Eldridge snatches Land Speed Record on historic day at Arpajon

A day at Arpajon on July 6, 1924, where Ernest Eldridge, Herbert Le Vack, Rex Judd and others made many world's speed records

Three-wheel cycle car

The Novel 350 c.c. Colombe Cyclecar which set up three world's records at Arpajon

Paris, at shortly after 8 a.m., and the promise of a fine, bright day. The car which was promised had not shown up, so, as the Major and I were anxious to go to Arpajon, a taxi was requisitioned. There were several attractions in the vicinity of Paris on that day, July 6th, the Olympiad, the visit of the Prince of Wales, charabanc trips to Versailles, and what not, but the magnet that drew us in the direction of Arpajon was the Tentatives de Records du Monde, organised by the Moto-Cycle Club de France.

As in the case of the noble lord who, on remarking that he was going to Piccadilly, was advised to pick a good ‘un, we picked a good taxi. Plenty of horses under the bonnet, plenty of room in the body, plenty of tyre on the wheels, and “plenty good” driver. No sooner had he learnt our intended destination, than he produced a copy of that morning’s paper in which was set out full details of the speed meeting we were to visit. Wherefore, all three of us started away with much eclat—which is cryptic French for keen anticipation of “the doings.”

A sound as of a bee in torment smote the ear, and Chéret buzzed by at nearly 44 m.p.h.

Southwards we hied, crossing the Seine, casting a glance at the misty vista, through which showed the twin towers of Notre Dame on our port quarter, through “the Boro,” and so to the gates of the city, the Porte d’Orleans, for Arpajon lies on the Paris-Orleans road, some 30 kilometres away. A brief but irritating halt was called here, at the Octroi, an anachronism hardly less out of place than the modern English custom that permits one to buy cherries at an hour when the purchase of tobacco is forbidden. Then on, over the hard high road, through Longumeau to our objective. We were not the first arrivals. A reception committee of gendarmerie, programme wallahs, and mixed population was already on the scene; and someone had built a fence across the road and, for as far as we could see, all the way along one side of the highway. Our carriage, therefore, had to be left, and, with lordly disregard of the fact that it would cost us eight francs an hour, we bade the driver wait our return. Being a sport, he merely smiled, parked the car, and followed in our footsteps to view the proceedings.

I will not trouble you with an account of those footsteps, slipping and slithering in the trampled grass, over dry ditches and along the raw edge of cultivated fields. After a mile or so our attention was thankfully diverted to the course on our left, for a sound as of a bee in torment smote the ear, and presently there appeared Chéret, on a 75 c.c. Rovin, the babiest little motor-cyclette that ever called itself an automobile. Clad in black silk tights, and wearing a dinkie little crash helmet, Chéret lay prone along the spider-like frame, and buzzed by at a speed, as we ultimately discovered, of nearly 44 m.p.h. He was the first item on the programme.

Related article

Later, we arrived at the first timing strip, reminiscent of Brooklands, and later still at the centre of the course where officials, timekeepers, and others of the cognoscenti were gathered. There was also a vigorous electrical generator, busy making the ” juice ” for the timing apparatus, a telephone installation, and a huge loud speaker which swung about and reported progress to the crowds up and down the course. Everything seemed to have been provided for, including a first-aid outfit discreetly hidden behind the official stands. Fortunately the latter was called out but once, when a three-wheeler shed a tyre, made a dive towards the roadside, and so scared a gendarme that he made a wild jump into a ditch, breaking his leg. Meanwhile I had toddled on to the parking point at the further end of the course, leaving the Major in company with George Brough—he of the cheery voice— to glean any good news during my absence. It was not an easy walk, those second two miles—did I say that the day was bright and hot?—but a pressman knows only duty, and there was compensation in seeing some of our own men, Le Vack, complete with green jersey, Temple and Judd, flash by on their attempts to win more world’s records for Britain.

A happy party were busy at the further end, Cyril Pullin and his brother; Vivian Prestwich, partially disguised in an Alpinist chapeau; and several others who are familiar figures at Brooklands, all hard at work helping our trio of speed cracks. An alfresco buffet reminded me that I had broken fast early that morning, but a loaf of bread, a flask of wine—but no “thou”—helped to fill the gap. A chat with one and another, a few snapshots, and it was time to start on the return tramp. On the way back I was passed by the big Fiat, Eldridge up, and marvelled at the lack of confidence in his steering abilities displayed by the onlookers who took cover behind tree trunks or in the ditch. But, then, they had not seen him pirouette around the brink of the Byfleet banking. Thomas—Rene, not Parry—on his 12-cylinder Delage, came by also. A sweet car this, finished in dappled aluminium, and streamlined in all except the tyres: what a ” bus” for a week-end run to Brighton ! Eldridge, I heard later, had done 147.03 m.p.h. as the mean speed of two runs in reverse directions over the kilometre, but as a reverse gear had been left out of the car’s make-up, the performance could not qualify as a record. Nevertheless, the speed actually was attained, and officially timed. Thomas’s speeds of 143.29 m.p.h. for the kilometre and 143.32 m.p.h. for the mile, were set down as records.

H Le Vack on his 100mph sidecar

The 100 M.P.H. sidecar. Mr. H. Le Vack on his 1,000 c.c. Brough-Superior-J.A.P. Sidecar (passenger M. Cheret_ at the Arpajon Speed Trials, where he put up two world’s records at over 100 M.P.H. Riding solo he attained the speed of 123.08 M.P.H.

Dissatisfied with the peculiar position arising out of the above, Eldridge made arrangements for a reverse gear to be fitted to his car, and on the 12th July, over the same course, put up the following figures : kilometre, 146.86 m.p.h., and mile 145.57 m.p.h. [Subject to official acceptance by the I.F.A.C. they rank as records.—Ed.]. The motor cycles, too, had not been dawdling. Le Vack had put the sidecar record, for the first time, to over 1oo m.p.h. and, riding solo, had achieved the wonderful speed of 122.44 m.p.h. And the Frenchmen liked it. All along the course they waved hats and cheered the appearance of the green jersey, as our ‘Erb handed out the grand vitesse in the most approved fashion. Verily it was a wonderful show, and I rather fancy that a goodly few of the 34 records put up that day, by many types of automobiles, will adorn the record list for some little time to come.

Let me add that the arrangements for the meeting evidenced careful and thorough preparation, and the only criticism one could offer was that the meeting, which started at 9 a.m., dragged somewhat when, at 5 p.m. the standing start runs had yet to be carried through. Rejoining the Major, we started upon the two mile tramp to our taxi, pausing only to enjoy a wordy altercation between a farmer and a hobbledehoy cyclist caught riding over his flourishing crop of chicory. Of our reunion with our chauffeur—of our dash back to headquarters over pavé whereon our ample tyres enabled us to pass it through many “sports” cars less well shod—of our graceful acknowledgment of the hat-raisings of villagers, who clearly mistook us for more famous persons—and of our pleasant surprise on finding that the hire of the car was amply settled by a payment of a pound apiece, I will not tell at length. These were but sideshows to the big picture, the world’s record achievements. But, that credit may be accorded where due, I append a few figures of the British riders’ performances :—

Kilometres Miles
secs. m.p.h. secs. m.p.h.
Solo Motor Cycles, 250 c.c.
H. Le Vack, New Imperial J.A.P.
*25.17 89.09 *40.34 89.25
Solo Motor Cycles, 350 c.c.
R. N. Judd, Douglas
25.465 84.87 41.375 87.03
Solo Motor Cycles, 1,000 c.c.
H. Le Vack, Brough-Superior J.A.P.
*18.79 119.05 *30.27 119.3
Sidecars, 350 c.c.
R. N. Judd, Douglas
30.115 74.35 *49.265 73.102
Sidecars, 1,000 c.c.
H. Le Vack, Brough-Superior J.A.P.
*22.145 99.8 36.095 99.735

All above are mean Speed times and Speeds; those marked * qualify as world’s records