Rolls-Royce Landspeed Collection celebrates George Eyston, a forgotten Bonneville speed record holder – paultan.org06/25/2021
Rolls-Royce says that this new Landspeed Collection recalls a forgotten hero. Do you know of one George Eyston? Probably not. But you must have heard of the Bonneville Salt Flats before, the place in Utah where people go to set speed records. Let’s find out together.
While the speed exploits of Sir Malcolm Campbell are well documented and more known, another British man who set three land-speed records using Rolls-Royce engines has been largely overlooked by history. He is Captain George Eyston and his car is the Thunderbolt.
Born in 1897, Eyston was fascinated with motorsport from childhood, racing both cars and (under an assumed name) motorcycles while still at school. His engineering degree at Cambridge was interrupted by World War 1, in which he served and rose to the rank of captain, winning the Military Cross. He spent the 1920s and 30s developing and driving race cars. A talented inventor, he also held a number of patents in the field of supercharging.
In 1935, Eyston was among the first British racers to travel to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where he set new 24-hour and 48-hour endurance speed records. He subsequently received the Segrave Trophy, awarded to Brits who demonstrate outstanding skill, courage and initiative on land, water and air.
In 1937, he returned to Bonneville and went on to set three world land-speed records with Thunderbolt. This behemoth had three axles, eight wheels and weighed seven tonnes. The body was made from aluminium and, in its original form, had a blunt, heavyset profile topped with a large triangular tail fin.
Thunderbolt was powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce R supercharged 37-litre, V12 aero engines, each producing well over 2,000 hp. Around only 19 of these engines were ever made: indeed, they were so rare that Thunderbolt’s engines previously lived in the Schneider Trophy-winning Supermarine S6.B seaplane that would lay the foundations for the legendary Spitfire.
The Rolls-Royce Landspeed Collection draws inspiration from Eyston’s life and record-breaking feats. It also has strong aesthetic links to the unique, otherworldly landscape of the Bonneville Salt Flats where Thunderbolt made him, albeit briefly, the fastest man on earth.
The Collection Car duo – which consists of the Wraith and Dawn Black Badge – is presented in a specially created two-tone finish, which marries Black Diamond Metallic with a new bespoke colour, Bonneville Blue. Goodwood says that the latter transitions under sunlight from light blue to silver, illustrating the reflections of both the vast sky over Bonneville and the crisp salt flats on Thunderbolt’s aluminium body.
When creating speed records, veering from a straight line can be disastrous. Eyston’s team painted darkened track lines on the salt surface for the man to follow – effectively his sole means of keeping Thunderbolt straight at over 350 mph (563 km/h).
This simple yet ingenious idea is recalled in the Landspeed Collection by a subtly perforated dark detail in the upper-centre of the steering wheel, which continues through the centre-line of the driver’s seat.
The Bonneville Salt Flats may appear smooth in pictures, but they’re actually seamed with tiny fissures. This distinctive texture is reproduced, digitally retraced from the surface itself, in the wooden veneer of Landspeed Collection’s fascia and console lids.
The interior references continue with Thunderbolt’s unique silhouette, and the records it achieved, depicted on the polished, anodised aluminium surface of the front tunnel. An extra touch for the Dawn is the outline of the Silver Island mountains that dominate the Bonneville horizon, engraved on the upper ‘waterfall’ between the rear seats.
According to the history books, Eyston’s third and final land-speed record of 357.497 mph (575 km/h) stood for 341 days. In the Collection Cars, that max speed is engraved into the housing of the dashboard clock alongside the name Bonneville.
Thunderbolt was originally left unpainted, which caused an unexpected problem – photo-electric timing equipment were unable to detect the polished aluminium body against the searing white of the Salt Flats’ surface, making accurate timing impossible. Eyston’s simple but brilliant solution was to paint a large black arrow with a yellow circle on the side to heighten visibility at high speed. Here, yellow accents, including two-tone yellow and black bumper inserts, pay tribute to this cue.
The clock’s design recounts this theme. Based on the instrument dials from Thunderbolt, with yellow and black details, black-tipped hands are inspired by the arrows painted on the original car’s exterior.
The allure of the Bonneville Salt Flats draws not only record-breakers, but astronomers too. Stargazers love this vast, unpopulated wilderness for its exceptionally dark night skies, which create perfect conditions unspoiled by artificial light. In the Wraith Landspeed, the Starlight Headliner recreates the sky as it appeared over Utah when Eyston’s third and final record was set.
The constellations are precisely marked using 2,117 individually placed fibre-optic ‘stars’, the largest number of stars in a Rolls-Royce Wraith Starlight Headliner ever.
There’s more. Eyston received three significant honours in his lifetime. He was awarded the Military Cross (MC) while serving in WW1; in 1938, after his record-breaking runs with Thunderbolt he was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest civilian decoration; and in 1948, he received the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
These awards are marked here with a subtle detail in the driver’s door, made in the same Grosgrain weave silk and colours to match the original medal ribbons. The armrests on both the passenger side and below the ribbon detail are specially padded to give them the comfortable ‘club armchair’ quality that Eyston favoured in his driving seats, much to the amusement of his fellow racers. Unique chap.
“Rolls-Royce has been synonymous with adventure, daring and pushing boundaries throughout its history. We are delighted that with the Landspeed Collection, we can add another hitherto unsung hero to the illustrious roll call of pioneers associated with our great marque. With his vision, boldness, determination and genius for innovation and invention, George Eyston embodies so much of what makes Rolls-Royce unique. These cars are a fitting and long overdue tribute to a truly inspiring character,” said Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös.
Production of the Landspeed Collection cars is strictly limited to just 25 examples of the Dawn and 35 of the Wraith. Intrigued by the story of George Eyston and the fantastic detailing R-R specially created for this LE? Sorry, all 60 Landspeed Collection cars have already been allocated to customers. Like R-R’s storytelling? Here’s another stunning Wraith backed by a good tale, owned by a Malaysian.
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