British engineer George Edward Thomas Eyston had many feats in the car-racing industry. His most memorable accomplishment was breaking the absolute land speed record three times between 1937 and 1939.
To celebrate his achievements, British luxury automobile maker Rolls-Royce has dedicated two of its luxury rides to Eyston. With the new Wraith and Dawn Black Badge Landspeed Collection, the marque uncovers and retells the remarkable story of the redoubtable Eyston, and his extraordinary car, Thunderbolt.
“The Collection, which includes both Wraith and Dawn Black Badge, celebrates someone with exactly that dauntless, fearless, pioneering spirit. His name was Captain George Eyston, a Cambridge University graduate, racing driver, gifted inventor and engineering genius. In the late 1930s, he broke the world land-speed record three times with his car Thunderbolt, powered by two Rolls-Royce R V12 aero engines. He was a true hero from an age of epic endeavours, yet both he and Thunderbolt have been all but forgotten for more than 80 years," said Rolls-Royce Motor Cars CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös.
Born in 1897, Eyston was fascinated with motorsport from childhood, racing both cars and motorcycles while still at school. His degree in engineering at Trinity College, Cambridge, was interrupted by the Great War, in which he served with distinction, rising to the rank of captain and winning the Military Cross. He spent the 1920s and 30s developing and driving racing cars; a talented inventor, he also held a number of patents, particularly in the field of supercharging.
In 1935, Eyston was among the first British racers to travel to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where he set new 24-hour and 48-hour endurance speed records. He subsequently received the Segrave Trophy, awarded to ‘the British national who demonstrates Outstanding Skill, Courage and Initiative on Land, Water and in the Air'. In 1937, he returned to the Flats and went on to set three world land-speed records with Thunderbolt. This extraordinary machine had three axles, eight wheels and weighed seven tonnes, earning it monikers such as ‘behemoth’ and ‘leviathan’ in contemporary reports. The body was made from aluminium and, in its original form, had a blunt, heavyset profile topped with a large triangular tailfin.
The Rolls-Royce Landspeed Collection draws inspiration from Eyston’s remarkable life and record-breaking feats. It also has strong aesthetic links to the unique, otherworldly landscape of the Bonneville Salt Flats where Thunderbolt made him, albeit briefly, the fastest man on Earth.
Eyston set his records on the International Speedway, an especially compacted section of the Bonneville Salt Flats 10 miles (16km) long and 80 feet (24m) wide. The terrain is perfectly level in all directions and shines brilliant white in the sunlight: the absence of landmarks and ferocious glare combines to make holding course and judging distance extremely difficult at high speed.
Eyston commented, “On the salt bed, which has to be carefully prepared by dragging, we paint one or more black lines along the whole length. These lines act as guides and prevent the driver from straying; for errors of a few feet in steering might culminate in disastrous results. You see, you might drive a few feet away from the absolute line, something else might happen and you get a few feet more and, believe me, you will never get back”.