On This Day – 87 Years Ago

The story behind Brooklands’ all-time circuit record

On 7 October 1935, John Cobb eased himself behind the wheel of his specially-designed Napier-Railton car at Brooklands, with the single-minded aim of breaking the Outer Circuit record. It had rained the night before, and the morning was turning into a damp English autumn day – one that didn’t augur well for record attempts. Yet as the massive 23,970cc Napier Lion aero engine thundered into life, Cobb felt confident. The car had already taken the outright lap record back from Sir Henry Birkin’s Bentley in 1934 at a speed of 139.71mph, and set a new World 24 Hours Record on Utah’s salt flats.

Cobb lowered his goggles and idled the car from the pits up to the banked track, looking over the long bonnet and revving gently to bring all 12 cylinders up to temperature. Then he drove onto the track, took a breath, and began his run. The heavy car instantly slid on the damp banking, but under power it settled down a little, with Cobb fighting with the wheel as the narrow wheels struggled for grip.

The first run felt good – but Cobb knew he and the Napier-Railton could do better. There was still a little life left on the tyres, which were slowly being eaten up by speed and lateral forces, so Cobb attempted a second run. As he slowed and the wind noise and engine roar subsided – he could see his pit crew jumping with excitement. Brooklands’ Clerk of the Course confirmed his average speed at 143.44mph – a new circuit record. And one that would never be beaten.

Napier Railton racing at Brooklands Motor Racing Circuit