Absolute Land Speed Record. Hunting Records

by | Jul 3, 2015 | Oldtimer Magazine | 1 comment

This is only a small part of a story of overcoming, risk and technology, a history of vertigo, failures and successes, challenges, surprises and disappointments, tears and smiles, a love story. Love of speed. A story that continues to write and that will last as long cars. It is a chronicle of man and machine in a special class. One with a huge dose of madness and recklessness, with a thirst for adrenaline, love of solitude and walk around the edge of the knife, the other with extravagant forms, extraordinary designs and exotic and ingenious solutions applied to one end: speed maximum, be faster than ever no one has ever managed to be…

Brooklands, Pendine Sands, Daytona Beach, Bonneville Salt Flats, Black Rock Desert… are mythical, legendary and remarkable names for car aficionados for having served as the backdrop of epic battles against fear and the laws of physics. Scenarios which works not always end well plotted, but in all cases got up from their armchairs to the spectators sprawled.

The absolute land speed record is defined as the average obtained between the maximum velocities of two passes over a fixed route made in opposite directions and in less than one hour time, according to regulations established by the FIA. This seeks to nullify effects like wind or slight slope.

At first he was in France and Belgium where the pioneers of speed began to compete with each other to establish growing brands, British and Americans subsequently joined this new fever and have been the most records have been established to this day. The evolution of the frames has been remarkable because in the beginning they were electric, later steam, then driven by internal combustion engines and finally have been engines of jet aeronautic responsible for moving these extreme machines.

The Dawn Of The Automobile: From Electricity To Gasoline

Attempts to set world records for speed began about the same time when cars were starting to take shape as a real alternative to animal-powered vehicles. The first speed record recognized land dating from 1898, established by Gaston de Chasseloup- Laubat in an electric vehicle designed by Charles Jeantaud, it reached 92.78 km/h (57.65 mph). That was the fuse that triggered everything. Trying to imagine the feeling of that first pioneer on that archaic frame with air in his face, knowing faster than anyone had ever been, I think it should be an important life moment, perhaps the result of a long work the fate of a long journey, sure was scared but happy and satisfied. I can easily assume that arouse admiration and envy among accidental or not, witnessed the event. If I close my eyes I see the hero getting off his rudimentary vehicle, still panicked, yet invaded by a strange sense of freedom, of superiority, dominant risk, satisfied and welcomed warmly by all present, family, friends and not as friends. Perhaps he embraced, or shouldered or passionately kissed by his fearful wife, who receives it with tears of joy. No one could keep indifferent to this event. Gaston Chasseloup-Laubat already had the virus, a highly contagious virus that spread like wildfire through the nations, countries and years.


The next catch was Camille Jenatzy, a Belgian who alternated with Chasseloup-Laubat in possession of the title of fastest man on earth until the year 1899 set a record of & 105.88 km/h (65.79 mph) and achieving thus be the first man to exceed 100 Km/h. An electrical engineer by training, he was nicknamed “Red Devil” by his bushy red beard. In its fastest brand he drove a CITA (Compagnie Internationale des Transports Automóviles électriques), chassis No. 25, nicknamed “La Jamais Contente”. It was the first car built specifically to beat the absolute speed record on land, the first a concern for the aerodynamics and the first in which rare light alloys as the “partinium” used displays, a face aluminum alloy, tungsten and laminated magnesium. Had 2 Postel-Vinay electric motors totaling 68 Cv and a Fulmen batteries that provided 200 volts and 124 amps… and had not yet begun the 20th century! It seems almost science fiction to think that at that time there could be a wind electric car with light and capable of delivering such benefits materials.


The record Jenatzy was in force three years, until 13 April 1902, when steam power began to develop and prove capable of overcoming electricity as far as pure performance is concerned, that’s when another Frenchman gave the next step in the race. This is Leon Serpollet who, with his Gardner-Serpollet “Oeuf de Pâques” (Easter egg) broke the mark leaving it in 120.80 km/h (75.06 mph). It had a steam engine capable of producing high pressure in much less time than conventional systems, thanks to a patented system called “Flash Tube Boiler” and 4 opposed cylinders similar to an internal combustion engine architecture. The nickname “Easter egg” was coming to its aerodynamic body, resembling an egg cut in half, with the pilot’s seat placed in the center.


Had already crossed the red line, the line of no return, had to keep up the make and record Serpollet steam egg and only lasted a few months, namely until August 5, 1902. 122.438 km / h (76 08 mph) was the speed at which he shot the first American who was in possession of the absolute land speed record, William K. Vanderbilt (part of the illustrious family of industrial Yorkers Vandebilt, founders of a great emporium of rail transport and sea). For the first time the car was animated by a gasoline engine, namely a 4 cylinders in V of 9,232 cc. capable of rotating at 950 rpm, dry and lubricated side valve coupled to a box of 4 relations and with a power of 60 HP crankcase.

William K. Vanderbilt-Mors

With few exceptions, from that moment, all attempts to assault the absolute land speed record is held with equipped with combustion cars. The car in question was a Mors, an old defunct French brand, founded in 1897 and promoted by the innovative concern of its founder, Emile Mors. One of the contributions from the house to the car evolutionary process was the incorporation of air springs from 1902! (In fact the car and wore Vanderbilt), which took many years but eventually implanted generalized as standard. Here comes the curious fact: Mors was bought in 1925 by a man named Andre Citroen, who used their technology and production capacity to manufacture their own cars. Over time Citroen made the air suspension their hallmark, one of the phenomena most flagrant of all time… but parasitism industry now know that the invention, and therefore merit, not Citroen but Mors.

The Thing Gets Serious. Professionalization, Advertising And Climbing Dizzying

Possession of the absolute land speed record had become desirable, very desirable, and not just for a few racing enthusiasts with sufficient funds and crazy to risk their lives on mills designed more for other purposes than for protect the pilot’s life, but also for the emerging corporations that were the embryo of the brands that continue even today in the automotive business. The speed and motorsport in general began to professionalize and began to be understood as an advertising platform for manufacturers and ancillary industries (fuel, lubricants, tires…). The ones and the others began to inject funds into increasing amounts they did flourish ingenuity of the best technicians of time with one goal: to be the fastest in the world, in a time when most cars still ran the planes.

Henry Ford, who initially was very interested in racing cars, covered the distance of a mile in 39.4 seconds getting a speed of 147.05 km/h (91.37 mph) with what he gets beat the record absolute land speed. It was January 14, 1904, he had 41 years of age and managed this feat advertise your company giving great visibility. The bright future lay ahead could not even imagine when flying over the frozen Lake St. Clair (USA) riding his 999 Racer, without even goggles to protect his face, according to the chronicles.

Ford 999 racer

His car, based on without superfluous for maximum design speed in a straight line, had no differential or rear suspension, no body, just a huge tetracilíndrico of 18.9 liters on a wooden frame, and a handle attached by a bar and simple gear to the front wheels. It was made with the remains of an older experimental Ford car, which had crashed a year before killing its pilot.

Dan Gurney, renowned American pilot and one of the 3 unique in the world who have won races in Formula 1, NASCAR and Indy, had the opportunity to drive the Ford 999 racer 60 years after its creator did fly over the ice of Lake St. Clair.

Dan Gurney-999 racer-1963

These were your impressions:

“It’s almost shocking. I looked exhaust and realized that almost did not. Measuring about two inches long and could see the flames coming out. Vibrated and twisted with each explosion, you could feel everything from one extreme to another car. The car is a bit misleading because the gears are very long, but you’re going too fast. It’s sort of like comparing an elephant chasing a deer, by low engine speed and the big four cylinders. You can feel them working. Until there is between forty and fifty miles per hour is not stabilized, then hardly seem to be turning. It is only chu-chu-chu with lots of explosions, smoke and noise, overlooking the great engine from the high seat and trying to remember to keep your feet away from the flywheel exposed to It is as big as the headstone of a grave.”

It was just over two years what took the record to Ford and lost at the hands of a fellow countryman, another American Fred Marriott, January 26, 1906. Rodo to 205.44 km/h (127.66 mph) in Daytona Beach, which means that smashed the previous record. Curiously, the vehicle used was a steam car, the Stanley Rocket.


Stanley Motor Carriage Company operated for 22 years, between 1902 and 1924, founded by twin brothers Stanley, thrived in a time when society demanded quick solutions and long distance mobility for both people and goods. External combustion engines have the fundamental disadvantage that took about 30 minutes to obtain operating pressure steam. At that time the steam propulsion technology was still pretty predicament but soon begin to decline towards internal combustion engines that were experiencing exponential development and will soon be the preferred for their greater power, efficiency, price and ease of use, especially after the patent on the electric starter in 1911 by Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO). A year after establishing his record, Marriott tried to beat it with an improved version of Stanley Rocket, which had a boiler capable of producing 1,300 psi. He rushed along the beach at full speed but something went wrong when crossing a small bump: her car off the ground at nearly 190 mph on landing broke in two, leaving Marriott wounded, but alive. He suffered broken ribs, sternum, seriously wounded in the face and his right eye enucleation. One of the first people who came to his aid was a doctor who put the eye in place and miraculously, years later, the Marriott himself declared that “this was his best eye.” But he did not return to try and beat the record.

November 6, 1909. 202.691 km/h (125.946 mph), the average speed was reached “Blitzen Benz” over a distance of 1 km with flying start, the first time an electronic measuring system was used. Almost four years resisted the car record external combustion Stanley finally giving way to the hegemony of internal combustion engines in the mad rush of speed records. The true balance and had an impossible inertia to stop, although steam engines could have evolved and possibly surpassed the internal combustion there was one thing the condemned: hurry, haste, the urgency, impatience and fury absurdity of human beings. Wanting to get the result with an immediacy that allows completely abolish any forecasting exercise. The steam engines were greener (because combustion occurs at low pressure not much waste is generated), quieter, more reliable and less dangerous… but also slower to boot. Its implementation depended on reaching an operating pressure of steam in the boiler and this time consuming, time that almost nobody was willing to lose. The trend was already marked and all eyes and investment efforts were deposited in internal combustion engines, but then came a visionary brothers Americans, Double brothers, who created steam engines able to blanch the most advanced combustion engines internal, but were not able to reverse the trend and were swallowed by fashion and buried in oblivion.


The Blitzen Benz was the fastest machine of its time, faster than any ship, train or contemporary aircraft. It was a unit of 21,500 cc (1,310 cu in) and 200 hp at 1,600 rpm, developed from a motor grand prix, refine it and increasing its displacement in order to satisfy the thirst for records. The whole car is built around the engine, with an aerodynamic body chaired by a golden radiator with a sharp expansion tank at the top, as an aerodynamic spoiler. The charge to tame this wild unicorn was the French driver Victor Hemery, who rode him in the brand new circuit of Brooklands, UK. But the reign of the “Blitzen” not end here because the June 24, 1914 another unit of this car (the number 3 of the 6 produced in total), painted blue and with few modifications in the radiator, windbreaks and leaks returns to thunder breaking the calm of the Brooklands circuit and leaving the record 124.12 mph (199.71 km/h), and this time, the first rule of the 2 addresses (average speed 2 applies passes in opposite directions on the same stretch of 1 mile). His driver was Lydston Hornsted Granville, alias “Cupid” another great man of courageous life, born in Moscow, son of the British vice-consul and a biography punctuated motley trades and related feats speed…

To be continued…

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