Land Speed Records…Did you know…?

Did you know that the first land speed record was acheived in an electric engine car in 1898? Or, that more than 100 years ago cars were going faster than 125 mph (200km per hour)?

I don’t know about you but when I thought of high speed cars I think of modern (ish) cars. I don’t know why as I have owned some pretty fast old cars too, but when I came across these figures I had to share them as I was blown away.

The first official world land speed record was achieved on December 18, 1898 by a French guy by the name of Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubatat doing a whopping 39.24mph (63.15kmph). Not that great, especially when an average quarter horse can go faster than that (that makes me wonder why they still called it a land speed record).  However what is amazing is that it was in a car that had an electric engine (a Jeantaud Duc).

Ok so now it gets better.  It took little under 8 years for the pace of the cars to reach over 125 miles per hour (from 39.24mph) … and they weren’t petrol either. On January 26, 1906, Mr Fred Marriott in a steam powered Stanley Rocket (seriously it was called a rocket) achieved 127.66 mph (205.44km per hour). That record in a steam engine lasted over a hundred years until 25 August 2009 when someone else was crazy enough to break it. Have a look at the photos.

Finally by 1947 (65 years ago) they were already exceeding speeds of 394mph (634 kmph) in petrol engines. Now it goes without saying that we are going fast now with all sorts of rocket powered monsters whose main concern is not just how fast they go but how to stick to the ground. For me it has lost the ‘’romance” when comparing the new vehicles to the olden days especially when you consider there isn’t much “car” left in the new machines -  that is if you don’t count the wheels.   But got to give the pilots and engineers credit, they are reaching speeds of 750+ mph and breaking supersonic speeds these days (have a look at the monster called ‘Thrust SSC’ which holds the current speed record since October 15, 1997 at 763 mph). This year a machine by the name of “Bloodhound SSC” is hoping to not only take the record, but exceed 1000 mph.

Check out some of the nice photos below.


Ralph DePalma in his Packard '905' Special at Daytona Beach in 1919
Here is “Bloodhound SSC” powered by a jet engine and a rocket designed to reach 1,000 miles per hour (1,609 km/h) this year (and break the 1997 record held by Thrust). It has been a 5 year project and cost over 15,000 UK pounds



White Triplex Spirit of Elkdom
White Triplex Spirit of Elkdom - United States (207 mph)
Using three Liberty aero engines from the previous war, Ray Keech, an American, wrestled the record from the British hold of the Land Speed Record. Another run was made later on the same vehicle, but the man driving it, Lee Bible, died during his 2nd attempt. Photo and information from


Imagine crashing in that. 200+ mph in a steam engined car. The speed record remained the record for steam powered vehicles until 25 August 2009.



So cool - 1903 Louis Ross racing in the twin-engined Stanley Woggle-Bug steam automobile : Daytona Beach, Florida
The beastly looking Thrust SSC - Current world record holder since 1997 at 763 miles per hour. (personally i think Thrust looks cooler than Bloodhound).

Here are the figures: OK OK OK. I will also make the comment here that there are many records, many different organisations that hold the testing etc. Don’t shoot me if some of the figures are wrong. I just like old cars.

Land Speed Records 1898–1965 (wheel-driven)

taken from Wikipedia

DateLocationDriverVehiclePowerSpeed over
1 km
Speed over
1 mile
December 18, 1898Achères, Yvelines, FranceFrance Gaston de Chasseloup-LaubatJeantaud Duc[13]Electric39.2463.15   
January 17, 1899Achères, Yvelines, FranceBelgium Camille Jenatzy[13]  41.4266.659  First man to break a land speed record [13]
December 18, 1898Achères, Yvelines, FranceFrance Gaston de Chasseloup-LaubatJeantaud DucElectric65.79105.878  First specialist land speed record vehicle, first 60 mph pass[4]
April 13, 1902Nice, France
Promenade des Anglais
France Leon SerpolletGardner-Serpollet Oeuf de Pâques (Easter Egg)Steam[4]75.06120.80   
Aug 5, 1902Albis-St. Arnoult, FranceUnited States William K. VanderbiltMorsInternal combustion76.08122.438  First IC-powered record[4]
January 12, 1904Lake St. Clair, USAUnited States Henry FordFord 999 RacerIC91.37147.05On frozen lake[14] (Not recognized by L'Automobile Club de France)
January 26, 1906Ormond Beach, USAUnited States Fred MarriottStanley Rocket[6]Steam127.66205.44  First record over 200 km/h (124 mph). First speed greater than contemporary rail speed record.
Remained the record for steam powered vehicles until 25 August 2009.[15]
November 6, 1909Brooklands, United KingdomFrance Victor Hémery200 hp (150 kW) Benz No 1IC125.94202.68115.93186.57First run using electronic timing[6]
June 24, 1914Brooklands, United KingdomUnited Kingdom L. G. Hornstead200 hp (150 kW) Benz No 3IC124.09199.70First 2-way record, set at Brooklands under new Association International des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) 2-way rule[6]
July 12, 1924FranceUnited Kingdom Ernest EldridgeFIAT MephistophelesIC145.89234.98Fastest LSR ever on a public road[6]
March 29, 1927Daytona Beach, USAUnited Kingdom Henry SegraveMystery (aka "Sunbeam 1000 hp") 203.79327.97  The first car to reach a speed over 200 mph (320 km/h)[16]
February 19, 1928Daytona Beach, USAUnited Kingdom Malcolm CampbellBlue Bird 206.956333.048  [7]
April 22, 1928Daytona Beach, USAUnited States Ray KeechTriplex Special3 Liberty207.552334.007  [17]
March 11, 1929Daytona Beach, USAUnited Kingdom Henry SegraveGolden Arrow925 hp (690 kW) Napier231.446372.459  Segrave was knighted for this effort[18]
February 5, 1931Verneuk Pan, South AfricaUnited Kingdom Malcolm CampbellBlue BirdIC246.09396.025  First 250 mph (400 km/h) pass. Campbell was knighted for this effort[18]
March 7, 1935Daytona Beach, USAUnited Kingdom Malcolm CampbellBlue BirdIC276.816445.472  [18]
September 3, 1937Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom Malcolm CampbellBlue BirdIC301.129484.598  First 300 mph (480 km/h) pass, first absolute record set at Bonneville[18]
November 19, 1937Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom George EystonThunderboltTwo Rolls-Royce Schneider Trophy engines (4,700 hp (3,500 kW))311.42501.16  [18]
August 27, 1938Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom George EystonThunderbolt 345.49[18]556.012   
15 September 1938Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom John CobbRailton 350.2563.566  [18]
September 16, 1938Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom George EystonThunderbolt 357.5575.314  [18]
August 23, 1939Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom John CobbRailton SpecialIC369.74[18]595.04367.91  
September 16, 1947Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom John CobbRailton Mobil SpecialIC394.196[6]634.397394.19634.39 
July 17, 1964Lake Eyre, Australia United Kingdom Donald CampbellBluebird CN7turboshaft  403.10[8]644.96 

NB - From 1963 to present the land speed record has been won with jet and rocket propulsion vehicles - not my cup of tea..... if you want to read more though go to

Article information and figures from Wikipedia 10.01.2013

Article written by Robert Hughes – AKA alvisfan63, Classic Car Enthusiast, Boston, USA.


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