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White Triplex: 81,000 cc of doom

Jo Schmo February 25, 2010 Nostalgia 19 Comments

Hooning is nothing new. Sure the term is relatively new and it is often used to refer to one who drives in a manner that is fast, noisy or dangerous. I like to think that adding crazy, dangerous engines to already questionable cars and mashing the go fast pedal with complete disregard for safety also fits the description up to a point. Adding three 27-liter aircraft engines to a hastily cobbled together frame with no transmission and complete lack of safety equipment for the purpose of setting a landspeed record… ok, well now we have shot right past hoon and gone to plaid.  Sadly, this story doesn’t have a happy ending.

There is no replacement for displacement... except more engines

 Picture this:  The year is 1928, you are a rich guy with too much time on your hands.  What do you do with all that cash laying around?  Wallpaper your mansion in Benjamins?  Custom toilet paper?  Try and break a landspeed record?  Well I would probably choose all three but that’s not important now.  You see, J. H. White went with the latter.  And since it was infact 1928, powerful automotive engines were practically nonexistant and he did what any real hoon would do, go find one of the biggest non-automotive powerplants available at the time, a 27-litre aircraft engine.  Well, 3 27-litre Liberty aero-engines to be exact.  And Mr. White took the high backroad in designing/building his sand rocket, everything was fixed ratio.  No clutch, no transmission, no way to really stop the damn thing once it got a push start.

Ray Keech was the first driver tasked with attempting the record as he had a fair amount of racing experience.  The trial runs could possibly be considered a success if you don’t count the fact that Ray was burned not once, but twice by a burst radiator hose and then flames from the forward engine.  Injuries aside, the trials went well.  At least until official rules dictated that any vehicle attempting a land speed record must be able to reverse and turn around under its own power… I’m sure you see the problem also.  A redneck fabulous fix was put in place, looong before redneck fabulous was the norm.

Initially an electric motor was added to temporarily power the rear wheels once the car was stopped but it proved ineffective at doing its job.  Eventually a third set of retractable wheels was added for the sole purpose of reversing the car.  Rumors have it that this setup was never actually used, but placated the judges enough to allow the record attempt.

And, on April 22, 1928, Keech achieved his goal, setting a record of 207.55 mph at Daytona Beach.

Then, less than a year later, Henry Segrave broke the record hitting over 230 mph.  Ray Keech was asked to make a second attempt to reclaim the record and politely declined.  A second driver was recruited for the task.  Lee Bible, a garage owner and all around great guy signed up.  The only problem was, he didn’t have experience driving at such speeds, much less controlling a vehicle with no active user interface.  On his first two runs, Bible clocked 186 and 202 mph resepectively, short of either record.  Bible’s second run was also his last as he lost control in the sand and went off the track into a sand dune at around 200 mph causing the whole thing to roll down the beach for another 200 ft or so, ending the record attempt and his life.

It is said that Seagrave was also in attendance at the event and helped in the aftermath.  He had planned to also attempt a run to beat his own record but, after the crash decided to turn his attention to water-based speed records.  Alas, that turned out with similar results.

Source and photo credits 1, 2

  • Three piece suits on the beach looking at carnage. The suits are gone, the carnage continues on. I don't know why all the suits pops out at me in the story and the pictures. Different times. Nowadays I'm sure someone from Bible's family would want congressional hearings about unintended acceleration.

  • That sure was a different time. Aircraft were designed by the seat of the pants, and test pilots were not very experienced to begin with. The threshold for danger was much higher than it is now. Now, people want to put warning on everything — including hot dogs — and freak out about everything — like bisphenol-A — regardless of the real risk. It's not all bad, though. Seat belt usage, crumple zones, HANS devices, SAFER barriers, and better engineering of both road and race cars saves lives. We never will return to the days of speed runs in questionable cars, but when you get down to it, do you want to?

    • I think at times I do. There are not many moments of it but that feeling in your stomach of doing something dangerous and knowing you could be splattered across the tarmac is still cool as hell.

      • I'm the same way. Yeah, it's nice to know that should I or someone around me on the road do something stupid, my chances of survival are much better than they were even 20 years ago, the element of danger and of tempting fate is still there. That's why I would commute in a Se7en. It's also why I want to build a go cart with an outrageous engine.

        • After I made my reply, I clicked over to RideLust to see what Mr. Angry was up to. I found this, and it perfectly explains what I wanted to say. http://www.ridelust.com/mad-kart/

          Yes. That's the new insane. Not much different than the old insane.

          • Okay, now that I know you're reading my stuff I'll have to step up my game!

        • That's why I want to build a Wankel powered claw-foot bathtub.

      • Simple: Buy a motorcycle. Even if your state has helmet laws, a little beanie, and off you go.

        • Can't ride for shit. No reasoning to give you why I can't. I just can't ride very well. I have a 76 Honda 350 in the barn, all restored…..I should ride the dang thing.

  • I can go through an old yearbook and just x-out the kids who died in car wrecks–pre-seatbelt cars, no airbags, of course, drum brakes and bias ply on overpowered heavy metal monsters with no crumple zones and unpadded dashes and all metal steering wheels–the whole point being to go faster than the next guy. It's a wonder any of us old farts are still around.

    • Ditto… and I came up in the time of underpowered tin cans with steel belts and front discs.

  • I like it! I would like it even more from a safe distance when it was being driven. But seriously, 3 aircraft engines in a direct drive lash up with no clutch or tranny? That's just nuts.

  • The land speed record cars from these days are just plain insane. I remember reading about one that had two airplane engines and used railroad track for frame rails. These cars were dreadnoughts, and it must have been something to see them go. They were crude, rude, dangerous and unspeakably awesome. It took balls the size of grapefruit to pilot these things.

  • Pingback: The Bugatti Veyron of 1928 - 81 liters, 36 cylinders. - FinalGear.com Forums()

  • Jaw dropped from the get-go. This is pretty amazing stuff for almost a century ago. And Bible as a last name? BIBLICAL!

  • A guy named Segrave died in a boating accident? I think he was tempting fate just a bit too much…

  • HAHA ok you win teh interwebt00bz!

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