The Monstrous Napier-Railton
Another man who seem to be completely unconcerned about his own possible doom was John Rhodes Cobb, who was born not far from the Brooklands motor racing track in Surrey. Whether or not this had some psychological influence on him is debatable, but having made quite a considerable fortune as a fur broker he had enough money to spend on what was his main love for the rest of his life; motor racing.
He was not a man to do things by halves. The first race he ever won was in a Fiat powered by a 10 litre engine; and he then went on to even bigger and faster machines. The ultimate one is probably the Napier - Railton.
The car was designed for Cobb by Reid Railton, a noted engineer and designer of very fast cars and boats indeed. It was built by motor racing engineers Thomson and Taylor, who operated from within the Brooklands race track. The engine was originally built for aircraft; it had 12 cylinders in a W configurations and displaced a fraction under 24 litres. This pumped out a reputed 580 brake horsepower. There was a three speed transmission; it had no synchromesh and so a missed gearchange could be a very noisy and nerve wracking experience!
What was possibly even more nerve wracking was the braking system. This affected the rear wheels only. It took a brave man to drive this monster which was claimed to be capable of reaching 168 mph, in an era when seat belts were unheard of.
Cobb raced it regularly at his beloved Brooklands, which was so bumpy that photographs exist of him soaring through the air with all four wheels off the ground. He vanquished all comers. He held the lap records for the standing start and flying start, and the one for the fastest long-distance race ever held at Brooklands. It was a sad day for him when the track finally closed in 1939.
After racing cars his attention turned to the land speed record which, in different machines, he broke twice and then once more after the war, earning the title of 'the fastest man alive'.
In 1952 he was killed on Loch Ness whilst attempting to break the world water speed record. His jet powered speedboat apparently hit some turbulence and disintegrated. Cobb joined the sadly long list of British record breakers who died on the job.