Land Speed Records
July/Aug 2019 edition
Issue #6 AutoMobilia Resource Magazine
Written by Dale LaFollette
When I first began writing these columns I knew that at some point I had to write about photographs of land speed record cars as they have been a passion of mine for many years, but I ran into a slight problem, once I started looking through my collection I found there were enough images for at least four columns! So, I had to force myself to pick my absolute favorites to write about. Campbell, Eyston, Cobb and Segrave didn’t make the cut, sorry! Maybe in a future column.
The first photo is of the “Torpedo Kid”, an electric streamline car built by the Walter Baker of the Baker Motor Vehicle Co. of Cleveland, Ohio. The “Kid” was built from the remains of an earlier Baker record car, the “Torpedo”, which had crashed. The “Torpedo Kid” ran at Daytona Beach in 1904. The number 999 was not a take on Henry Ford’s No. 999, but rather the license number issued by the State of Ohio for the car. I love the fact that the “Kid” is riding on the back of a Baker electric truck, much like modern teams do today.
An electric land speed record car that accomplished very little probably is the least desirable photo here. I think that it should sell at $100-$250, but at auction with two eager buyers who really, really want it…. I have seen images of this quality sell for over $1,000.
The next photo is of Parry Thomas’ “Babs” at Pendine Sands in 1926 where he set a world record time of just over 170 mph for the mile. Thomas built “Babs” himself by extensively modifying the Higham Special which he bought from the estate of Count Zborowski. If I remember correctly, I obtained this photo about twenty years ago with about a half-dozen others of Thomas and “Babs”, but this one really grabbed me because of all the action of both mechanics and spectators in the attempt to push him off.
This photograph went directly to my collection, while the others were sold. The only downside is that you can’t see Parry behind the wheel in this image which might detract from the value. On the other hand, people love the story of Parry Thomas and “Babs”, so I would expect much interest in this photo all the way up to $400-$500.
The last photo here I consider Art Photography. It is of the car that MG built in 1938 for record breaking purposes. It was to be driven by A.T. “Goldie” Gardner who is sitting in the cockpit speaking to Lord Nuffield, a principal of MG Motors. Gardner used several different engines to set records with this car in various classes clear into the late 1940s.
While looking at this photograph, consider the interesting angle that it was taken at. Notice the texture of the pavement and how the scoring of pavement at the top of the photo enhances the image with each corner of the photo naturally dark. Finally see how the drain cover at lower left balances the whole composition. You might think that the photographer just got one lucky shot, but I don’t believe that. This anonymous photographer knew what he or she was doing from the placement of the car and the angle of the photograph to the interaction between Gardner and Nuffield.
To read more great columns like this one from automotive photography expert Dale LaFollette...
Vintage Auto Photography
Dale LaFollette, the owner of Vintage Motorphoto, specializes in rare and collectable original racing photographs. Explore his knowledge in this column.