Video: John Cobb is the Fastest Man on Land, 1947

At Bonneville in September of 1947, John Cobb became the first man on land to exceed 400 mph, establishing a two-way record of 394.19 mph that stood for years. Here’s a great newsreel feature celebrating the achievement. 



Designed by the British engineer Reid Railton, John Cobb’s Railton Mobil Special set the world land’s speed record twice. It ran 353.30 mph at Bonneville in 1938, then returned to the salt in 1947 to achieve 394.19 mph, allowing Cobb to break his own mark. Power for the enormous beast, nearly 29 feet long and weighing more than three tons, was provided by a pair of Napier Lion VIIID W12 aircraft engines that drove all four wheels. Donated to the project by the colorful sportswoman Joe Carstairs, the supercharged Napiers displaced 24 liters each and produced a total of roughly 3,000 horsepower. The two giant aircraft engines had originally powered her raceboat, the Estelle V. 



Railton designed a number of clever features into the Cobb special to squeeze out every last bit of available ground speed. For example, note there are no radiators, which generate tremendous aerodynamic drag at high speed. Instead, the engines are cooled with ice water, as described in this awesome British Movietone newsreel feature.

Unfortunately, Cobb later lost his life on Loch Ness in an attempt at the world record on water in 1952 with his jet-powered speedboat, the Crusader. But the record car, which inspired a generation of American hot rodders from Mickey Thompson to the Summers Brothers, can be seen today at the Thinktank Museum at Birmingham, England. Video below.


4 thoughts on “Video: John Cobb is the Fastest Man on Land, 1947

  1. Such a handsome car too. What you want a streamliner to look like; none of that cut-down fuselage stuff. Must have been thrilling to watch, at least for a few seconds out of a long, hot day.

  2. Holy schnikees, check out the safety last driver protection. Cobb would be the first to arrive at the accident. Brave man.

  3. That’s amazing! The machine was a work of art although it was driver beware. One has to marvel at the power it takes to attain speeds like that. It took in the neighborhood of 12 more years to actually maintain 400+ mph with Mickey Thompson’s Challenger. I might add that Mickey’s book, ‘Challenger,’ is quite a story.

  4. As the newsreel commentary points out, Cobb held the record at just over 369mph. That was set in August 1939. The 353.3 quoted for 1938 was beaten the following day by George Eyston with Thunderbolt. The car also had three different names: in 1938 it was officially the Railton Special. In 1939 Cobb was sponsored by Gilmore Oil and in acknowledgement of Gilmore’s logo the car’s name was changed to Railton Leaping Lion (at least for American consumption – the British press hardly mentioned that name!) and the leaping lion symbol was painted on both sides of the nose. Gilmore were later taken over by Mobil, who continued the sponsorship, but because the Gilmore name was being phased out the car became the Railton Mobil Special.

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