Bringing the Land Speed Record Back to Britain

NICK SMITH DISCOVERS HOW TRIUMPH - ALONG WITH GUY MARTIN AND BELSTAFF - HIT THE ROAD IN A BID TO RECLAIM THE COVETED TITLE.

Last week, Triumph Motorcycles made a bid to break the motorcycle land speed record. If successful they would have been bringing the title back to Britain for the first time in more than 40 years.

The iconic manufacturer staked its claim on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA, to reinstate itself as the undisputed holder of the title. Legendary British motorcycle champion Guy Martin spearheaded the drive to make the current record - 376.363mph - a thing of the past. Final testing got underway in July, with the actual record attempt scheduled to take place last week.

Martin had already managed to smash the previous Triumph record of 245.667 mph, reaching a top speed of 274.2 mph so the team were confident despite the near impossible feat they were up against.

The Triumph Infor Rocket Streamliner
The Triumph Infor Rocket Streamliner

The record was taken in the stunning new Triumph Rocket Streamliner with support from title sponsor Belstaff and cloud-computing providers Infor. “We have an amazing machine.” said the British ace about the Streamliner.

Amazing is the right word. Beneath the Kevlar monocoque are two Triumph Rocket III engines that combine to produce 1,000bhp at 9,000rpm. In other words, it's fast. Very fast. Powered my methanol fuel, the dream machine will compete in the Division C category for streamlined motorcycles.

IWhen it comes to building the fastest motorcycle in the world, Triumph has a glittering heritage. From 1955 to 1970, the British manufacturer made the record its own, with only a 33-day hiatus over the entire period. This domination was the result of a group of 'hot rodders' from Texas who were determined to prove that British designers made faster motorbikes than their German counterparts. It's now passed into folklore that the story began in 1954 at Pete Dalio's Triumph shop in Dallas. Mechanic Jack Wilson remembers how he, along with Dalio and engineer and pilot Stormy Mangham, sat around one afternoon discussing Wilhelm Herz' new 180 mph record.

Guy Martin
Guy Martin

Little did they know then that the conversation would set in motion events that would alter motorcycle history. During Triumph's Golden Age, record-breaking Streamliners included the Devil's Arrow, the Texas Cee-gar, the Dudek Streamliner and Gyronaut X-1. However, Triumph's sovereignty was not to last, and since the early 1970s, Bonneville has seen the record broken a further 10 times by competitor teams including Yamaha and Harley-Davidson.

The Streamliner Jacket
The Streamliner Jacket

Designed to mark the land speed record, Belstaff launched the Streamliner 400 jacket, a limited edition Pure Motorcycle protective jacket. Aptly named in homage to the rocket, the mph to be exceeded and the number of jackets the issue is limited to, the Streamliner is a collectors dream.

Unfortunately the weather had other ideas, with the conditions creating a dangerous course for Martin and the Streamliner. He had been attempting to reach 300mph during the trial run, which is a requirement in order for him to then attempt to break the record, when the Streamliner toppled on damp salt surface. It was a serious setback for the record attempt. Martin was fortunately uninjured and unwavering. The 1,000 horsepower bike, however, now requires a full inspection before they make any plans to schedule a new run.

“I was really sorry to hear of the team’s difficulties with the Triumph Infor Rocket Streamliner,” said Richard Noble (OBE) of the attempt. Noble has seen Land Speed Record success (albeit on four wheels) with the teams of 1983 and 1997. “These projects are incredibly difficult to do and they always take much longer than everyone planned. Way back in 1983 it took us three US trips to get the World Record and three trips to achieve Mach1 back in 1997.”

“I always remember what LSR record breaker Gary Gabelich told me back in 1982: ‘You just have to get back up, learn the lessons and get back next year – and finish the job’. Best of British luck to the team- let’s look to 400mph in 2017!”

Triumph may not have seen success this time, but they remain undeterred and we will undoubtedly see them back at Bonneville again to reclaim their crown once and for all. “We have a job to do. It will come, it will come” said Martin of the record, his spirit of endeavour still very much alive.

NICK SMITH IS A SENIOR EDITOR ON ENGINEERING & TECHNOLOGY MAGAZINE AND A FELLOW OF THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY

The Gallery

Shop the Campaign

Share