A brief history
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”.