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Catch a Glimpse Under the Skin of the Railton Special Land-Speed-Record Setter in 1947

Catch a Glimpse Under the Skin of the Railton Special Land-Speed-Record Setter in 1947

In the mid-20th Century, the easiest way to make big horsepower for land-speed attempts was to build a wheeled vehicle around an airplane engine. The post-war era found powerplants like the Allison V12 cheaply bountiful and therefore applied vigorously to straight-line applications. However, the pre-war streamliners didn’t have quite so many options available and when you look under the skin of the twice land-speed-record-setting Railton Special, you can see just how tightly packaged the two World War I-designed Napier Lion W12 engines had to be.

The engines are offset and angled to the direction of travel with one driving each axle. The Napier Lions in question were the later XIA (11A, in Arabic numerals) variant that made 580 horsepower each. While 1,160 HP doesn’t seem like a ton in today’s turbocharged world, that was a heck of a lot for its time and enough to send John Cobb 367.91 mph just eight days before the beginning of World War II on August 23, 1939. The war interrupted further development and it would be 1947 before Cobb could run again. Even with far more powerful engines available, Cobb stuck with the W12 Lions to break his own record by registering 394.19 mph.

Take a look at the preparation required to make the Railton Special go on its 1947 run from these old films. This is super cool stuff and you can go see the record-breaking car in England at the Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum.


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3 thoughts on “Catch a Glimpse Under the Skin of the Railton Special Land-Speed-Record Setter in 1947

  1. Chevy Hatin' Mad Geordie

    What really gets me is the fact that the wheel-driven land speed record has only increased by as little as 100mph in all these years. Maybe there’s something to be said for building an exact replica of the Railton Special and fitting two turbocharged and EFI’d Rolls Royce Merlins running on nitro. I think with that set up 500mph or indeed upwards would be possible as the engines were designed with well over 2,000HP and would be preferable to taking what is still basically a humble passenger car motor a subjecting it to stresses and strains it was never designed for. Indeed WW2 era Napiers (if there are any left) would be even better as they were truly unhinged works of genius. The best was an H-24 that may have even been turbocharged! Napiers were more powerful than anything Rolls Royce could come up with and the Hawker Typhoon was perhaps the fastest piston-engined aircraft of that era. Check out Napier engines on the internet and marvel at their sheer originality in the quest for speed and power.

    You won’t be disappointed!

  2. SSNOVA427

    Took Geordie`s advice and checked out the Napiers lines of engines and uses. Incredible information here, you gotta check it out.

    1. Eric Rood Post author

      I’m well aware of the H-24 engine. As a kid, I read tons of books about airpower in WWII and the Typhoon and Tempest were a couple of my favorites. Even as a kid with limited knowledge about engines, I knew from the descriptions of the Napier engines that they were a special kind of insane.

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