eldridge breaks the speed record on the pub­lic road, hit­ting 146mph in Fiat’s fe­ro­cious Mephistophe­les. Ad­ju­di­ca­tors sug­gest that, in fu­ture, warn­ing other road users first might be po­lite.

1924 At Pen­dine Sands in Wales, Mal­colm Camp­bell sets his first speed record, reach­ing 146mph with a lit­tle help from an 18.0-litre, V12 air­craft en­gine. To this day, this re­mains the most ex­cit­ing thing to have hap­pened in Wales.

1935 Mal­colm Camp­bell be­comes the first man to break 300mph, hav­ing re­lo­cated to Bon­neville Salt Flats af­ter com­plain­ing, “There’s nowhere in Bri­tain to re­ally put your foot down nowa­days.”

1963 Craig Breedlove passes 400mph in his mis­sile-shaped, jet-pow­ered Spirit of Amer­ica. “Told you this petrol thing would never catch on,” says ev­ery­one. De­bate rages over whether Spirit of Amer­ica should tech­ni­cally be classed as a car, on ac­count of its tur­bo­jet not driv­ing its wheels, and also not hav­ing a glove­box large enough to fit a copy of the High­way Code.

1997 Thrust SSC clocks 763mph in Ne­vada’s Black Rock desert, be­com­ing the first car to break the sound bar­rier. Wing Com­man­der Andy Green dis­cov­ers that, at such speed, by­s­tanders can ac­tu­ally hear your screams be­fore they’ve ex­ited your mouth. (This is a joke. Wing Com­man­der Andy Green has never screamed in his life.)

2017 Blood­hound, the car aim­ing to crack the 1,000mph bar­rier, makes its first pub­lic run at Newquay Air­port in Corn­wall. De­spite the 54,000bhp car only reach­ing a mod­est 200mph, to this day lo­cals still speak in hushed tones of the “fear­some or­ange me­chan­i­cal beastie and its furious hunger for speed”.

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