Just over a century ago, the feat of covering 100 miles over the course of just one hour was one that tantalised car makers keen to use the hallowed benchmark in order to advertise their products.
The record was finally broken in 1913 on a damp, grey February day at Brooklands. Percy Lambert, driving a Talbot, “reached the goal for which manufacturers have striven for so long”, as Autocar’s contemporary report put it.
Several aspects of Lambert’s record were remarkable, not least the power output of his Talbot, which produced 120bhp at 3000rpm – quite a feat from a 4.5-litre four-cylinder engine of the time. The car was designed by George WA Brown, an expert engine tuner at the Clement-Talbot company in Kensington.
A week earlier, a record bid in perfect weather had been scuppered by a damaged tyre. For the renewed attempt, supplier Palmer Tyre took extra precautions with its ribbed-tread cord tyres, fitting extra security bolts.
But on 15 February, the weather was atrocious. “Everyone feared that nothing would be attempted,” Autocar reported, “but it seemed that the banking was not very wet, and Mr Lambert knows the track so well that he was able to make light of the dense fog, although afterwards he was heard to say that he could hardly see for several laps owing to the moisture on his goggles.”
At 12.43pm the Talbot bounded away. Despite a slower-than-expected first lap, Lambert was soon up to speed and never dipped below 100mph on any lap.
“Interest centred around the way in which the car came off the banking each time, and the most elaborate and successful signalling devices, which were really splendid, under the direction of Mr Harold Lambert,” Autocar described.
“Large panels of plywood were supplied, bearing on one side a red number and on the other a white one. If the car had done 97mph on any lap, the driver would have seen a red ‘7’ when he next passed, and if he did 103mph he saw a black ‘3’. The red numbers were not called into requisition at all.”
When the hour was up, Lambert had completed 38 laps. The previous record for the hour stood at 97 miles and 1037 yards. Lambert eclipsed it by more than six miles, resetting the standard to 103 miles and 1470 yards.
Autocar noted with pride that the record had been set by an Englishman driving a British-designed car, but recognised that the pace of automotive development was such that Lambert’s benchmark wouldn’t last for long.
“Others may, nay certainly will, build cars that will travel more than 100 miles in an hour, but we venture to predict that this record will stand out in the history of motoring as a thing by itself,” we said.