Henry Seagrave's 1926 attempt on the Land Speed record on Southport's beach
In the 1920' and 30's Southport was second to the famous Brooklands Motor racing circuit and
many famous names competed in the races regularly held on the beach.
In April 1926 Henry Seagrave returned to the beach to contest the Land Speed record, then
standing at 150.76 MPH. The vehicle he used was a V12 car built for him by the Sunbeam Motor Company,
an article in the Southport Visitor graphically describes it :
"In April 1926 Henry Seagrave set a new world land speed record of 153.308 mph on Southport Sands,
the car held it's speed for the kilometer but after this distance had been passed his speed reduced
considerably because the car hit a bump which threw the car 10" into the air the car travelled 48'
through the air but was only off the ground for 1/8th of a second during which time the engine reved up,
there were three sharp explosions, the super charger blew up reducing the speed of the car so that the
record was only set for the kilometer and not the mile."
During the attempt to crack the record the roughness of the beach managed to crack 6 supercharger housings !
Parry Thomas, the famous Leyland Motors Engineer, was there to witness the record attempt and in the
evening the earl of Cottenham, Parry Thomas & Seagrave held a private dinner at the Palace Hotel to
celebrate the record. The Palace hotel was always the place the racing fraternity stayed in the 1920s & 30s when attending the meeting on the beach.
This car changed hands several times in the 1930's and ended up in the hands of Billy Cotton the famous band
leader and well known Brooklands Rily and ERA driver. Billy who's band played the Trocadera in the 1930's ( on the site where Woolworths no stands ) took to car
to Southport beach in Lancashire where he was timed at 121.5 mph.
It then fell into neglect. It is not clear whether Billy Cotton sold it or merely left it at Southport but eventually it was discovered in 1943 standing out in the rain behind a garage just outside Southport in a very sorry state.
After its last run on Southport Sands it had not been cleaned off, the caked-on salty sand being left to inflict serious damage to various alloy components and to the engine. It narrowly missed being sold for scrap to help the war effort and was rescued to become a curiosity exhibited in various places to the public. By this time the Sunbeam was well beyond economical restoration as a racing car.
In the sixties the Sunbeam eventually reached a safe haven being acquired by the National Motor Museum at
Beaulieu where it can be seen to this day restored to exhibition standard. The car is resplendent in dark
blue against polished aluminium and stands alongside the red 1,000 hp twin engined Sunbeam in which Henry
Segrave deprived it of its 150 mph record in 1925.
Seagrave went on to break the Land Speed record at Daytona in March 1929 at a speed of 231.44 in the Sunbeam
car Golden Arrow, but his life came to an end in 1930 at the age of 34 when he was killed on Lake Windermere whilst
trying to set a water speed record of 98 MPH.
Parry Thomas the Leyland Motors Chief Engineer was also to loose his life in a record attempt later that year
in the following tragic record attempt. The attempt was not made on the Southport Sands but on another beach
in South Wales called Pendine Sands. He managed to set a new world record of 171.02 but unfortunately whilst
attempting this the car lost a chain to one of it's rear wheels causing Parry Thomas to loose control and he
was killed instantly. The car was buried in respect to Parry Thomas on the Pendine sands.
Owen Wyn Owen a Welshman with an interest in transport obtained permission in the 1970s for the car to be
dug up and restored to Parry Thomas's memory, the car now gives demonstration runs at Vintage car events and
is a fine sight.
In 1934 Jack Field driving Kaye Dons giant Silver Bullet came to Southport to try and break the LSR of 272.295
set by Malcom Campbell, he reached 186 MPH which must be the fastest that anyone has ever travelled on our beach.
A new V12 Sunbeam was built for Henry Segrave in 1925/6. Initially it was called the Ladybird, but was later
renamed Sunbeam Tiger.
In 1990, the Tiger made another attempt on its old record and hit 159 mph which was not bad for a 65 year old car.
April 2006 marked the 80th anniversary of Seagrave's record and the Sunbeam Register held an event in the town to commemerate the event. Unfortunatly the original car was unable to attend the event now being resident in the USA, but the
National Motor Museum have a slightly earlier car which they were able to bring to the event.
Seen here on the sands in front of the fairground.
Many thanks to Chris Nelson for the use of the Sunbeam commemoration photos