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Road transport

Land speed record

La Jamais ContenteLa Jamais Contente Only a few years after the motor car was invented, people wanted to drive them as fast as possible. The land speed racers of the early 1900s were the fastest vehicles on Earth—faster even than the primitive aircraft that were taking to the skies at the time. Racing at speeds that we would consider even today as fast (more than 100 km/h) on bumpy road surfaces, many of the drivers risked their lives to achieve their goal: the land speed record-holder.

Early land-speed record-holdersEarly land-speed record-holders

First record-holders

The first world land speed record was set at Achères near Paris in 1898, just 13 years after the motor car had been invented. Frenchman Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat drove an electric car, the Jeantaud Duc, at a speed of 63.1 km/h (39.2 mph). Medical experts at the time declared it would be impossible to breathe at these speeds, and that the driver’s heart would surely stop. Chasseloup-Laubat improved on his own record a year later, taking it up to 93.7 km/h (58.2 mph). In the same year, Camille Jenatzy became the first motorist to exceed 100 km/h. His bullet-shaped electric car, called La Jamais Contente ("never-satisfied") held the record for three years. A spectator described the car as moving “with a subdued noise like the rustling of wings, scarcely seeming to touch the ground”.

The women’s land speed record has been held since 1965 by Lee Breedlove, who drove Spirit of America: Sonic 1 at 496.492 km/h (308.506 mph) on Bonneville Salt Flats in the USA.

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