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.