Diesel Era was the golden age of speed records. Every new achievement instantly sparked a need to achieve more. The pace of progress was breathtaking: in 1900, 100 miles per hour sounded like science-fiction; by 1910, it was an already broken limit; in early 1920s, new sleek aircraft reached a 200mph mark; in 1930s, there were cars running at 300mph and floatplanes (yes, floatplanes!) hitting 400. Everything moved faster – not only automobiles and aeroplanes but also trains, passenger liners and warships.
On September 13, 1931, Flt Lt. George Stainforth in the Supermarine S.6B broke the world air speed record reaching 407.5 mph (655.67 km/h).
Of course, it’s not a world records list. Just a gallery for your entertainment and inspiration. But believe us, there is a lot to see!
Curtiss R2C biplane. On November 4, 1923, Alford J. Williams piloted it at a speed of 266.59mph (429.02 km/h), an official world record.
On March 30, 1928, Italian pilot Mario di Bernardi established a new world speed record of 318.624mph (512.76 km/h), flying a Macchi M.52bis. Major di Bernardi was the first pilot to fly faster than 300 m.p.h., or 500 km/h.
On September 10, 1929, Flight Lieutenant George Stainforth flew a Gloster VI over a measured mile course for a top speed of 351.3 mph and a ratified world absolute speed record, averaged over four runs of 336.3 mph (541.4 km/h). This record “lived” only for two days, to be beaten by another British pilot, Augustus Orlebar (Supermarine S.6, 357.7mph, 575.5 km/h)
Italy’s revenge for the Schneider Trophy: in 1933, Francesco Agello reached 423.6 mph (682 km/h) in his Macchi M.C.72. On October 23, 1934, he established a new record (440.5mph, 709.2 km/h), flying the same floatplane
Howard Hughes after a flight in his H-1 Racer. In 1935, he reached 352 mph (566 km/h), establishing an unofficial speed record for landplanes. Two years later, flying the same (although modified) aircraft non-stop from LA to New York, Hughes set a new transcontinental speed record: 7 hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds.
On April 26, 1939, test pilot Fritz Wendel flew this Messerschmitt Me 209 V1 to a new world speed record: 469.22mph (755.13 km/h). No other piston-engine aircraft could do better in 30 years, until Darryl Greenamyer reached 483.04mph in his Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat.
Now, let’s look at the racetrack:
The first post-WWI land speed record (and the last set on a public road): on July 12, 1924, Ernest Eldridge reached 145.89mph (234.98 km/h) driving a 21.7-litre Fiat Mefistofele
March 29, 1927, Daytona Beach: Maj. Henry Segrave reaches 203.79mph (327.97 km/h) in a 1000hp Sunbeam
May 1928: Scientific American introduces three fast cars: Malcolm Campbell’s Napier-powered Blue Bird (206.95mph, 333.04 km/h, world’s land speed record, Feb. 19 1928), Stutz Blackhawk Special (122-183 cu.in. speed record, 198.29mph, 319.12 km/h, April 25), and Triplex Special (207.55mph, 334 km/h, world’s land speed record, April 22). By the time the magazine has reached its readers, two cars crashed, killing their drivers, Frank Lockhart (Stutz) and Lee Bible (Triplex)
March 11, 1929: Henry Segrave strikes back, setting a new record in his incredible Golden Arrow – 231.44 mph, 372.45 km/h. Upon his return from Daytona, he ordered a few scale models of the lucky car.
Two months later, Malcolm Campbell (from now on, Sir Malcolm) went to South Africa to establish a new record: 246.09mph (396.02 km/h). In 1935 and 1937, he set two more records, reaching 276.81mph at Daytona and 301.13mph at Bonneville
Thunderbolt, the mount of George Eyston (a painting by H.J. Moser). Three land speed records, all set at Bonneville Salt Flats: 312.00 mph (502.12 km/h) on November 19, 1937; 345.50 mph (556.03 km/h) on August 27, 1938; 357.50 mph (575.34 km/h) on September 15, 1938.
Railton Special, the mount of John Cobb. Two land speed records, also set at the Bonneville Salt Flats: 353.30mph (568.58 km/h) on September 15, 1938, and 369.70 mph (594.97 km/h) on August 23, 1939. This is a post-war photograph of the Special, rebuilt and rebadged. On September 16, 1947 John Cobb averaged 394.19 mph (634.39 km/h) over the measured mile in both directions to take his third land speed record.
To be continued…