1937/1938: Thunderbolt driven by Captain George Eyston
Twin 12 cyl. Rolls-Royce Merlin
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
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
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 aluminium 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.
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.
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 litre 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.
did the trick, and as can be evidenced by his inclusion
on the Unique Cars & Parts World Land Speed Record
list, he succeeded.