Land Speed Record

It was perhaps inevitable that once the automobile had been invented, there would be the challenge of “how fast will it go”.  To answer this question, in 1898 & 1899, Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat from France and Belgian Camille Jenatzy pitched their two vehicles against each other at Achères near Paris.  At first there was no official recording or recognition of these early achievements in speed, but in 1902 the Automobile Club de France became the first regulators of each attempt.

In 1924, the Association Internationale des Automobiles Clubs Reconnus (which later became the FIA) established new regulations.  There were to be two runs in opposite directions over a mile, with a time allowed between each attempt of 30 minutes which was later increased to one hour.  Vehicles were wheel-driven at first, but in the 1960’s attempts made by jet and then by rocket propulsion were also allowed. 

For the decades that have followed the earliest attempts, many very courageous drivers on both sides of the Atlantic have succeeded in claiming the unofficial title of “The Fastest Man on Earth”.  And from 39mph in 1898, one hundred years later Andy Green’s Thrust SSC achieved 763mph and in doing so, he became the first person to break the sound barrier on land.

If you are interested in speed record attempts on land, sea and in the air, why not join the Speed Record Club.  Information can be found at 


1898 Jeantaud Duc driven by Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat to a speed of 39.24mph.   Model by GB Models (Geoff Brown)/Touchwood Models (Stuart Delf)

The first holder of the unofficial World’s Land Speed Record was French Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat.  His vehicle was an electric-powered Jeantaud, built in Paris by Charles Jeantaud.  The record was set on a public road at Achères near Paris on 18th December 1898.  It was timed over 1 kilometre for one run only at 39.24mph.  And so began over a hundred years of record-breaking attempts. 


1899 CGA Dogcart driven by Camille Jenatzy to a speed of 49.92mph.   Model by Touchwood Models

Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat had a rival, a Belgian racing driver called Camille Jenatzy.  Just one month after the first record had been set, Jenatzy took his electric-powered car to Achères and on 17th January 1899, increased the speed to 41.42mph, only for Chasseloup-Laubat to record 43.69mph just 10 minutes later.  Ten days after this Jenatzy drove his car to a new record of 49.92mph.


1899 Jeantaud Profilee driven by Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat to a speed of 57.60mph.   Model by John Shinton

In March 1899, the rivalry continued.  Chasseloup-Laubat had fitted a more aerodynamic body to his car and covered the flying kilometre at a speed of 57.60mph.  


1899 La Jamais Contente driven by Camille Jenatzy to a speed of 65.79mph.   Model by Rio

Back came Camille Jenatzy in a superbly designed vehicle built by the Compagnie Internationale des Transports Automobiles Electriques Jenatzy.  The body was constructed of lightweight metal sheets and the car was powered by two electric motors.  On 29th April 1899 Jenatzy established a new record of 65.79mph, becoming the first person to drive at more than a mile a minute.


1902 Mors 60hp Z driven by Henri Fournier to a speed of 76.60mph.   Model by Mach One Models (Ian Jones)

In April 1902, a steam-powered Serpollet driven by Leon Serpollet raised the Land Speed Record to 75.06mph at Nice.  This record was broken three times later that year by three different drivers, all using the same type of car, a 1902 Mors 60hp.  First was American William K. Vanderbilt who established a new record of 76.08mph on 5th August at Ablis in France.  Second, Henri Fournier from Le Mans, raised the record fractionally to 76.60mph on 5th November at Dourdan, also in France.  Finally, Maurice Augières, and using exactly the same car as Fournier, took the speed record up to 77.13mph on 17th November, and again driving the same road at Dourdan.


1903 Gobron-Brillié driven by Arthur Duray to a speed of 84.73mph.   Model by Touchwood Models

Belgian driver Arthur Duray was next to enter the contest to be “The Fastest Man on Earth”.  Driving a car built by Gustav Gobron & Eugene Brillié, he broke the Land Speed Record twice in one year.  On 17th July 1903 he recorded 83.47mph at Ostend in Belgium in his 13.5 litre Gobron-Brillié and raised the bar again on 5th November at Dourdan with a speed of 84.73mph.

1904 Ford “Arrow” driven by Henry Ford to a speed of 91.37mph.   Model by Brumm

In 1904, the Land Speed Record was broken by five different drivers.  First was Henry Ford, who wanting to publicise his new company, built a 16.7 litre vehicle which he drove himself to a speed of 91.37mph on 12th January.  His run was on a frozen Lake St. Clair in Michigan – the only attempt ever to be made on ice.  Timed by the American Automobile Association, his speed was not recognised by the ACF.


1904 Gobron-Brillié driven by Louis Rigolly to a speed of 103.56mph.   Model by Touchwood Models

At Daytona, and also in January, William K. Vanderbilt raised the speed to 92.30mph driving a Mercedes, with his record lasting just two months.  French driver Louis Rigolly achieved 94.78mph on 31st March at Nice and then 103.56mph on 21st July at Ostend.  Driving a 13.6 litre Gobron-Brillié, he therefore became the first man to break the 100mph barrier.


1904 Mercedes Simplex driven by Baron Pierre de Caters to a speed of 97.25mph.   Model by Touchwood Models

Sandwiched between Louis Rigolly’s two record-breaking runs, was the successful attempt by Belgian aviator Baron Pierre de Caters.  Driving an 11.9 litre Mercedes, he established a new record of 97.25mph on 25th May at Ostend.  The final new record of 1904 was set on 13th November by French racing driver Paul Baras who drove his Darracq to a speed of 104.52mph, thereby taking Louis Rigolly’s record away.


1905 Napier driven by Arthur MacDonald to a speed of 104.65mph.   Model by Brumm

The first British car to be used for a Land Speed Record attempt was a Napier, driven by Arthur E. MacDonald at the 1905 Florida Speed Week, held at Daytona Beach.  The car was powered by a 6 cylinder 15 litre engine.  A speed of 104.65mph was recorded through the flying mile and although recognised by the AAA, it was not accepted by the ACF.


1905 Darracq V8 driven by Victor Hémery to a speed of 109.65mph.   Model by Brumm

French racing driver Victor Hémery was also the chief test driver for Darracq.  On 30th December 1905 he drove one of the company’s cars, a 200hp 22.5 litre V8, to a new Land Speed Record of 109.65mph at Arles in France.  Many decades later, in 1956, Gerald Firkins bought the car and began a painstaking restoration, the vehicle being put on display at the 2005 Goodwood Festival of Speed.


1906 Stanley Rocket driven by Fred Marriott to a speed of 121.57mph.   Model by Mach One Models

Brothers Francis & Freelan Stanley’s company built steam-powered cars in Massachusetts.  In the 1906 Florida Speed Week, they entered one of their cars.  The body of this vehicle was made in cedar wood and then covered with canvas.  On 26th January, driver Fred Marriott established a new record of 121.57mph.  The ACF recognised this flying kilometre speed of 121.57mph, but not the flying mile speed of 127.66mph.


1910 Blitzen Benz driven by Barney Oldfield to a speed of 131.275mph.   Model by Brumm

On 8th November 1909, Victor Hémery drove his Blitzen Benz to a new Land Speed Record at Brooklands of 125.94mph.  The following year, the car was taken to the USA and bought by American racing driver Berna Eli “Barney” Oldfield.  On 16th March 1910 at Daytona Beach, he set a new record of 131.275mph, which was not recognised by the AIACR (Association International des Automobiles Clubs Reconnus).  This did not stop Barney Oldfield adding “Holder of the World’s Speed Record” to his list of achievements.


1914 Blitzen Benz driven by Lydston Hornsted to a speed of 124.10mph.   Model by GB Models

British driver Lydston Hornsted joined the Benz team in 1913.  Having set a number of records, he drove a 21.5 litre Benz to a new speed of 124.10mph on 24th June 1914, at Brooklands Race Track, Weybridge in Surrey.  This was the first time that a new record had to be established by completing two runs in opposite directions and then an average speed taken.


1919 Packard 905 driven by Ralph de Palma to a speed of 149.875mph.   Model by Model Assemblies

During the week of 12th February 1919, American racing driver Ralph de Palma set a new record of 149.875mph in his Packard 905 V-12, for the measured mile at Daytona.  Because the time was recorded over one direction only, it was not accepted by the AIACR, although the AAA did recognise the attempt.


1920 Duesenberg (“Double Dusey”) driven by Tommy Milton to a speed of 156.03mph.   Model by Bizarre

Brothers Frederick & August Duesenberg founded their company in 1919.  The following year, their principal driver Tommy Milton persuaded them to build a vehicle to overtake Ralph de Palma’s record speed.  The car had two 5 litre straight eight engines mounted side by side.  On 8th April 1920, Tommy Milton achieved 156.03mph over the flying mile at Daytona.  As with Ralph de Palma’s effort, the attempt was not ratified by the AIACR.


1922 Sunbeam 350hp driven by Kenelm Lee Guinness to a speed of 133.75mph.   Model by LSR Productions (Howard Statham)

A member of the Irish Guinness brewing family, Kenelm Lee Guinness was well known for the production of his KLG spark plugs, as well as his achievements as a racing driver.  On 17th May 1922, he drove his 1920 Sunbeam to a new speed record at Brooklands of 133.75mph.  The car was powered by an 18.3 litre V-12 Manitou aero engine.  Kenelm Lee Guinness later sold the car to Malcom Campbell.


1924 FIAT Mephistopheles driven by Ernest Eldridge to a speed of 146.01mph.   Model by Brumm

In July 1924, on a stretch of public road at Arpajon in France, two cars went head-to-head in an attempt to break the Land Speed Record.  On 6th July, Frenchman Réné Thomas in a Delage took the record with a speed of 141.31mph.  Just six days later, English driver Ernest Eldridge recorded 146.01mph in his 21.7 litre aero-engined FIAT “Mephistopheles”.  This car today is part of the Centro Storico FIAT Collection at Corso Dante, Turin, and now painted red instead of the original black.


1924/1925 Sunbeam driven by Malcolm Campbell to a speed of 150.87mph.   Model by LSR Productions.

After serving as a pilot in WW I, Malcolm Campbell concentrated his efforts in breaking speed records on both land and water.  Having bought Kenelm Lee Guinness’s Sunbeam, he made a series of modifications to the car before establishing a new record of 146.16mph on 25th September 1924 at Pendine Sands in Wales.  The following year, on 21st July – and also at Pendine – he raised the speed to 150.87mph.  By now the car was named “Bluebird”, a name that Malcolm Campbell used on all of his record attempt vehicles.  This car can now be seen at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.


1926 Sunbeam V-12 Tiger driven by Major Henry Segrave to a speed of 152.33mph.  Model by MikanSue (Mike & Sue Richardson)

Henry Segrave had served as a pilot in WW 1.  When the conflict was over, his main interest was in motor racing.  He won the French Grand Prix in 1923 in a Sunbeam, becoming the first British driver to win a Grand Prix in a British car.  His fascination with speed then led him to try and break the World’s Land Speed Record.  On 21st March 1926, he took his Sunbeam V-12 4 litre Tiger to Southport Beach and achieved his ambition, recording a speed of 152.33mph.  He then went on to break the Land Speed Record in two more cars – the Sunbeam 1,000 hp in 1927, and the Irving-Napier Golden Arrow in 1929.


1926 Babs driven by John Parry Thomas to a speed of 171.01mph.   Model by Mach One Models

On 21st March 1926, Major Henry Segrave drove his Sunbeam Tiger to a new record of 152.33mph at Southport.  The following month, Welshman John Godfrey Parry Thomas drove his 26.9 litre V-12 aero-engined car even faster.  Originally named “The Higham Special”, Parry Thomas re-named the car “Babs” after a friend’s daughter.  At Pendine Sands in Wales, he recorded 169.30mph on 27th April and 171.01mph a day later.  Tragically, he lost his life at Pendine in March the next year attempting to take the record back from Malcolm Campbell.  Babs was then buried in sand dunes at Pendine.  In 1969, Owen Wyn Owen resurrected the car and over many years, returned it to working order.


1927 Napier-Campbell Bluebird driven by Malcolm Campbell to a speed of 174.883mph.   Model by Pandora Models (John Cope)

Malcolm Campbell’s second record-breaking car was built especially for him at great expense.  The Napier-Campbell Bluebird had a 22.3 litre engine developing 450 bhp.  On 4th February 1927, and again at Pendine Sands, Malcolm Campbell raised the record speed to 174.883mph.  In March, Parry Thomas in Babs tried to regain the record, but the car overturned and sadly he died.  Pendine Sands was not used again by Campbell for Land Speed Record attempts.


1927 Sunbeam 1,000hp driven by Major Henry Segrave to a speed of 203.792mph.   Model by Western Models

Henry Segrave had already held the Land Speed Record in 1926, before he tried again a year later in a twin-engined Sunbeam that was built especially for him.  On 29th March 1927 at Daytona, Segrave became the first driver to pass the 200mph mark, his 1,000hp Sunbeam achieving 203.792mph.  He had been the first European to use the sands at Daytona and Malcolm Campbell followed him a year later.  This car can now be seen at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.


1928 Napier-Campbell Bluebird driven by Malcolm Campbell to a speed of 206.956mph.   Model by Pandora Models (Ralph Foster)

In February 1928, the Daytona Chamber of Commerce organised a 25th Anniversary “Speed Meet” and Malcolm Campbell took his Napier-Campbell to the event.  The car had received a number of modifications including better streamlined bodywork.  On 19th February 1928, he took the Land Speed Record back from Henry Segrave with a speed of 206.956mph.


1928 White Triplex Special driven by Ray Keech to a speed of 207.552mph.   Model by Mach One Models

One of the bravest men ever to step into a car, American racing driver Charles Raymond Keech was hired by a wealthy manufacturer Jim White, to win back the Land Speed Record from the British.  The car that they built was a monstrous 3-engined behemoth, its 36 cylinders totalling a massive 81 litres.  Ray Keech sat right in the middle of its three engines and drove with barely any protection from the elements.  Despite many difficulties, he beat Malcolm Campbell’s record, but by only just under 1mph, achieving a speed of 207.552mph.  Ray Keech then returned to track racing and won the Indianapolis 500 in 1929, finishing six minutes ahead of the second-placed car.


1929 Irving-Napier Golden Arrow driven by Major Henry Segrave to a speed of 231.446mph.   Model by Western Models

Henry Segrave’s Golden Arrow was designed by Captain J. S. Irving and powered by a Schneider Trophy aeroplane engine, totalling 26.9 litres and which developed 925 bhp.  The striking body was constructed by renowned coachbuilders Thrupp & Maberly in aluminium and then painted gold.  On 11th March 1929, and again at Daytona, Henry Segrave attained the Land Speed Record for a third time, with a speed of 231.446mph.  He was later knighted for his achievements, but tragically lost his life in 1930 gaining the Water Speed Record in Miss England II.  Golden Arrow can now be seen at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.


1933 Bluebird driven by Sir Malcolm Campbell to a speed of 272.46mph.   Model by Western Models

Malcolm Campbell’s next Bluebird was designed by Reid Railton and powered by a 26.9 litre engine developing 1,450 bhp.  On 5th February 1931, he broke the record at Daytona with a speed of 246.09mph and was knighted on his return to England.  On 24th February 1932 he raised the speed to 253.97mph and after changing to a Rolls-Royce engine, broke the record again on 22nd February 1933 with a speed of 272.46mph.


1935 Bluebird driven by Sir Malcolm Campbell to a speed of 301.129mph.   Model by Western Models

In 1934, Reid Railton rebuilt the Bluebird and Sir Malcolm Campbell returned to Daytona, breaking the Land Speed Record again on 7th March 1935 with a speed of 276.92mph.  Disappointed at not having broken the 300mph barrier, Campbell tried again later in the year at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.  This time he achieved his goal and on 3rd September recorded a speed of 301.129mph.  He then turned his attention to the World’s Water Speed Record eventually recording a speed of 141.74mph on Coniston Water in Bluebird K4, on 19th August 1939.  When he retired he had held the Land Speed Record nine times and the Water Speed Record on four occasions.


1937/1938 Thunderbolt driven by Captain George Eyston to a speed of 345.50mph.   Model by Western Models

Captain George Edward Thomas Eyston was an all-round sportsman and successful racing driver whose car “Speed of the Wind” had set endurance records.  Keen to have an attempt at the Land Speed Record, Thunderbolt was constructed for him in 1937.  Powered by two V-12 Rolls-Royce engines, Eyston took his car to the Bonneville Salt Flats and on 19th November 1937 set a new Land Speed Record of 311.42mph.  He returned again the next year and on 27th August, increased the speed to 345.50mph.


1938 Thunderbolt driven by Captain George Eyston to a speed of 357.50mph.   Model by Mach One Models

Also at Bonneville Salt Flats in the Autumn of 1938 was George Eyston’s friend and rival John Cobb.  When Cobb’s Railton reached a new speed of 350.20mph on 15th September, Eyston claimed the record back the following day with a speed of 357.50mph.  This time his car had been modified and the large tail fin had been removed.  In 1940, Thunderbolt was put on display in Wellington, New Zealand.  Some years later it was damaged in a fire and it is thought that the car was then scrapped and sadly, its last resting place was in a rubbish dump.


1938/1939 Railton/Railton Special driven by John Cobb to a speed of 369.74mph.    Model by Western Models

John Cobb was a successful racing driver who set the outright lap record at Brooklands of 143.44mph.  Turning his attention to the Land Speed Record, Cobb asked Reid Railton to design a car that would break the record.  This vehicle had two 12 cylinder Napier Lion engines and an aluminium body shell that was completely detachable in one piece.  On 15th September 1938 at Bonneville Salt Flats, John Cobb recorded a new speed of 350.20mph.  A day later, his rival George Eyston increased the speed to 357.50mph in Thunderbolt.  Returning to Bonneville in 1939, Cobb’s car – now called The Railton Special – achieved 369.74mph on 23rd August, a record that stood until after WW II.


1947 Railton Mobil Special driven by John Cobb to a speed of 394.20mph.   Model by Bizarre

During WW II, John Cobb had served as an RAF auxiliary pilot.  When war ended, he returned to the Bonneville Salt Flats with his Railton Mobil Special.  On 16th September, he set a new Land Speed Record of 394.20mph and had reached over 400mph on his return run.  He then turned to establishing a new record on water, but sadly lost his life in 1952 at Loch Ness, when his jet-powered boat “Crusader” disintegrated and sank.  (Background photographs above taken at the Donington Grand Prix Collection in 1999)


1963/1964 Spirit of America driven by Craig Breedlove to a speed of 526.28mph.   Model by Scaleworks

There were no new land speed records in the 1950’s, but in 1963 American Craig Breedlove changed everything.  At Bonneville Salt Flats on 5th August, his Spirit of America established a speed of 407.45mph, but in a vehicle that was not wheel-driven and had only three wheels.  His jet-powered attempt was therefore not recognised at first by the FIA and it was not until December 1964 that agreement was reached that any vehicle that was the fastest on land – wheel-driven or not – would be classified as the holder of the World Land Speed Record.  Craig Breedlove later established two new records with Spirit of America, reaching 468.72mph on 13th October 1964 and a remarkable 526.28mph two days later.


1964 Bluebird-Proteus driven by Donald Campbell to a speed of 403.10mph.   Model by Western Models

Donald Campbell was Sir Malcolm Campbell’s son and following in his father’s footsteps, had already broken the World Water Speed Record several times before setting his sights on the Land Speed Record.  On 17th July 1964 at Lake Eyre in Australia, Donald Campbell’s Bluebird CN7, powered by a Bristol-Siddeley Proteus gas turbine engine, established a speed of 403.10mph.  Craig Breedlove’s speed of 407.45mph set a year earlier had not been ratified by the FIA, so Campbell’s wheel-driven attempt became the new Land Speed Record.  In 1967, once again he set out to try and set a new speed record on water, but sadly lost his life at Coniston Water when travelling at over 300mph.  During his lifetime he had set eight World Speed Records, seven on water and one on land.


1964 Wingfoot Express driven by Tom Green to a speed of 413.20mph.   Model by John Shinton (1963 version as driven by Walt Arfons)

In the month of October 1964, the Land Speed Record was broken no fewer than five times, with all of the attempts being made at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.  First, was stock car driver Tom Green in his jet-powered Wingfoot Express, a car jointly designed and built with Walt Arfons.  On 2nd October, Tom Green recorded a speed of 413.20mph.  Within three days this record had been surpassed by Walt’s half-brother Art in his Green Monster.


1964/1965 Green Monster driven by Art Arfons to a speed of 576.55mph.   Model by Bizarre

Arthur Eugene ‘Art’ Arfons was a half-brother to Walt.  Both men had been competitors in motorsport before they both became involved with attempts on the land speed record.  Three days after the Tom Green/Walt Arfons Wingfoot Express had set a new speed, on 5th October 1964 Art Arfons took his jet-powered Green Monster to a new record of 434.04mph.  Craig Breedlove then raised the bar again with two more successful attempts on 13th and 15th October, before Art Arfons took Green Monster to a speed of 536.71mph on 27th October, making it the fifth successful attempt on the Land Speed Record in one month.  On 7th November 1965, Art Arfons recorded a final record-breaking speed in Green Monster of 576.55mph.


1965 Spirit of America Sonic 1 driven by Craig Breedlove to a speed of 600.60mph.   Model by John Shinton

Craig Breedlove had held the Land Speed Record three times in his Spirit of America, but had lost this record to Art Arfons at the end of 1964.  In 1965, he regained the record with a new vehicle, also jet-powered,  the Spirit of America Sonic 1.  On 2nd November 1965, he recorded a speed of 555.48mph at Bonneville only for Art Arfons to take the record back five days later on 7th November with a speed of 576.55mph in Green Monster.  Undeterred, on 15th November Craig Breedlove went through the 600mph barrier, recording 600.60mph in Spirit of America Sonic 1.  This was the fifth and last time that he had become “The Fastest Man on Earth”.


1965 Goldenrod driven by Bob Summers to a speed of 409.277mph.   Model by Mayes Models (Mike Stanton)

As well as all of the jet-powered efforts to break the Land Speed Record, there was one final attempt to establish a record with a wheel-driven vehicle.  Designed and built by Canadian brothers Bill & Bob Summers, their car was powered by four Chrysler 6.9 litre V-8 engines.  On 12th November 1965, Bob Summers drove the Goldenrod to a speed of 409.277mph at Bonneville, which was just faster than Donald Campbell’s speed of 403.10mph set a year earlier.


1970 The Blue Flame driven by Gary Gabelich to a speed of 622.41mph.   Model by Bizarre

Gary Gabelich was a successful American drag racer who had also worked for North American Rockwell on its Apollo Programme.  Given the chance to drive the rocket-powered The Blue Flame, he established a new Land Speed Record at Bonneville Salt Flats, the last time the record was broken at this venue.  On 28th October 1970, Gary Gabelich recorded a speed of 622.41mph.  Today, The Blue Flame can be seen at The Technik Museum, Sinsheim in Germany.  Together with the nearby Technik Museum at Speyer, these two excellent museums are well worth visiting.


1983 Thrust 2 driven by Richard Noble OBE to a speed of 633.47mph.   Model by LSR Productions

American drivers had dominated the Land Speed Record for many years before Richard Noble became determined to win back the record for Britain.  His car, Thrust 2, was powered by a Rolls-Royce Avon jet engine that had been sourced from an English Electric Lightning.  Instead of using the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, Nevada’s Black Rock Desert proved to be the perfect place for record-breaking.  On 4th October 1983, Richard Noble took Thrust 2 to a speed of 633.47mph, thereby regaining the Land Speed Record from the USA and he was afterwards awarded the OBE.  He later became the team’s project director for Andy Green’s successful attempt with ThrustSSC in 1997.


1997 ThrustSSC driven by Andy Green OBE to a speed of 763.07mph.   Model by John Shinton/Rigby’s LSR Models

The current holder of the World Land Speed Record is Wing Commander Andrew Duncan Green.  When Richard Noble planned to break his own record with a new car named ThrustSSC, RAF pilot Andy Green was selected as the driver.  This vehicle was powered by two Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engines.  As with Thrust 2, the Black Rock Desert in Nevada was chosen for the attempt.  On 25th September 1997, Andy Green set a new record of 714.14mph.  The following month on 15th October, this was increased to 763.07mph, with the sound barrier being broken for the first time on land.  ThrustSSC therefore officially became supersonic and as with Richard Noble, Andy Green was awarded the OBE for his incredible achievement.  It is hoped that in the future he may be able to have one further attempt at a new record, if the Bloodhound LSR project reaches fruition.