Land speed record

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ThrustSSC, driven by Royal Air Force pilot Andy Green, holds the land speed record.

The land speed record (or absolute land speed record) is the highest speed achieved by a wheeled vehicle on land. There is no single body for validation and regulation; in practice the Category C ("Special Vehicles") flying start regulations are used, officiated by regional or national organizations under the auspices of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile.[1] The record is standardized as the speed over a course of fixed length, averaged over two runs (commonly called "passes").[2] Two runs are required in opposite directions within one hour, and a new record mark must exceed the previous one by at least one percent to be validated.[3] There are numerous other class records for cars; motorcycles fall into a separate class.


The first regulators were the Automobile Club de France, who proclaimed themselves arbiters of the record in about 1902.[4]

Ralph DePalma in his Packard '905' Special at Daytona Beach in 1919

Different clubs had different standards and did not always recognise the same world records[5] until 1924, when the Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) introduced new regulations: two passes in opposite directions (to negate the effects of wind) averaged with a maximum of 30 minutes (later more) between runs, average gradient of the racing surface not more than 1 percent, timing gear accurate within 0.01sec, and cars must be wheel-driven.[6] National or regional auto clubs (such as AAA and SCTA) had to be AIACR members to ensure records would be recognized.[7] The AIACR became the FIA in 1947. Controversy arose in 1963: Spirit of America failed on being a three-wheeler (leading the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme to certify the record when the FIA refused) and not wheel-driven so the FIA introduced a special wheel-driven class.[8] No holder of the absolute record since has been wheel-driven.

Women's land speed record[edit]

Dorothy Levitt, in a 26hp Napier, at Brooklands, England, in 1908

In 1906 Dorothy Levitt broke the women's world speed record for the flying kilometer, recording a speed of 91 mph (146.25 km/h) and receiving the sobriquet the "Fastest Girl on Earth". She drove a six-cylinder Napier motorcar, a 100 hp (74.6 kW) development of the K5, in a speed trial in Blackpool.[9][10][11] The subsequent record was held by Lee Breedlove, the wife of Craig Breedlove, who piloted her husband's Spirit of America - Sonic 1 to a record of 308.506 mph (496.492 km/h) in 1965, making her the fastest woman alive, as of 1974.[12] According to author Rachel Kushner, Craig Breedlove had talked Lee into taking the car out for a record attempt in order to monopolize the salt flats for the day and block one of his competitors from making a record attempt.[13]

The current women's land speed record is held by Kitty O'Neil, a stuntwoman who in 1976 drove a jet-powered vehicle named the SMI Motivator[14] to reach an average two-way speed of 512.710 mph (825.127 km/h) at the Alvord Desert. Through her career as a stuntwoman, she met Bill Fredrick, the stunt technology maker and high-speed car designer who built the "Motivator" vehicle. A $20,000 contract afforded O'Neil the chance to drive the car in an attempt to break only the women's land speed record; Kitty O'Neil was contractually obligated not to attempt to break the broader land speed record, so that movie director and fellow stuntperson Hal Needham could make the attempt instead.[15][16]


1898–1965 (wheel-driven)[edit]

DateLocationDriverVehiclePowerSpeed over
1 km
Speed over
1 mile
December 18, 1898Achères, Yvelines, FranceFrance Gaston de Chasseloup-LaubatJeantaud Duc[17]Electric39.2463.15
December 18, 1898Achères, Yvelines, FranceFrance Gaston de Chasseloup-LaubatJeantaud DucElectric57.6592.78First specialist land speed record vehicle, first 60 mph pass[4]
January 17, 1899Achères, Yvelines, FranceBelgium Camille Jenatzy[17]La Jamais ContenteElectric65.792105.882First man to break a land speed record [17]
April 13, 1902Nice, France
Promenade des Anglais
France Leon SerpolletGardner-Serpollet
Oeuf de Pâques (Easter Egg)
Aug 5, 1902Albis-St. Arnoult, FranceUnited States William K. VanderbiltMorsInternal combustion76.08122.438First IC-powered record[4]
January 12, 1904Lake St. Clair, USAUnited States Henry FordFord 999 RacerIC91.37147.05On frozen lake[18] (Not recognized by L'Automobile Club de France)
January 26, 1906Ormond Beach, USAUnited States Fred MarriottStanley Rocket[6]Steam127.66205.44First record over 200 km/h (124 mph). First speed greater than contemporary rail speed record.
Remained the record for steam powered vehicles until 25 August 2009.[19]
November 6, 1909Brooklands, United KingdomFrance Victor HémeryBenz No 1
200 hp (150 kW)
IC125.94202.68115.93186.57First run using electronic timing[6]
June 24, 1914Brooklands, United KingdomUnited Kingdom Lydston HornstedBenz No 3
200 hp (150 kW)
IC124.09199.70First 2-way record, set at Brooklands under new Association International des Automobile Clubs Reconnus (AIACR) 2-way rule[6]
July 12, 1924FranceUnited Kingdom Ernest EldridgeFIAT MephistophelesIC145.89234.98Fastest LSR ever on a public road[6]
September 25, 1924Pendine, United KingdomUnited Kingdom Malcolm CampbellSunbeam 350HPIC146.16235.22First landspeed record by Malcolm Campbell[20]
July 21, 1925Pendine, United KingdomUnited Kingdom Malcolm CampbellSunbeam 350HPIC150.87242.8First person to travel over 150 mph[20]
April 28, 1926Pendine, United KingdomUnited Kingdom Parry ThomasBabsIC170273.6
February 4, 1927Pendine, United KingdomUnited Kingdom Malcolm CampbellSunbeam 350HPIC174.88281.44[20]
March 29, 1927Daytona Beach, USAUnited Kingdom Henry SegraveMystery
(aka "Sunbeam 1000 hp")
203.79327.97The first car to reach a speed over 200 mph (320 km/h)[21]
February 19, 1928Daytona Beach, USAUnited Kingdom Malcolm CampbellBlue Bird206.956333.048[7]
April 22, 1928Daytona Beach, USAUnited States Ray KeechTriplex Special3 Liberty207.552334.007[22]
March 11, 1929Daytona Beach, USAUnited Kingdom Henry SegraveGolden Arrow925 hp (690 kW) Napier231.446372.459Segrave was knighted for this effort[23]
February 5, 1931Verneuk Pan, South AfricaUnited Kingdom Malcolm CampbellBlue BirdIC246.09396.025First 250 mph (400 km/h) pass. Campbell was knighted for this effort[23]
February 24, 1932Daytona Beach, USAUnited Kingdom Malcolm CampbellBlue BirdIC253.97408.73[20]
February 22, 1933Daytona Beach, USAUnited Kingdom Malcolm CampbellBlue BirdIC272.46438.48[20]
March 7, 1935Daytona Beach, USAUnited Kingdom Malcolm CampbellBlue BirdIC276.816445.472[23]
September 3, 1937Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom Malcolm CampbellBlue BirdIC301.129484.598First 300 mph (480 km/h) pass, first absolute record set at Bonneville[23]
November 19, 1937Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom George EystonThunderboltTwo Rolls-Royce Schneider Trophy engines (4,700 hp (3,500 kW))311.42501.16[23]
August 27, 1938Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom George EystonThunderbolt345.49[23]556.012
15 September 1938Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom John CobbRailton350.2563.566[23]
September 16, 1938Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom George EystonThunderbolt357.5575.314[23]
August 23, 1939Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom John CobbRailton SpecialIC369.74[23]595.04367.91
September 16, 1947Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited Kingdom John CobbRailton Mobil SpecialIC394.196[6]634.397394.19634.39
July 17, 1964Lake Eyre, AustraliaUnited Kingdom Donald CampbellBluebird CN7turboshaft403.10[8]644.96

1963–present (jet and rocket propulsion)[edit]

Craig Breedlove's mark of 407.447 miles per hour (655.722 km/h),[8][24] set in Spirit of America in September 1963, was initially considered unofficial. The vehicle breached the FIA regulations on two grounds: it had only three wheels, and it was not wheel-driven, since its jet engine did not supply power to its axles. Some time later, the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme created a non-wheel-driven category, and ratified Spirit of America's time for this mark.[8] On July 27, 1964, Donald Campbell's Bluebird CN7 posted a speed of 403.10 miles per hour (648.73 km/h) on Lake Eyre, Australia. This became the official FIA LSR, although Campbell was disappointed not to have beaten Breedlove's time. In October, several four-wheel jet-cars surpassed the 1963 mark, but were eligible for neither FIA nor FIM ratification. The confusion of having three different LSRs lasted until December 11, 1964, when the FIA and FIM met in Paris and agreed to recognize as an absolute LSR the higher speed recorded by either body, by any vehicles running on wheels, whether wheel-driven or not.[25] Thus, Art Arfons' Green Monster was belatedly recognized as the absolute LSR holder, Bluebird the holder of the wheel-driven land speed record, and Spirit of America the tricycle record holder. No wheel-driven car has since held the absolute record.

DateLocationDriverVehiclePowerSpeed over
1 km
Speed over
1 mile
August 5, 1963Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited States Craig BreedloveSpirit of AmericaTurbojet407.447[8][24]Ratified by FIM as vehicle has 3 wheels.
October 2, 1964Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited States Tom GreenWingfoot ExpressTurbojet413.2[8]
October 5, 1964Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited States Art ArfonsGreen MonsterTurbojet434.03[8]
November 2, 1965Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited States Craig BreedloveSpirit of America - Sonic 1Turbojet555.485893.966555.485893.966[26]
November 15, 1965Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited States Craig BreedloveSpirit of America - Sonic 1Turbojet594955.950600.601-[27]
October 23, 1970Bonneville Salt Flats, USAUnited States Gary GabelichBlue FlameRocket630.4781014.656622.4071001.667[28]
October 4, 1983Black Rock Desert, USAUnited Kingdom Richard NobleThrust2Turbojet634.0511020.406633.471019.47[28]
September 25, 1997Black Rock Desert, USAUnited Kingdom Andy GreenThrustSSCTurbofan713.9901149.055714.1441149.303[28]
October 15, 1997Black Rock Desert, USAUnited Kingdom Andy GreenThrustSSCTurbofan760.3431223.657763.0351227.986[29]First supersonic record

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "FIA land speed records". FIA. Retrieved 2008-10-16. 
  2. ^ Regulations for Record Attempts - CHAPTER 2 - FIA
  3. ^ "§105. Conditions for the recognition of international or world records". Sporting Code: Chapter 7: Records. FIA. Retrieved 2008-10-16. 
  4. ^ a b c d Northey, Tom (1974). "Land Speed Record: The Fastest Men on Earth". In Ian Ward. World of Automobiles. Vol. 10. London: Orbis. p. 1162. 
  5. ^ Martin, James A.; Thomas F. Saal (2004). "Ch 17: Land Speed Record to 1939". American Auto Racing: The Milestones and Personalities of a Century of Speed. McFarland. p. 39. ISBN 978-0-7864-1235-8. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f Northey, p.1163.
  7. ^ a b Northey, p.1164.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Northey, p.1166.
  9. ^ Hull, Peter G. "Napier: The Stradivarius of the Road", in Northey, Tom, ed. The World of Automobiles (London: Orbis, 1974), Volume 13, p.1483.
  10. ^ G.N. Georgano Cars: Early and Vintage, 1886–1930. (London: Grange-Universal, 1985).
  11. ^ "Women in Motorsport - Timeline". Archived from the original on 2012-07-24. Retrieved 2010-10-17. [dead link]
  12. ^ Twite, Mike. (1974), "Breedlove: Towards the sound barrier", World of Automobiles, Orbis Publishing 2: 231 
  13. ^ "Knowingly Navigating the Unknown", Maria Russo, The New York Times, May 7, 2013
  14. ^ Ellen Jares, Sue. "The Renaissance Woman of Danger—That's Tiny Kitty O'Neil". People. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  15. ^ Phinizy, Coles. "A Rocket Ride To Glory And Gloom". SI Vault. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  16. ^ "Deaf stuntwoman Kitty O'Neil sets women's land-speed record". History. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  17. ^ a b c Northey, p.1161.
  18. ^ Cars Against the Clock, The World Land Speed Record, Robert B. Jackson (New York, Henry Z. Walck, Inc.), p.19, ISBN 0-8098-2078-1
  19. ^ [1] - The British Steam Car Challenge
  20. ^ a b c d e Scott A. G. M. Crawford, "Campbell, Sir Malcolm (1885–1948)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011 accessed 20 April 2013
  21. ^ Holthusen, Peter J.R. (1986). The Land Speed Record ISBN 0-85429-499-6
  22. ^ Northey, Tom (1974). "Land Speed Record: The Fastest Men on Earth". In Tom Northey. World of Automobiles. Vol. 10 (London: Orbis), pp.1164-5.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i Northey, p.1165.
  24. ^ a b Twite, Mike. "Craig Breedlove: Toward the Sound Barrier", in World of Automobiles (Volume 2, p.231).
  25. ^ "from our motoring correspondent" (December 12, 1964). "Land Speed Record Agreement". The Times (Issue 56193). p. 7, col E. 
  26. ^ Cars Against the Clock, The Fastest Men on Earth, Clifton, Paul, New York, The John Day Company, page 238, L.C. 66-15097
  27. ^ Spirit of America, Breedlove, Craig, Chicago, Illinois, Henry Regnery Company, pages 183-184, L.C. 71-143833
  28. ^ a b c "FIA land speed records, Cat C". FIA. Retrieved 2009-07-12. 
  29. ^ FIA, retrieved 17 January 2011

External links[edit]