APP1: Researching into the Land Speed Record

For this blog post I am going to be sharing the first step of my research into the subject of the Land Speed Record. I start by looking into what a Land Speed Record actually is, before selecting the vehicles I will feature and begin to assess what information should be present on the poster. Photographs are here for reference purposes, and credited to their source as best as possible.

What is the Land Speed Record? For information about this, I decided to research who regulates World Records for all land speed records, which turns out to be the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). I found their website to be useful, which can be accessed here. It has a useful quote as to what a World Record consists of:

“FIA World Records are the fastest recognised official speeds achieved by any wheeled vehicle on land – excluding motorcycles, for which records are maintained by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM).

The Record Attempts are standardised over a fixed length course and averaged over two runs in opposite directions.”

Land Speed Record holders: The FIA states the current record holder is…

“ThrustSSC, a twin turbofan jet-powered car which achieved 763.035 mph – 1227.985 km/h – over one mile in October 1997. This was the first supersonic record as it broke the sound barrier at Mach 1.016.”

Thrust SSC
Photograph by Jeremy Davey: 15.10.97 – (C) SSC Programme Ltd

It is not only important for being the current record holder, and setting the first supersonic record, but also for moving the speed record further in one go – from 633mph to 763mph – than anyone else has ever achieved.

Usefully the FIA also states other “famous holders” of the Outright World Land Speed Record. As these are widely regarded as being famous, the list below will be the starting point for my posters. I have also researched into why exactly they are famous and have stated this below.

Thrust II  – 1983 – driven by Richard Noble – 633.468mph/1019.470km/h.

The holder of the Outright Land Speed Record for 14 years, the third longest time a vehicle has held the record for. The record was remarkable for the fact that there was great difficulty in financing the project, and Richard Noble, the project leader, taught himself how to drive such a vehicle with no real formal training.

Thrust 2
Photograph by Charles Noble (C) Thrust Cars Ltd.

The Blue Flame – 1970 – driven by Gary Gabelich – 622.407mph/1014.496km/h.

Aside from breaking the Outright Land Speed Record, Blue Flame was the first vehicle to pass 1000km/h over a standing kilometre. It is also the only vehicle (aside from the current Bloodhound SSC project) to use a rocket as the method of propulsion.

Blue Flame
Image sourced from Octane online

Spirit of America – Sonic 1 – 1965 – driven by Craig Breedlove – 600.601mph/966.574km/h.

The first vehicle to break the 600mph barrier and as the result of a extremely challenging duel with Art Arfons, whose ‘Green Monster’. Together they pushed speeds up higher and higher to claim the record for themselves, but eventually Breedlove came through with this vehicle to set an exceptional record.

Spirit of America - Sonic 1

Blue Bird V – 1935 – driven by Malcolm Campbell – 301.129mph/484.620km/h.

The importance of this land speed record vehicle lies in the fact that it was the first to go over 300mph, a speed that finally lifts the history of the land speed record well above what modern day road-legal supercars can achieve currently.

Bluebird V

Golden Arrow – 1929 – driven by Henry Segrave – 231.360mph/327.340km/h.

This Outright Land Speed Record holder was one of the first streamlined vehicles, and a successful one at that. It also features some of the most eccentric pieces of engineering such as ice chests in the sides to help provide coolant for the engine as well as a telescopic cowl to enable the driver to see.

Golden Arrow

Other Important Outright Land Speed Record holders:

From what little I knew about the Land Speed Record before I started this project, I knew the FIA’s list had not covered all the very famous and important record achievers and the audience would be sorely disappointed and unimpressed if I left something out.
So I decided to extend this part of my research and find a comprehensive list of records, from which I could decipher how popular/famous a record vehicle was/is.

After some online searching I came across, which is a rather basic website at the moment, but does have a page where there is a list of all land speed records that have been set, which can be visited here. My research has proven this to be a reliable list, with good quality information. To add to the previous list:

Spirit of America – 1964 – driven by Craig Breedlove – 526.277mph/842.043km/h.

Controversy does exist over whether the record should stand, as it does not feature four wheels. Technically, the FIA did not observe the record at the time, instead FIM did. It is an important marker however, as it was the first vehicle past 500mph, so it is something I am likely to include.

Spirit of America

Bluebird CN7 – 1964 – driven by Donald Campbell – 403.135mph/645.016km/h.

This vehicle is important to the land speed record history as it was the first vehicle to break the 400mph barrier. It was also one of the first successful vehicles to feature a jet engine, something which is now considered commonplace as a part of land speed record vehicles, with the internal combustion engine no longer used.

Bluebird CN7

Sunbeam 1000hp – 1927 – driven by Henry Segrave – 203.793mph/326.067km/h.

This vehicle is important due to the fact that it was the first vehicle to achieve the landmark speed of 200mph, a very impressive figure still by today’s standards as while speeds of up to 200mph can be easily attained nowadays by performance cars, but to go above that is a challenge.

Sunbeam 1000hp

So far then, here is the list of vehicles I will be including in my poster set. This could change however, depending on the timeframe I have.

  • Thrust SSC.
  • Thrust 2.
  • The Blue Flame.
  • Spirit of America – Sonic 1.
  • Spirit of America.
  • Bluebird CN7.
  • Bluebird V.
  • Golden Arrow.
  • Sunbeam 1000hp.


Now that I have got an idea of the key vehicles of the Outright Land Speed Record, I thought it was best to gain a sense of the human effort involved. After all, it is an adventure (as the theme of this project states) so it is an important area to cover…

TV documentaries are easily the best resource that I have come across so far that gets the spirit of the Land Speed Record across, and what it means to take on such an adventure into the unknown, and the sheer effort involved to make it happen. I have come across two TV documentaries, one about Thrust SSC, and the other about Thrust 2 that made for very interesting viewing.

Thanks to YouTube I have been able to find these documentaries to share here:

Thrust 2 (Aired on BBC 4 on 4/10/13, to mark the 30th anniversary of their record)

Thrust SSC (the full length documentary, Supersonic Dreams)

With my initial thought process being that I am expecting to illustrate these posters in some form, I thought I would use this as a good opportunity to get some reference images for my illustrations. The Thrust SSC documentary was very helpful with regards to this, so I’ve placed some of the screenshots I took below to give an idea of what I’m looking for. They give useful information such as the positioning of sponsors, small technical details and the landscape the record was set in.

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 13.39.02 Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 12.41.43 Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 12.29.44 Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 12.39.59 Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 12.37.45

Something I have also been thinking about, and will experiment properly at the suitable time, is whether or not to show the vehicles static or moving. I have a feeling that by showing the vehicles in motion, the audience would see the dust trails kicked up by the wheels, and for the jet engined vehicles, I could illustrate interesting visual effects such as the ‘diamond shock’ from the use of the afterburners, which can be seen below:

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 17.44.33

Later on in my research, just before I started writing this blog post, I found another interesting documentary about Thrust SSC, this one by ITN. I’ve placed the first part below:

Poster Information:

Watching the above videos has given me an idea as to the technical nature of these cars, as well as the extraordinary challenges the driver has to face. Therefore it is important that I turn my attention to what information about the record should be present on the posters. I have already drawn up a mindmap about this, which can be viewed in this blog post, but I will elaborate further here.

Vehicle Information:

Name: One of the most important part of the information on the poster, as people will need and want to know what they are looking at. Vehicles have picked up nicknames over the year such as ‘Bluebird’, which forgets the name of the chassis for instance. So I will need to research into that to ensure everything is thorough.

Speed Achieved: Probably the most important bit of information. The whole purpose of these projects is to attain the highest speed. “How fast can it go?” seems to be the stereotypical question automotive journalists get asked the most when driving around testing new cars, and these are road cars, so you can only imagine the fever that is whipped up around these vehicles.

Method of propulsion: I think this is a really important bit of information that must be on the poster, as my research has shown it makes up the ‘character’ of the vehicle. For example, visually, jet engines featuring ‘shock diamonds’ coming from the afterburners. There is also an audible element, but that can not be replicated on the posters!

Outright Land Speed Record holders started back in 1898 with Gaston Chasseloup-Laubat driving an electric Jeantaud. Aside from a couple of adventures with steam, most vehicles from 1902 used an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), and from 1964 onwards, with the exclusion of The Blue Flame, record holders moved to jet power.

Power figures: Following on from the last point, a mark of an engine’s performance is the power that they can produce. As I found in my research, Thrust SSC has two jet engines that generate 110,000bhp. To put that into perspective, an average road car will generate around 150 – 200bhp.

Acceleration: Although these figures will vary depending on many factors, I am wondering about including these as it is another way to quantify the scale of performance to the audience. Thrust SSC, I have found, can accelerate from 0-600mph in just 16 seconds!

Braking/Decelerating: An often overlooked feature of the land speed records I feel, as everyone focuses on the speed and engine. However, what goes fast must stop, and in such a manner to keep the driver and vehicle safe. Therefore conventional brakes, while still used to a degree, have been supplemented with parachutes to provide enormous declarative force to slow vehicles.

Dimensions: Due to the unusual nature of these vehicles, the dimensions are also often unusual so I am thinking of including this information to give the audience a sense of scale. Another factor I will need to think about is to make sure all the vehicles are in scale relative to each other however they are placed onto the posters.

Weight: Following on the last point, this is another interesting parameter to measure for the same reasons really: to give a sense of perspective.

Driver Information:

Name: A pretty obvious statement to make, but looking at the wider picture, I think it is absolutely correct the driver receives a fair appraisal of what they have achieved as well.

There are many interesting stories to be touched upon, especially recently, from Richard Noble training himself to drive Thrust 2, Craig Breedlove’s incredible commitment in setting several records over the years and the current Outright Land Speed Record holder Andy Green, who showed his skill and determination in trials set to find the driver for Thrust SSC.

Position: What did they do before? What skills did they acquire? Were they like Andy Green, a Tornado fighter pilot with the RAF, or were they like Richard Noble, a businessman in aviation, and self-trained to drive? As of yet, I am unsure as to the relevancy of such information, or if I can find reliable information… so more research is needed here definitely.

Event Information:

Date Set: This figure is important to provide context. As I mentioned briefly when discussing the record of 203.793mph set by Sunbeam 1000hp, supercars today regularly exceed 200mph. The Bugatti Veyron Supersport set a production car record of 268mph a couple of years ago, which is extraordinary for a road car. The Sunbeam however, reached 200mph in 1927. Suddenly that looks much more impressive.

Location: Outright Land Speed Record vehicles need a lot of space to run, to be able to get up to speed, maintain it through the measured mile, and then to decelerate. As speeds have risen, so has the distance needed. Records used to take place along beaches, then salt flats were used for some time, until the downforce required to stop the vehicle from taking off became so great that the vehicles dug too heavily into the surface. From then on, flat stretches of desert are used. Even then, strict criteria must be met to ensure the vehicle is safe to run.

Read Andy Green’s guide on what to look for when searching for a desert…

These landscapes are usually barren, featureless, but have their own beauty in the way they focus all your attention onto the vehicle, as well as allowing you to capture the dust trails etc. and witness history being made.


This blog post has showed the research I have put in so far to finding out about the Outright Land Speed Record. For my next blog post I will be creating a factfile where I can place all of the information I have learnt about each of the vehicles I will be researching.