1926: Sunbeam driven by Sir Henry Segrave

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United Kingdom
V12, 2 banks 75°
3,976 cc
Bore x Stroke:
67 x 94 mm
306 bhp @ 5,300
Top Speed:

152.33 mph


The duels between the two knights, Sir Malcolm Campbell and Sir Henry Segrave, for the title of fastest man on wheels thrilled the schoolboys of the late twenties.

For speed was then the great unknown, much as space is today. Tragically, Segrave lost his life in June 1930 trying to improve on the world water speed record.

Major H.O.D. Segrave had made his name, like Campbell, as a racing driver and was chosen to drive a special Sunbeam built by Louis Coatalen in 1925-6 to attack the land speed record.

He took his car to the seven-mile stretch of sand at Southport used for racing in those days and beat Campbell's existing record by 1.46 mph. with 152.33 mph.

Thus the battle begian, with the two knights (as they became) building faster and faster machines and looking for places to drive them. The cost of speed was rising.

This car, first called Ladybird and then “The Tiger”, was specially commissioned and built by the Sunbeam company, but took the record only once before it was obsolete.

Louis Coatalen is credited with the design of  the car, it incorporating the lines of a racing car of its day with a supercharged V12 engine of 67 x 94 mm giving a capacity of 3,976 cc.

It was supposed to produce 300 horsepower at 5,300 rpm., an interesting comparison with Guinness's 350 horse-power Sunbeam of 18 liters. But The Tiger weighed only 18 cwt and was much more like a normal racing car than the aero-engined specials which were expected in record runs.

Its cylinders were disposed in two banks at 75 degrees blown by one Roots-type supercharger working off the front of the camshaft. Segrave had already won the French Grand Prix driving a two-liter Sunbeam, and it appears that The Tiger had as the basis of its power plant two Grand Prix units suitably mated.

The scheme worked except for constant trouble with the supercharger, whose rotors hit the casing at peak revs and split six times during preparatory runs.

But it lasted long enough to take the record. Segrave used Ladybird only once, and then asked Coatalen for an even faster car, which was provided by using two aero engines, one at the front and one at the back.

Segrave asked Dunlop to make special tires, guaranteed to last 4 minutes at 200 mph, and headed for the 23 mile stretch of sand at Daytona Beach in Florida, a favored spot used by during the US “Speed Weeks”.

Also See:

Land Speed Record Drivers
Herbert Austin LSR Attempt
History Of The Land Speed Record
Unique Cars and Parts USA - The Ultimate Classic Car Resource