Land Speed Record Breakers

03 September 2012
imports_CCGB_andygreenrichardnobl_18434.gif Andy Green & Richard Noble with Bloodhound SSC. (Picture courtesy Stefan Marjoram)
We take a speedy journey through the history of the Land Speed Record holders to the revolutionary Thrust and Bloodhound projects, showcasing the diecast models produced in celebration of these amazing vehicles. ...
Land Speed Record Breakers Images

In the October issue of Diecast Collector, Paul Lumsdon takes us on a journey through the history of the Land Speed Record holders to the revolutionary Thrust and Bloodhound projects. He goes behind the scenes with Ron Ayres, Chief Aerodynamicist for Thrust SSC and Bloodhound SSC, and showcases the diecast models produced in celebration of these amazing vehicles. Below we feature the beginnings of the journey - to read the whole story buy the October issue here.

The History of the Land Speed Record

The first accredited Land Speed Record was set by Frenchman Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat in his electric powered Jeantaud car. On 18th December 1898 he achieved a speed of 39.245mph in Acheres, near Paris. Progress was rapid and by 29th April 1899 Belgian driver Camille Jenatzy became the first driver to break the 100 kilometer per hour (km/h) mark when he set a new record of 105.88km/h (65.792mph) in a streamlined, electric powered CITA named 'La Jamais Contente' (The Never Satisfied).
In 1911 the two-way rule was established meaning cars were required to make two passes in opposite directions (to negate the effects of wind), averaged with a maximum of 30 minutes (later more) between runs. During these early days records were set and broken fairly regularly but whilst they were all recorded they were not all universally accepted. Disputes broke out between the USA and the European ruling Automotive Authority, the Automobile Club de France. It was 1924 before a unified set of rules were set out by the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) - later renamed the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) who remain the ruling body to this day.

Campbell and the Bluebirds
In 1924 Brooklands racer Captain Malcolm Campbell began his long association with the Land Speed Record. He purchased and modified a 350hp Sunbeam, painted it in his favourite shade of blue and named it 'Bluebird' after his Brooklands racing cars. On the Pendine Sands in South Wales he raised the record twice to 146.163 and then 150.766mph. Realising the limitations of the Sunbeam, Campbell set about producing an all-new Bluebird built around a 12 cylinder Napier Lion aero engine. In this car he raised the Land Speed Record to 174.883mph on 4th February 1927.
One of Cambell's great rivals was Major Henry Seagrave. On 29th March 1927 he smashed the 200mph barrier with a new record of 203.793mph set on Daytona Beach in his 1000hp Sunbeam. Campbell realised that to beat this record he would have to redesign Bluebird again. Using a modified version of the Lion Engine prepared for the Schneider Trophy air race and a completely new wind tunnel tested body, the car was ready by the start of 1928 and was shipped to Daytona. On 19th February, Campbell set another new record at 206.956mph.
With the record attempts moving to Daytona, US interest was aroused and with it a desire to break the British domination. On 22nd April 1928 American Ray Keech snatched the title in his triple-engined, 81 litre Triplex with an average of 207.553mph. With his ego damaged Campbell was determined to win back his crown. However, his hopes were further dented when he heard that his old rival Henry Seagrave was designing an all-new car. On 11th March 1929 Seagrave's superb 'Golden Arrow' raised the record to 231.362mph. Campbell returned to the drawing board and began work on yet another all-new Bluebird design. Fitted with a 1450bhp Napier engine and sleek new bodywork, the new car performed superbly and on 5th February 1931 at Daytona Beach Campbell snatched back the record with a new average of 246.088mph. Campbell returned to the UK a hero and was awarded a knighthood by the King. At 46 years of age many expected him to retire at this point.
Campbell thought different! In 1933 the Napier engine was replaced with a 36.5 litre Rolls Royce R type unit giving 2300hp. Campbell smashed his own record in February 1933 with a speed of 272.465mph. He was now so tantalisingly close to 300mph that he had to keep going!
Another new version of Bluebird followed and the record was pushed to 276.710mph. However, the beach at Daytona at 10 miles long was becoming too short for such speeds. John Cobb's Napier Railton had recently used the dry-lake salt flats at Bonneville as a surface. Campbell decided that this should be the venue for his assault on the 300mph barrier. On 3rd September 1935 he set off on his first run, watched by his son, Donald. Despite shredding three tyres and with one on fire he managed to halt the car safely at the end of the run. The car was quickly prepared for the second run. Again the tyres were shredded and the car went into a dangerous uncontrolled slide at the end of the run. Despite this it stopped safely and Campbell emerged to find he had averaged 301.129mph - mission accomplished! Cambell never made another attempt on the Land Speed Record.

Caption: Malcolm Campbell with Bluebird at Daytona, 1928.

The Eyston and Cobb Era
The Land Speed Record had captured the public's imagination and Campbell had inspired others to take on the records. Captain George Eyston developed a monster of a car named 'Thunderbolt'. With a 73 litre, twin Rolls Royce engine Eyston raised the target to 312.203mph in November 1937. This was the beginning of a great rivalry between Easton and the rather quietly spoken driver John Cobb. Cobb's Railton designed car was a beautiful, simple, streamlined design - much like a teardrop. Between August and September 1938 first Eyston, then Cobb, then Eyston again took the record on the Bonneville Salt Flats. A year later, in August 1939, Cobb regained the record with an average of 369.741mph and then war intervened until 1947 when Cobb again raised the record, this time to an average of 394.196. During the run he touched 403mph, and so was the first to achieve this speed but the average fell frustratingly short of 400mph.

The Breedlove Era and the introduction of Jet Power
Just as the jet engine had revolutionised the aerospace industry in the years following WWII, so it also brought huge advances to the Land Speed Record.
Craig Breedlove was an American hot rodder with a passionate desire to be the fastest man on earth. His first car was built in his garage and incorporated a General Electric J47 engine from an F-86 Sabre fighter plane. The 'Spirit of America' was the first of the modern jet-propelled record breaking cars, and Breedlove, its driver, was to become in the jet age as prolific a record breaker as Sir Malcolm Campbell had been in the 1920s and 1930s.
His first record was set on 5th August 1963 when the 3-wheeled jetcar averaged 407.447mph. Unfortunately the record was disputed by the European authorities as Spirit of America only had three wheels. Briefly in 1964 the official record was taken by Donald Campbell (son of Sir Malcolm) in his turbine-powered Bluebird with a speed of 403.135mph on Lake Ayre in Australia.
However, undaunted Breedlove also continued to break records and became the first man to pass the 500mph mark but destroyed his car in the process. His second car was Spirit of America - Sonic 1. Powered by a GE J79 engine originally from an F-4 Phantom this car had four wheels and on 15th November 1965 Breedlove achieved an average of 600.601mph, breaking the magic 600mph mark for the first time.
This record stood for five years until on 23rd October 1970 Croatian-American race driver, Gary Gabelich drove his rocket powered Blue Flame to a new average of 622.407mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
There the record stood for 13 years as the world faced a global economic crisis and the public seemingly lost interest in record breaking. However, during the 1970s a patriotic British businessman was quietly working away on a dream that was to change his life forever and ultimately to bring the Land Speed Record back to Great Britain.

The Birth of Project Thrust
Richard Noble had become enthralled by the thought of record breaking as a 6-year-old in 1952. In 1974 the Edinburgh-born businessman decided to turn his dream into reality. He set about designing and building his own jet-powered car. Thrust 1 was a fairly crude attempt and crashed and was destroyed when a wheel bearing failed in 1977. Armed with little more than the £175 scrap value he received for Thrust 1, Noble commenced a tireless campaign for sponsorship. He convinced the RAF to sell him an engine from an English Electric Lightning and recruited designer John Ackroyd to his team. By 1980 Thrust 2 was running and, with Noble at the wheel, was already reaching speeds of over 260mph. The car was re-engined with a more powerful Avon 302 engine and the team headed off to the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 1981. After setting a two-way average of 418.118mph Noble became the fastest British driver ever but the very next day the salt flats became waterlogged after heavy rainfall and the team was forced back to the UK.
In October of the following year the team returned and relocated to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The surface was perfect and Noble raised the average to 590.551mph. However, Thrust 2 was curiously lacking in power to go quicker and so the team was again forced to return home as winter set in.
The team returned to Black Rock in 1983 knowing it would be their last chance. After a promising start further engine problems were encountered and an inspection revealed that full after-burn power was not being achieved. With the fault rectified on 4th October 1983 Noble achieved a new Land Speed record of 633.468mph. After nine years of hard work it was 'mission accomplished' and the record was returned to Britain.

Thrust SSC - The world's fastest car, 15 years the super sonic champion

763.035 miles per hour! That’s the staggering official Land Speed Record which was set by (then) Squadron Leader Andy Green on 15th October 1997 and which still stands today. It was achieved by Thrust SSC, which is still the only vehicle to have broken the sound barrier and created the sonic boom on land! With a team lead by Richard Noble, holder of the previous Land Speed Record of 633.468mph set in 1983 in Thrust 2, Thrust SSC was a true world first for British engineering ingenuity and a huge credit to the skill, determination and perseverance of Noble and his team.
In October 1990 Richard Noble visited Bonneville in the USA and whilst there he heard that Craig Breedlove, his main rival for the Land Speed Record, was planning an attempt on the record he had set in Thrust 2. Noble’s natural reaction was to fight back! This was the beginning of Project Thrust SSC.
The project was named SSC and stood uncompromisingly for Super Sonic Car – there was no doubt as to what the car was expected to achieve.

Captions: Thrust SSC in the Black Rock Desert 1997. (Pictures courtesy the Thrust Programme Ltd)

Land Speed Thrust 2 and SSC.

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However, unlike Thrust 2, which was primarily concerned with adapting existing concepts, SSC was a step into the unknown. No-one had ever created a supersonic car so everything about it was going to be ground breaking.
Once again Noble found himself tirelessly promoting the project, looking for every available bit of funding and every available bit of publicity. He had to fight apathy born of lack of corporate courage: “We virtually had to fight Britain,” he recalls. Indeed it was whilst reading an article about the project that Noble had managed to get published in the Daily Telegraph, that RAF Squadron Leader Andy Green’s attention and imagination was caught. He applied for the job of driver and he got it!
The key to the success of Thrust SSC lay in impeccable technical research and engineering. There was no existing data to follow so this was a case of starting from scratch. The man who became the cornerstone of the technical side of the entire project was Ron Ayres, a retired Aerodynamicist who had previously worked for the Bristol Aircraft Company.

Caption: Ron Ayres – Chief Aerodynamicist on Bloodhound SSC. (Picture courtesy Stefan Marjoram)

Inside the October issue of Diecast Collector, Ron Ayres, Chief Aerodynamicist for Thrust SSC and Bloodhound SSC, talks about his involvement in the projects.

Get this issue and read the full interview as well as finding out more about the diecast models produced over the years and those still to come in celebration of the 2013-14 land speed attempt.

Captions: Corgi’s brand new special edition diecast Bloodhound SSC model in ‘Fit the Box’ scale. This new tooling is due for release in March 2013 and comes with an RRP of £9.99, ref TY81001.

1/64 scale ‘multi-media’ model of Bloodhound SSC by Autodromo. (Picture courtesy Stefan Marjoram)


For more information on the latest Bloodhound project, including current model details see and