Herbert Austin's Intended Tilt At The World Land Speed Record

Send This Page To A Friend


Austin Vee-12 Engine

380 b.h.p.
Flat 4 spd. manual (intended)
Top Speed:
160 mph (possibly)
Number Built:
The exploits of those who attempted, and achieved, making history by attempting to set the World Land Speed Record are well documented both here at Unique Cars and Parts, and also in countless publications and books coverting the issue. Arguably one of the lesser known attempts is, however, that made by Herbert Austin.

Few today would know that Herbert Austin built an incredibly advanced 300-b.h.p. engine which he installed in his speed-boat christened "Irene I" after his eldest daughter, and with this boat he became the fastest man on water at Calshot.

The following year the output was increased to 380 b.h.p. and the engine was installed in an improved boat "Irene II" with which he again bettered his own record.

In 1912 a new boat was built by Saunders & Co. of Cowes, Isle of Wight, and was named the "Maplle Leaf IV". In this boat two of these engines were installed, giving a total output of 760 b.h.p. Piloted by Canadian Len Webster, it won the British International Trophy Contest at 50.78 m.p.h. repeating this again the following year at Calshot.

It was the engine from "Irene II" which it was proposed could power a Land Speed Record car, which Colonel Arthur Waite was to have driven for Austin after the war.

From 1926 the engine was stored in a basement under Austin's North Works machine shop, where it remained with a number of interesting Austin aero engines built between 1914 and 1920, including the three and five cylinder radial engines which powered the little Austin Whippet light aeroplane.

Herbert Austins Incredibly Advanced Vee-12 Design

It is a tragedy that after the death of Lord Austin on May 23rd, 1941, these engines were sent to the scrapyard to provide material for World War 2. Taking into consideration the crude engine design of the 1910 era, the Austin engine was amazingly advanced.

The 12 cylinders were in vee formation, with twin chain-driven overhead-camshafts and twin magnetos and carburetters. The cast-iron cylinders were mounted on an aluminium crankcase and the crankshaft ran on seven bearings, forming a very compact unit. To start the monster a small ABC flat-twin engine was used.

Of course having an advanced engine was one thing, having a satisfactory chassis with which to mount it in another. You may well ask what particular type Austin could be used for such a task, and the answer of course was none. Instead Herbert Austin struck upon the idea of using the chassis from the Austin 3-ton truck. These were built in 1913 and had remained in service as refuse collection vehicles by the Marylebone Council right up until the end of the Second World War.

Low Level Space Frame Chassis

The Austin 3-ton had a low-level space frame chassis with a transmission system more appropriate for a racing car than a truck of that period. It is not surprising, therefore, that Herbert Austin and Arthur Waite, when planning their Land Speed Record car, should decide to base the chassis on this vehicle.

The Austin 3-ton truck had a unique twin-drive transmission, the gearbox had the layshaft alongside the input and output shafts, providing a very flat four-speed gearbox. The differential gear was built into the gearbox, providing two output shafts and, coupled to each of these, a propeller shaft ran along the chassis side-members independentlly to each rear wheel hub, which housed an enclosed bevel reduction-gear. The solid rear beam axle suppporting the hub housings was mounted on four half-elliptic springs, two each side, one above the other.

With suitable modifications, this transmission would have been ideal for a World Land Speed Record Car, as it would have permitted an extremely low driving position and overall height. The chassis frame was very low and, althougih light in weight, it was exceptionally strong. The steering-box was mounted inside the front end of the off-side frame member and could easily have been set at a suitable angle to provide a central driving position.

1913 Austin 3 Ton Truck
The 1913 Austin Twin-Drive 3 Ton Truck was going to supply the space-frame chassis...
Details on what style of body Herbert Austin intended to use remain unclear, but his advanced ideas of streamling, demonstrated in 1911 on his exceptionally slim Austin racing car "Pearley III", with which Percy Lambert achieved many successes, would suggest that any such body would have had a good aerodynamic form.

Unfurtunately the World Land Speed Record project never got beyond the design stage, as the trade recession of that period and the financial fall-out that followed forced The Austin Motor Company to abandon it and concentrate on competition car's based on standard production models, as these gave the maximum value in publicity.

Had the project gone through, you can only guess as to what speed might have been attained. Looking back at subsequent records it is clear that it took 350 b.h.p. to achieve 151 m.p.h. and 500 b.h.p. for 174 m.p.h., and perhaps these cars were not as well streamlined as the Austin might have been. The tyres were a limiting factor, but Harvey du Cros of the Dunlop Rubber Company was a very close friend of Herbert Austin, and there is little doubt that he would have been able to provide suitable tyres.

It is not therefore unreasonable to extrapolate that an Austin Land Speed Record car, had it been built, would have approaced speeds of around 160 miles per hour.

Note: The slideshow above shows the 1910 Austin 380-b.h.p., V12-cylinder overhead camshaft engine in profile, along with an artists impression of Herbert Austin, in shirt-sleeves and yachting cap, with two mechanics working on the two 380-b.h.p. V12 o.h.c. engines, at Cowes, Isle of Wight, in 1912. The last image is of the Maple Leaf IV photographed at speed off Cowes, Isle of Wight in 1912.

Also See:

Land Speed Record Drivers
Herbert Austin LSR Attempt
History Of The Land Speed Record
Latest Classic Car Classifieds

You may also like...