If you are in the market for a book about one of the figures in land speed racing, and you have a lot of money and a lot of shelf space, look no further than Karl Ludvigsen’s fabulous Reid Railton: Man Of Speed. It is a dive as deep as the Mariana Trench, photographed to the hilt and saturated with details.
It is, in short, just the book Reid Railton deserves.
Run What Ya Brung!
Land speed racing, or land speed records, or LSR as it is shortened, has long been a passion of mine. There’s something about the combination: the purity mingled with unmitigated insanity. Other forms of racing have rule books as thick as the Singapore white pages. LSR? Simple: Run what ya brung!
Sure, they have notional ideas of “safety” and such, but over certain speeds, safety is as hypothetical as fair trial in the Soviet Union. When things come uncorked at Indy at 200 mph, it’s very bad. But at Bonneville or Lake Eyre or Black Rock Desert, things come unstuck at triple that speed.
No amount of engineering will save you. It’s down to either “luck or the Good Lord” as my dad would say.
The Gift of Speed
Engineering in the world of land speed racing is about one thing: Faster. And for all of his life, Reid Railton was one of the shining lights in designing and building land speed record cars. British as a cup of tea in dreary weather, thin and bespectacled, he was a walking example of a Grade A1 geek in the United Kingdom, circa 1920s through the 1950s.
Reid Antony Railton was born in Cheshire, the son of a Manchester stockbroker. Besides being gifted with one of the coolest names in racing, he was also gifted with a talent for numbers, engineering, and as a designer who could build ever faster machines. Karl Ludvigsen, one of the best automotive historians in the world, lovingly details Railton’s life, his cars, boats, and triumphs and tragedies in this whopper of a book.
Reid Railton: Man Of Speed: A Mighty Volume
And I don’t mean that metaphorically. Reid Railton: Man Of Speed is a giant, 848-page, two-volume and slip-cased biography which is not just a must-have for LSR fanatics, but really any car or racing enthusiast. Reid Railton: Man Of Speed is the definitive book on the man, and one of the best books ever about land speed racing. There’s just one problem: the durn thing will run you two-hundred dollars! It is not overpriced in the slightest though. Believe me, it is worth every one of those clams, but holy smokes that’s a lot for a book.
Ludvigsen chronicles Railton’s high-velocity life, his time with Leyland Motors, and his work as chief designer of the Arab Motor Company (interesting name, no?). Railton’s move to Brooklands is highlighted, where he worked as Technical Director for Thomson & Taylor, the outfit responsible for John Cobb’s 1933 Napier Railton racer and holder of the Outer Circuit record at Brooklands in 1935. From there, Railton was off to Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Blue Bird Land Speed Record cars from 1931 to 1935, back again to designing Cobb’s Railton Special which set the Land Speed Record at 394.7 mph in 1947.
Think about that for a bit. That was an internal combustion, wheel-driven car as fast as a Spitfire fighter plane.
Along the way, Reid Railton also designed E.R.A. racing cars, the Campbell-Napier-Railton Blue Bird, the Campbell-Railton Blue Bird (a different car), the Leyland Eight, and the Railton Mobil Special. And boats! He designed high-speed boats as well as cars, including the jet-powered Crusader in which, tragically, Cobb was killed in 1952 while attempting to break the Water Speed Record at Loch Ness.
One For The Ages
Railton lived to the ripe old age of 82, passing from this life in Berkeley, California in 1977. All of this is covered in Reid Railton: Man Of Speed, along with hundreds and hundreds of photographs of race cars, LSR rides, family photos, salt flats, British lakes, and hard pan deserts. Reid Railton is one of the towering figures in land speed racing and in automotive engineering in general. And Reid Railton: Man Of Speed is a fitting book, regardless of price.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.
Karl Ludvigsen is respected as a close and knowledgeable observer of, and participant in, the world motor industry. In addition to his industry activities as an executive with GM, Fiat and Ford and head of a consulting company, he has been active for over 60 years as an author and historian. As an author, co-author or editor he has some five dozen books to his credit, all concerning cars and the motor industry, his life-long passion. An American, he lives in the UK, in Suffolk.