Since man began to walk on his back legs (and probably before), he has pushed to be the fastest there is. Then, in the 1800’s came the first internal combustion engines for cars.
The Early days:
In 1898/99 two electric powered cars fought it out to become the fastest car in the world. In April 1899 the record sat at 65.79 mph, although that was broken by a steam powered car in 1902, when the record reached 75.06 mph.
It wasn’t until 1902 when any real regulations were laid down governing the requirements needed to claim the speed record, and by then attempts to break the land speed record for cars were occurring on an almost weekly basis.
In 1905 Arthur MacDonald took the record to 104.65 mph driving a Napier on Daytona Beach. The women weren’t to be outdone either, and in 1906 Dorothy Levitt broke the women’s record on Blackpool sands in the UK at 91 mph. This though, was over the measured kilometre, rather than the longer mile.
The Roaring Twenties – and Thirties:
Big name race drivers like Malcolm Campbell, Henry Segrave, Kaye Don, and Parry Thomas flew the British flag, while Frank Lockhart and Ray Keech kept the American flag flying. By March 1929 the record was held by Britain’s Henry Segrave at 231.44 mph, driving his Golden Arrow.
By the 1930’s the increasing speeds were taking their toll. Thomas died on Pendine Sands in Wales in late 1927, and Segrave was killed on Lake Windermere in June 1930. Campbell was coming to the fore with his Blue Bird, and in September 1935 he upped the record to 301.129 mph.
Greater speeds were becoming difficult to achieve but John Cobb and George Eyston, both race drivers, continued to take records until in 1947 Cobb produced an average 394.20 mph, although on one leg was recorded as having reached over 400 mph, the first car to have done so.
The 1960’s and Bonneville Salt Flats:
The early 1960’s on Bonneville Salt Flats are remembered more for disasters and failures than successes. American driver Athol Graham was killed, Donald Campbell, son of Malcolm, crashed at over 300 mph, and other drivers suffered mechanical failures.
Campbell returned in a turbine-engined Blue Bird in 1964 to up the record to 403.1 mph, but it was to be short lived. The age of the turbojet was arriving. Craig Breedlove and Arfons, two American drivers, fought it out in jet engine cars until Breedlove hit 600.601 mph in November 1965. Both drivers were lucky to survive major crashes which wrote their cars off during record breaking attempts.
Then – the Rocket Cars:
In the 1970’s rocket power was the name of the game. October of that year saw Gary Gabelich’s rocket machine hit 622.407 mph.
In 1983 the UK’s Richard Noble in Thrust2 regained the record for Britain at 633.468 mph, and held it until, using Noble’s new ThrustSSC, his driver, Andy Green reached714.144 mph in September 1997. Just one month later he became the only man to break the sound barrier at zero feet, and piloted ThrustSCC to 763.035 mph. A car land speed record which to date, remains unbroken.