1937/1938: Thunderbolt driven by Captain George Eyston

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United Kingdom
Twin 12 cyl. Rolls-Royce Merlin Aero
73,164 cc
5000 bhp
7+ Tons
30ft 5"
3ft 10"
7fr 1.5"
Top Speed:

312.00/345.50/357.50 mph


Captain George Eyston, tall, thin, bespectacled, made his name as a racing and record driver before he tackled the top record of them all.

When he moved on to the World Land Speed Record stage in 1937, there began a second series of duels between Eyston and John Cobb which offered many parallels to the Campbell/Segrave jousts.

Eyston was probably best known to the public as a Brooklands driver of very fast MG's.

It was in fact the chassis of one of his Magnette cars which formed the basis of the late Goldie Gardner's "Magic Midget" which achieved 207.37 mph. from a ten horse-power (1100 cc.) engine.

So George Eyston was no novice when he turned his skill and experience to the new task, which was to beat the 301.13 mph established by Sir Malcolm Campbell.

Eyston designed his own car, the Thunderbolt, which had many original features. But his theories proved to be sound, for on his first try on November 19, 1937, Eyston put the record up to 312 mph. exactly on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

The following year Cobb was on the scene too, but Eyston modified and lightened Thunderbolt and went out to beat his own top speed.

He achieved a dazzling 374 mph in one direction, but dazzle from his unpainted polished aluminum body shell upset the electronic eye timing mechanism, and he failed to register the necessary two-way improvement.

Eyston overcame this dazzle problem by painting the Thunderbolt black, and on August 27 upped his own figure to 345.50 mph. Within a week or so Cobb replied with 350.20 mph, and Eyston's last word was 357.50 mph.

Eyston's car weighed seven tons, more than twice as much as Cobb's Railton, but he had about two-and-a-half times as much power. Eyston, the experienced record-breaker, knew all the problems involved when he joined in the fastest-on-wheels battle.

One of them was that Sir Malcolm Campbell had already used the most powerful engine available at the time, the Rolls-Royce type R racing engine designed for aircraft use. He solved this one by using two of these engines, with a theoretical output of 4600 horsepower.

The next problem was in finding a way of transmitting it without too much wheel-spin. Eyston tackled this one by using an eight-wheeled car, four steering wheels at the front and four driving wheels at the rear. The car was built in seven months at the old Bean works at Tipton, Staffordshire. The two engines with a 73 liter total capacity sat side by side driving through a common shaft, with Eyston sitting in front of them.

The clutch gave trouble at first and was modified, then the old enemy wheel-spin set in, and Eyston scrapped the leaf springs and tried coils. The body shape was improved in detail and the driver shut in completely in his cockpit.

These changes did the trick, and as can be evidenced by his inclusion on the Unique Cars & Parts World Land Speed Record list, he succeeded.

Also See:

Land Speed Record Drivers
Herbert Austin LSR Attempt
History Of The Land Speed Record
Unique Cars and Parts USA - The Ultimate Classic Car Resource