For Sale, One Careful Owner

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Richard Noble wants Thrust 2 to stay in the UK. That’s why a Coventry museum is looking for the money to buy one Land Speed Record-holding jetcar, never raced or rallied…

By record car displays standards, the one featuring Thrust 2 at the Museum of British Road Transport in Coventry thoroughly befits the car. On October 4 1983, on Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, Noble drove it to the current record of 633.468mph. The fastest car has the best display.

The problem now is that Noble would like to raise money for other ventures, but without seeing the car that he spent nine years of his life creating fall into foreign hands. It’s a sentiment as refreshingly British as his motivation for tackling the toughest record of them all in the first place. Why did he do it? he was asked when he finally began to savour the realisation of a dream that began when, as a six year-old, he saw John Cobb’s fated Crusader bobbing at rest on Loch Ness. And the answer had come back: “For Britain, and for the hell of it!”

“Basically what we’ve done is given the Museum an option to buy Thrust,” he says, “and it has until April next year to raise the asking price. We want it to stay in the country above all, because, well you know, of the agony of never actually seeing it again because it could go into some private collection… And so we’re very happy about this and we think that the Museum has a very good chance of raising that money. It’s really the best displayed land speed record car of all time.”

Thrust 2 has been in Coventry for the past six years, with pride of place in a stunning audio-visual display that chronicles not only the history of the LSR, but also Noble’s ultimately successful quest for it. It’s a masterpiece of exhibition, especially when compared to the rather lacklustre display of the 350hp Sunbeam, the 1000hp Sunbeam, the Golden Arrow and Bluebird CN7 at Beaulieu, or the disappointing tucked-out-of-sight showing of Cobb’s Railton Special at Birmingham’s Science Museum.

How much money are they talking about? Noble wants £200,000 for the car, a reasonable figure by any account for a piece of motoring history, and believed to be a lot less than he was originally discussing with a British racing circuit that was interested. So far Coventry has raised a quarter of that, thanks to the flying start given to its ‘Thrust for Britain’ appeal by the National Heritage Memorial Fund. This influential body, already under siege from aircraft preservationists, has given the appeal a flying start by classifying Thrust 2 as a national treasure and injecting £50,000. “The grant is good news: it’s a start,” says Noble.

He’s realistic when discussing the price. “Prices and everything have dropped enormously on the world market, that’s the first thing. Secondly, we’re offering it at a discount basically so that it will remain in the UK.”

Besides the national enquiries resulting from the original announcement that the car was for sale, he admits that there has been interest from as far afield as Japan. “We basically marketed around the world. But when it really comes down to it and you actually realise that you might never see it again, we felt that it was important that it stayed here.” So, unusually, sentiment was more important than cash? “That’s it! Always a poor man!”

The Japanese were certainly interested, but he admits: “I don’t know how serious it all was. There was correspondence and there were faxes zapping backwards and forwards, but when it really dawned on us that we’d never see the car again – I can’t afford to go to Japan very often! – we didn’t exactly sort of encourage it.”

Since Project Thrust was wound up in 1983 and his parting of the ways with the ARV Super 2 light aircraft project that he founded the following year, Noble has tried desperately hard to establish his Atlantic Sprinter challenge for a record crossing between Britain and America, but admits that the venture is currently at a standstill in the face of the enormous difficulty of raising the money to build the hull in the current recession. When the man who found the finance for Thrust in the late ’70s recession says that, you appreciate just how tough it still is out there for the big projects.

“It’s an interesting situation because we now have a German yard that wants to build it, providing there’s a race. And we also have somebody else, another organisation saying they would be interested in supporting the rest of it, again providing that there was a race and there was a name change. So, I’m now in discussions with the Americans to see if we can put a race together.” The Aga Khan is currently readying an attempt in his boat Destriero and there is a small French project waiting to see how that fares.

At present he says he’s doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that – he denies being a Chippendale in his spare time! – “and what we’re hoping is that Destriero or somebody will actually break the record, that’ll get Tom Gentry on the move and perhaps we can tow along on his coat tails. He’s told us he’s interested in a race. He’s enthusiastic, but the Aga Khan has to break his record first. We’re locked into ’94 at the earliest. It’s such a shame. There’s so much effort and money gone into the Sprinter, and it’s an absolute winner. But it’s just too damn big. People are frightened by it. I suspect that it’s a 1980s project that slipped into the 1990s! It got itself out of context, is probably the reality of it.”

Where does he go now? He says he has a ‘neat business concept’ which he is slowly warming up, but ask him about a supersonic Thrust 3 and he laughs back on to familiar ground. “Yup. Ackers (John Ackroyd, Thrust’s designer) and I are thinking, put it that way. But it’s a long, long way off and nothing to really get excited about… And would he drive such a car? “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that,” he retorts with a non-commital chuckle.

Instead, he’s happier talking about Rosco McGlashan’s plans (see MOTOR SPORT, January 1992), clearly hopeful that the Australian succeeds. When Thrust was folded he said, “The pity of these things is that just as you get to be the best Land Speed Record team in the business, you put yourself out of business. What we need is a challenge, someone to break our record, so that we can come back and have another go.” Well, Thrust 2 is now a museum piece and nothing more, and whatever Noble does in the future, the two will go their separate ways.

The Museum’s enterprising managing director Barry Littlewood has enlisted the Mayor of Coventry, the Bishop of Coventry, Coventry-born record producer Pete Waterman and local boy Dave Moorcroft, the former 5000 metre record holder to act as patrons for the Thrust 2 appeal. British Olympic team members Linford Christie, Roger Black and John Regis are also lending their support.

“We’re delighted with that,” says Littlewood. “Raising the money we need is going to be no easy task but Thrust 2 is part of our motoring heritage and we intend to do everything possible to keep the car for Britain.”

If you share that dream, he would welcome any contribution you can make. Donations can be sent to Thrust for Britain Appeal, Museum of British Road Transport, St Agnes Lane, Hales Street, Coventry CV1 1PN, or taken to any branch of the Coventry Building Society. D J T

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