The name George Eyston may not mean much to you, but he is one of the pioneers who pushed the boundaries of what is possible on land in the early days of the automobile. His name isn’t often mentioned alongside Malcolm Campbell, the first human to break the 300 mph (482.7 km/h) milestone on land, but Eyston’s story is no less interesting for that. Born in 1897, Eyston raced cars and motorcycles while still in school, but had to interrupt his education due to World War I, where he was promoted to captain. After the Great War he focused on racing cars, which he developed and drove himself. He specialized in superchargers and even obtained some patents in this field.
In the mid-1930s he moved to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA, where he set endurance records. But in 1937, George Eyston returned with his Thunderbolt to break land speed records. Thunderbolt was a 7-ton colossus, had 8 wheels and was powered by two V12 aircraft engines from Rolls-Royce. Those engines had a displacement of 37 liters and developed a power of more than 2,000 hp. And that was enough to set a new speed record on September 16, 1938: George Eyston and his Thunderbolt topped 357.497 mph (575.213 kph). The record would last 341 days, the Thunderbolt lasted until 1946, before being lost in a fire.
Engine supplier Rolls-Royce believes Eyston’s achievements are worth immortalizing. That is why the British luxury manufacturer is launching a special series in honor of the British pioneer: the Landspeed Collection based on both the Wraith and the Dawn. Both models are laced with references, with a sense of detail that only Rolls-Royce can. It starts with the cars’ exterior color: Black Diamond Metallic combined with the new Bonneville Blue, which changes from blue to silver under the sunlight, as a reference to Bonneville’s vast skies and white salt flats, but it’s also a hat tap to the unpainted aluminum of Thunderbolt.
Eyston had black lines painted in the salt flats to stay on course at those incredible speeds. The flattened surface for the record attempts was 24 meters wide, but without reference points there is a high risk that it would deviate. That could be life-threatening if he lost control, but it would also be impossible to find his way back on the white plain. The black lines can be found as a center stripe on the steering wheel and in the center of the driver’s seat of the Rolls-Royce Landspeed Collection.
Exact starry sky
Another nice detail: the small fissures of the Bonneville salt flats have been perfectly recreated from scans in the wooden trim pieces of the Rolls-Royce Wraith and Dawn Landspeed Collection. The last unique piece of this special series, as there are so many more, is the starry sky on board: 2,117 individual lights are an exact recreation of what the starry sky looked like on the evening of September 16, 1938, the day that Eyston made his record attempt. The engine is not touched, in 2021 the top speed of a Rolls-Royce has become almost as irrelevant as its price: fast and expensive enough.
Rolls-Royce plans an edition of 60 copies of the Landspeed Collection: 25 of the Dawn and 35 of the Wraith. But don’t bother, because all cars have now found an owner.