Go Where No Man Has Gone Before
December 18, 1898: First Land Speed Record ~ 39 MPH
Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat holds a unique place in motoring’s history… he was the first man to set a World Land Speed Record.
It was the two Germans of course, Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, who invented the motor car and made it work, but it was the French who held the first motor races and started the idea of competitive motoring.
The automobile had only been in existence about ten years before French owners began to ask the age old question, “what will she do?.”
The first recorded motoring competition was in 1894, a Paris to Rouen romp in which all kinds of improbable cars participated driven by steam, electric and gasoline engines. The first sanctioned race was in the following year from Paris to Bordeaux and back. In
these early days the two main champions of the electric car were the Marquis de Chasseloup-Laubat and the Belgian, Camille Jenatzy.
Count Gaston made his records over a flying kilometer in one direction only. His car was a funky looking chain-driven machine in which he sat high off the ground and steered by a vertical handle projecting from the first steering wheel on record. These were times when the tiller was universal. It was strictly a sprint machine as the batteries of the day gave him only a short range without recharging.
Count Gaston was told, after due calculation, that he had achieved a time of 57 seconds, giving him a speed of 39.24 miles an hour. Not very fast in modern terms but for the time it was the fastest any human had gone on wheels. Gaston had set the automotive world on fire.
He improved this record to 66.65 km/h (41.41 mph) one month later in a series of record setting duels with Camille Jenatzy. Ten days after that Jenatzy managed to break this record although it would revert back to de Chasseloup-Laubat on March 4, 1899 when he increased it to 92.69 km/h (57.59 mph).
Holy Cow…over 100km/h
Jenatzy finally took the record on April 29, 1899 with the first run over 100 km/h (62 mph) with an average speed of 105 km/h (65 mph), a record that was to last 3 years.
Thrust SSC, a British jet-propelled car, holds the World Land Speed Record, set on 15 October 1997, when it achieved a speed of 763 mph and became the first car to officially break the sound barrier.