War surplus parts used in the pursuit of speed.
Watch this 115-year-old land speed racer get sideways
The recent sale of Danny Thompson’s Challenger 2 streamliner got the Hagerty team thinking about other land speed racers that have crossed the block. Surely there hasn’t been a faster car offered for sale, and there are few land speed cars as beautiful—but how far back into the history of land speed racing would we have to go back before we found one that was as interesting? How about 1905?
The sport of land speed racing isn’t as glamorous or lucrative as the more popular forms of road racing, and there’s a whole lot less corporate sponsorship, but it doesn’t mean privateers are any less creative in crafting their speed machines. One trip to Bonneville will prove that there’s no shortage of ingenuity.
Before Bonneville, the place to test land speed records in America was the beach in Daytona, Florida, which is where the Darracq Sprint Two-Seater, piloted by Victor Demogeot, completed a two-mile course in 58.8 seconds for an average speed of 122.5 mph, earning Demogeot and Darracq the title of “Speed King of the World.”
Although both cars are land speed racers, the Challenger 2 and the Darracq don’t have much in common. The Darracq took a more drag-race approach, stripping the car to its bare minimum, with tall tires and rear-wheel drive, and adding the largest, most powerful engine possible. And while it’s true that land speed racing is just a long drag race, the concept of streamlined aerodynamics wasn’t very advanced in 1905 and the best they could do is a V-shaped radiator. Even with a two-mile race, the engine likely needed it.
Compared to the Challenger 2, the open-wheeled car’s single V-8 is larger than both of the streamliner’s 500-cubic-inch Hemi V-8s combined. Three of those modern Top Fuel Hemi V-8s would come close to, but not exceed the 1551-cubic-inch engine from the Darracq. Output, on the other hand, was not as impressive in the vintage engine, with a claimed 200 horsepower to the more modern streamliner’s 6000 or so ponies. Fueled by nitromethane and alcohol, the only cooling the Challenger 2 engines get comes from the atomization of fuel. It has no radiator at all and wouldn’t have use for one anyway, as the engines lack water jackets.
There are certain scenarios in which the Darracq Sprint Two-Seater would leave the Challenger 2 in its dust: any course with a curve, for instance. With a turning radius best measured in miles, the Challenger 2 lifts itself up on hydraulic rams and uses a giant lazy susan to turn around for its return runs, while the Darracq proves that it’s got what it takes to make it up the Goodwood Hill Climb, provided the driver has the guts.
The Darracq sold for $260,701 back in 2006. Even considering inflation, that’s quite a bit less than the Challenger 2 just got. What it lacks in outright speed and sleek design, it makes up for in sideways style. Plus, it’s easier to fit in your garage.