The first Briton to grab the title of world’s fastest was Lydston Hornsted, a racing driver who drove a modified version of the Blitzen-Benz at Brooklands in 1914. Producing just 194bhp from its mammoth 21.5-litre engine, the Blitzen raced around the Surrey circuit at 124.09mph, laying down a record speed that stood for eight years.
From here on land speed record cars began to demand longer, straighter roads in order to stretch their legs towards the next major landmark. With the peace of post-war Britain releasing land from military occupation, Pendine beach in Wales became a popular choice for UK-based record attemptees, thanks to its long, flat landscape. It was here that the 1925 Sunbeam Bluebird surpassed the 150mph mark, edging its way just over to 150.76mph, piloted by Sir Malcolm Campbell.
Two hundred was the next number to conquer for the world’s most daring drivers, but the beaches of England and Wales were too short even for an 890bhp car to reach it. So Sunbeam’s not-so-accurately named 1000HP was shipped across to the US to Daytona where the beaches provided just enough space for it to reach a 203.79mph top speed.
Unsurprisingly, tragedy was never too far away. Just one year later Indy 500 winner Frank Lockhart’s 1928 record attempt resulted in him dying on the Daytona beach after a tyre blow-out led to a high speed flip, throwing him from his car before a record could be set.
Despite this, improvements to car performance came fast and in 1935 the 300mph limit was passed, with Sir Malcolm Campbell edging his way up to 301.13mph in his Railton Rolls-Royce Bluebird. Conventional internal-combustion engines were reaching fantastic speeds for the time, but they were soon to be replaced by new technology.
As the depression of the ’30s faded to a distant memory, the freedom of the swinging-’60s spawned a new era of alternative power-sources. The year 1964 finally saw 400mph officially demolished with Sir Malcolm Campbell’s son, Donald, reaching 403.14mph in his turbine-engined Bluebird-Proteus CN7.
This was followed by a raft of jet-powered attempts, resulting in records blasting beyond 600mph in just one year. However, 700mph wouldn’t be reached until the turbofan-jet Thrust SSC II was created, the predecessor to Bloodhound maxing out at a supersonic 763.04mph in 1997.
That record still stands today, and remains the mark for attemptees to surpass if they want to see their name etched into the record books. Such is the competition that just beating 763.04mph isn’t enough - today’s main contenders are all targeting 1000mph.
A favourite, Britain’s Bloodhound SSC, is expected to reach 1000mph in 2016. But with competition from The North American Eagle (a modified fighter jet), Fossett LSR, Aussie Invader 5R, Jetblack, Sonic Wind LSRV, The Bullet Project and even a possible return from descendants of Sir Malcolm Campbell and his Bluebird, Bloodhound faces a monumental challenge.
Such a lengthy list shows how even over a century on from the first record, man’s quest to be the fastest is still very much alive. And with Bloodhound SSC expected to make its first test run next year, it’s clear that this speed addiction is no more prominent than here in Britain.
Sam Sheehan & Mike Vousden