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This edited article about John Cobb originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 758 published on 24th July 1976.
Motor racing stars like Sir Malcolm Campbell, Sir Henry Segrave and George Eyston created and smashed motor speed records in the exciting days between the wars. It was a real battle of the giants, each man leap-frogging the other with the record, and sometimes beating their own record by several miles an hour.
Between 1925 and 1939, there were no fewer than seventeen attempts on the land speed record. Prominent among the record makers and breakers was John Cobb.
The record stood at 345.5 in the name of George Eyston when Cobb entered the ring in 1938. Driving a Napier Railton Special, Cobb passed the 350 mph mark shortly after Eyston’s record run. Then Eyston pushed the speed up to 357.5 mph.
But Cobb had not finished yet. In 1939, he returned again to the heat of Bonneville Salt Flats in the U.S.A. and raised the record to 369.7 mph.
World War Two intervened, and no further record-breaking attempts were made until 1947 when John Cobb took another Napier Railton Special to the Salt Flats. He broke his 1939 record by reaching 393.8 mph. On one of his two runs, he passed the 400 mph barrier by just over 3 mph.
The secret of Cobb’s success lay beneath the body of his beautifully streamlined car. Two enormous 12-cylinder Napier Lion supercharged aero engines, each developing 1,250 hp, were fixed at either end of the car. The car had four-wheel drive, but there was no clutch and no radiator.
The record Cobb achieved in this stood until 1964 when it was topped by Donald Campbell, the son of Sir Malcolm.
But Cobb did not live to see this. He was killed in 1952 while attempting to break the world’s water speed record, dying as he had lived in the quest of speed.