Some experiences with the world's fastest car

Ever since the twelve-cylinder Sunbeam came into my possession, my friends have been interested to know what prompted me to attempt the high speeds of which the car is capable.

The answer is simple and may be expressed in one word – Ambition. Motoring makes different appeals to different people, some finding their desires satisfied by long-distance routes; others in gaining successes over difficult trial routes; whilst reliability trials, hill climbs and other forms of the pastime appeal to the instincts of different classes of motorists.

No one will deny that the joys of sheer speed possess an extraordinary fascination, but, before driving the Sunbeam, I had no idea of the sensation of driving at really high velocity. The outstanding recollection of my first fast trip on this car was the time occupied in slowing down. Even when the brakes were applied, it seemed as if it would never stop again. Becoming accustomed to the speeds and the manipulation of the car, the feeling disappeared, though it was a remarkable experience.

One has only to sit behind the engine and let the car go on a stretch of sand to feel as if some supernatural force was at work; a force which so terrific as to inspire awe. If a Rudyard Kipling, or someone equally skilled in expressing feelings could be persuaded to take a trip at 150mph an hour on such a car, the description would go down in history as a poetical masterpiece. I cannot attempt to describe the fascination of speed and I will content myself by stating that every run I take makes me feel ten years younger. That may be a personal justification of my hobby, though many useful things are to be learned from such abnormally high speeds.

From my point of view, any attack on the world’s record is not a business proposition; there is little to gain and a good deal to be risked as it is impossible to insure one’s car except at an exorbitant premium.

But the greatest fun is obtained during practice spins. Then one is free from the cares and anxieties of a record attempt, the worry as to the condition of the surface, the state of the weather and the exacting attention necessary to to all details of organisation.

There is the subtle difference between a public and private performance, well known to all motorists who take part in any competition event. As a crowd, waiting for the driver who fogs his gear rounding a steep corner, exercise a baneful influence, so the presence of spectators or pressmen interested in the record, tends to mar the enjoyment of a really fast run.

Perfect Conditions Essential for Speed

Others who have handled the big Sunbeam have been equally impressed by its charms: Hawker, Homstead, Rene Thomas, ‘Sammy’ Davis and Kenelm Guinness, being the only others who have driven it to any extent, the last-named putting up the best performances with this car at the Brooklands Track. Speaking of the track, I do not consider the Sunbeam suitable for that course, which is the only reason for running it at Pendine, Fanoe, Skegness and elsewhere. For speeds of 150mph, conditions must be right, for the risks when travelling all-out are sufficient, without needless dangers. At such a speed a side gale of 50rnph is not pleasant experience, while the fact that one’s vision is partly obscured by flying sand is not to be neglected. But, when everything is right, the maximum speed of the Sunbeam surpasses the thrills of flying and everything else for sheer exhilaration.

The Value of a Second

One remarkable point in connection with record attempts is the value of the unit of time. In a mile run, three seconds make the difference between 150mph and 180mph. Look at your stop watch, count three seconds and think what it means where a world record is concerned. To beat the watch by those three ticks, one must spend considerable sums of money, months of effort and the resources of many sections of the automobile industry have to be requisitioned. Perhaps it may seem futile to take such trouble to cut the time for a run by so limited an amount, but the information obtainable by such efforts cannot be over-estimated.

One learns the meaning of wind resistance, becomes familiar with the influence of gyroscopic action, whilst the effects of perfect balance and harmony in all parts of the machine are demonstrated in a remarkable way.

Take the tyres as a single example. It is common knowledge that the straight edge cover, so popular today, is the direct outcome of high-speed experience. Furthermore, tyre manufacturers are now concentrating on a special form of tyre testing apparatus, which will exactly reproduce the conditions when a car is travelling at 180mph. A few years ago such a project would have been described as absurd; if the Sunbeam has done something to provide the motorist with better tyres, it may be said to justify its existence.

Then again, for high speed work, the absence of engine and chassis vibration is an essential and, in this respect, one of the virtues of a record-breaking machine is a primary quality for the touring car de-Luxe. One may ask if any of the construction peculiarities of the monster Sunbeam are to be found in cars of normal design? It is impossible to say how far high speed influences ordinary, car practice, but it is safe to say that in the hands of its original owners, the Sunbeam Motor Company, an enormous amount of practical data was obtained.

So long as super-speed cars run, their influence will extend to standard models. Every performance is watched by designers, and the factors making for speed and regularity will find their way into ordinary cars, especially those driven by the sporting motorist.