The Land Speed Record

On paper, the Land Speed Record has changed more than any other discipline in the sport. Ever since being the fastest man on earth has been deemed a worthwhile pursuit, speeds have risen from 30mph through the Sound Barrier. Whereas other motorsport arenas have been ruled by the internal combustion engine, the LSR has been held by cars powered by electricity, steam, rockets and jets.

And yet it has scarcely changed at all. While the regulations of every other formulae change almost annually, the LSR’s stay the same. Your speed is an average through a measured mile after which you have one hour to repeat the performance through the same mile in the reverse direction.

Also,the LSR remains an individual’s exercise. All have teams, many of them great, but the impetus for each attempt, almost invariably, comes from just one man, a Campbell, Cobb or Noble. You don’t find that in any other sphere of motorsport today. And it’s remained a curiously bi-national sport. Since MOTOR SPORT was born, the fastest man on earth has only ever been a Briton or an American.

Most impressively, breaking the LSR remains a bizarrely safe way to become a motorsport legend. While there have been fatalities down the years, to date just one person to have held the record has died during an attempt. Compare that to the Water Speed Record, restrict your search just to Britons, and you will find its victims include Segrave, Cobb and Donald Campbell.

What of the future? You’d imagine that, as speeds got higher, so each increase would be smaller and the fact that, in the 30 years between 1966-96, it rose by just 30mph supports this. But then came ThrustSSC, Richard Noble and Andy Green who added 130mph to the score in one hit. Two things are clear. First, the upper limit is not technological but both geographical – finding a place big enough to run the car safely; second, we’re still nowhere near the upper limit yet. This magazine is 75 years old; someone will drive across the surface of the planet at 1000mph before its centenary.