Bonneville Salt Flats | The Battle of the Century

By Chet Billings, Photography by Unknown

Captain Eyston, anxious to make the best of conditions, decided to run on the 16th. Going North he turned 356.44 m.p.h. and going South he turned 358.7 m.p.h. The average was 357.5 m.p.h. Thus was Cobb shorn of his title of a day and Eyston moved back in as No. 1 automobile speed king.

Cobb announced it would take too long to make further changes in his equipment, and for this year and his camp, “school was out.”

There is a way in this world of remembering things in round numbers-even speeds. First we thought of a mile a minute, then two miles a minute and so on along that long difficult trail of speed. Captain Eyston has cherished a desire to be the first to turn six miles a minute. For that reason he made further changes and decided to make another trial even though he held the record.

On September 21st, Eyston made his last effort to get the six mile a minute title. He turned up tremendous speed according to witnesses, but mechanical trouble developed which damaged the car to such an extent that he, like Cobb, decided against further changes on the ground.

That ended the famous battle and Captain Eyston departed with the record.

Many people read the results of that contest and ask, “What is all this speed about?”

As already stated, experts were on hand studying not only the temperature of the air, its humidity, and wind velocity, but they kept equally careful records on temperatures of everything from the motor parts to the tires. In connection with the latter, they answered the question, “How much will present tires stand?” Dunlop tires were constructed for both cars along very definite specifications. They know that these tires will stand the terrific strain of centrifugal force up to a speed of something between 360 and 400 m.p.h., probably slightly over 360. That is valuable to all tire companies, on methods of construction of everything from the tires we use on stock cars, to what are used on high landing speed planes, and racing cars.

Cobb had no radiator. He cooled his engines by water from a 75 gallon tank which carried a certain amount of ice in the water. Cobb ran without a tail fin. Later Eyston removed the radiator from his Thunderbolt, mostly to accomplish streamlining through a closed nose, and also removed the tail fin. He installed a tank and ice and cooled with that the same as Cobb.

Cobb’s machine was equipped with water cooled brakes. He used a single girder frame, an unconventional design in itself, with a motor on each side. He used 2 Napier engines (W type) 12 cylinders each and both were supercharged. They were rated at 1,250 h.p. each. His rear motor drove the front wheels and the front motor drove the rear wheels. When Reid Railton designed the machine he planned the body first, in order to accomplish certain principles of streamlining, and then designed his mechanical features to fit the body. As a result the car has a crab-like appearance the front axle tread being 5 feet six inches and the rear, three feet six inches. The driver’s seat is ahead of the front axle in the very head of the car.

Captain Eyston sits amidships in the Thunderbolt. He employs two Rolls Royce engines out of several designed for Schneider cup competition (the fastest seaplane record over a mile). His are of the same type as the one used by Sir Malcom Campbell when he established his record of 300 m.p.h., and the one used by Campbell in securing his water record of over 127 m.p.h. This type of motor also held the air speed record until recently when the Italians took it away from England at 442 m.p.h.

Eyston’s car had 8 wheels. On the rear were duals, while forward were 4 separate wheels to guide the 7½-ton car. His engines developed 3,650 h.p. Cobb’s car weighed 3½, tons.

Traveling on the ground where most of us do presents many difficult speed problems that are not experienced in the air. Thus both Cobb and Eyston are doing something more than competing for glory. They are scientists of speed.

Captain Eyston has a V.D. emblem on his car. It signifies 25 years of driving without an accident. That in itself may offer a thought to modern safety experts. A great cry is made about speed. Actually it is the understanding of speed that counts. The fastest traveler on land; the fastest driver in the world, drives 25 years without an accident.

“The battle of the century” is over but the battle of the modern age is still on. And from the former undoubtedly comes much of value for the latter.

By Chet Billings
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