MARCH 16, 1926 was a good day for speed.
For starters a physicist called Robert H.Goddard launched the world’s first liquid-fuelled rocket from a farm in Massachusetts – the very technology that made everything from putting a chap on the Moon to watching episodes of The Simpsons beamed in from satellites possible. It’s also why you no longer need an angry partner and a crumpled road atlas to get anywhere – sat nav isn’t perfect, but it’s still wonderful.
The same day, 3,153 miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, an Eton-educated racing driver decided to go out for a drive – along Southport’s beach at 152mph, setting a world land speed record in the process. Sir Henry Segrave’s stint as the fastest man on four wheels may have lasted barely a month but it’s still an epic bit of driving, because it involved having to get a supercharged V12 monster with skinny tyres and no traction control to behave itself while doing more than twice the national speed limit. On sand.
I’ve long bemoaned the lack of any sort of proper tribute to Sir Henry’s achievement – other than the name of the town’s branch of JD Wetherspoon – but the other day the car’s current owner kindly brought it back for another run. Exactly nine decades on the 1925 Sunbeam Tiger was back in Southport!
To get the actual car – which usually resides in Utah – back on the beach was an incredible achievement, but nothing quite like actually hearing that 4.0-litre supercharged engine at full chat. In an age of instant gratification where you download today’s entire Champion to your smartphone in about three seconds I listened to several people grumbling because it took two hours to get the methanol-fuelled beast up and running; in fact a few actually got bored and went home!
Yet two hours is worth the wait when you consider it’s been 90 years since the mighty Tiger last roared in anger here – and the spectacle of actually seeing the thing being given the beans and the driver fighting a twitchy rear end on the sands was definitely worth it. It was the sort of unforgettable moment I’m sure I’ll one day bore my grandchildren with – and doubtless plenty of you will too, given the size of the crowds that turned out to see it.
Good news, by the way. I’ve spoken to the driver and he tells me the Tiger’s owner is more than up for a centenary re-run in 2026 – maybe we could honour Robert H Goddard too and have a simultaneous rocket launch. Go on Sefton Council, you know you want to…