If Space is mankind’s final frontier, then Speed may be its longest running affair. Our lives are essentially defined by the power of acceleration. First we crawled; then we walked. We learned to run and ride horses. Through trial and error, we created a self-propelled carriage. And, as time rolled on, that automobile would naturally become faster and faster. We decorate the quest for speed with competition, but the reality is that it’s something our hearts desire beyond the ribbons and trophies. It’s not just about being faster than the other driver—it’s about perfecting the combination of man and machine. Pushing the limits to find out what we’re made of in that moment. In celebration of those inexplicable ties that bind mankind with its greatest creation, we’ve gathered a list of some of the greatest land speed record-breaking moments of all time.
First Recognized Land Speed Record, 1898
The very first recognized land speed record dates back farther than you may have thought. It was a cold and gloomy winter day on December 18, 1898 in the French countryside commune of Achères. The driver was Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat, a French aristocrat whose father served Napoleon III. And if that name rings a bell, it might be because his brother, the Marquis, was a founding member of the Automobile Club of France in 1895, and was a major proponent of electric cars in the late 19th century.
The speed trial was organized by the French automobile magazine La France Automobile to garner interest in budding car culture. French automaker Jeantaud rose to the challenge and supplied the Count with a Jeantaud Duc electric vehicle, sporting what is often considered the first steering wheel. Automobiles produced in this era were by no means fast by today’s standard. But when Chasseloup-Laubat hit a speed of 39.24 mph on a one-kilometer run, it was considered incredible.
The World’s Fastest Indian, 1967
Burt Munro’s pursuit of speed might be the most touching tale of a man and his passion in the industry. Munro demonstrated that even with little money, you can make big things happen. Motorcycle salesman by day and visionary by night, Munro often spent his evenings building his motorcycle. He fabricated his own parts for a 1920 Indian Scout, including the pistons and barrels.
The bike was originally built at 650 cc’s with a top speed of 55 mph. After Munro was done working his magic however, the bike measured at 1000 cc’s and he was able to push it over 200 mph! Not only did Munro break the land speed record in his class at Speed Week, his story was immortalized by the 2005 film titled, “The World’s Fastest Indian.” Additionally, in recognition of Munro’s story, Indian released a motorcycle named the Spirit of Munro.
#71 Dodge Daytona
The Dodge Charger Daytona is notorious for its outstanding performance in NASCAR. This car was so fast, it actually got itself kicked off the oval. Bobby Isaac was one of the lucky few who got to drive the winged beast during its short reign on the track. According to Hot Rod Network, “The Daytona and other aero-specials were made uncompetitive [in 1971] by requiring engines no greater than 305-ci, resulting in champion Isaac and the #71 running only an abbreviated schedule for the season.”
So, what’s a boy to do when the rules change? Take that 426 Hemi-powered beast to the Bonneville Salt flats, break 28 land speed records, and accomplish a flying mile at over 216 mph. For a man who hated publicity, he sure found one hell of a way to send off the Dodge Daytona.
Fastest Land Speed Record
To put this record into perspective, you must remember that the sound of speed is 767 mph. In October of 1997, British Royal Airforce Pilot Andy Green driving a jet-powered Thrust SSC came within 4 mph of breaking the sound barrier. Pushing a vehicle to 763 mph might be enough for some people, but not Green. Motor Authority reports he is currently looking to break his previous record with a new team and a new vehicle—a Bloodhound SSC which adds a “rocket-propulsion system” to the jet engine.
Green hopes to exceed speeds of 1,000 mph with a claimed 135,000 hp. The plan is to race it in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa in May 2019.
Quirkiest Land Speed Record
Did you think that land speed records were exclusively set by cars and motorcycles? Think again. A plucky Englishman named Kevin Nicks has redefined the idea of how-to-go-fast by setting a land speed record with his motorized shed. That’s right, this mad man put a shed on wheels.
Built on a busted Volkswagen Pasat, Nicks amped up the strange factor by adding a 400-hp Audi RS4 engine. This past September, he took the shed out to the infamous Pendine Sands in Carmethenshire, Whales, and pushed it to 101 mph.
As humans, it is our natural desire to push the limits. And while there will never be another Bobby Isaac or Burt Munro, it’s only a matter of time until the next legend steps foot on the salt. Who knows? Maybe they already got their ears wet at this year’s Speed Week…