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Big Fat Tyres

I have a need, a need for speed.'

An immortal line if ever there was one, only glad I thought of it, or is that remembered it. Trouble is the film industry has been over-run by the US and the speed restrictions in many areas there makes for peculiar ideas of what speed is. Mind you as India is the only other country in the world with a film industry to rival the US then perhaps I can forgive this niggle. I remember watching a film which had a chap working long nights to sup-up his pick-up truck. Eventually he got it onto the tarmac and went through numerous racing changes and the camera shock and trembled as we watched the speedo creep to 100kph. Impressive stuff only I had just blasted down our local high street in a beat-up Capri faster than that. I was a boy-racer (and so no doubt were you.)

History has been kinder to some of the entrants in the set than it has to other

Lets face it most of us are turned on by speed, although it helps if you are doing the speeding. In a world where time still refuses to wait for no man, getting there quicker than the rest makes a difference.

On 30 Jun 1960 a Jaguar was involved in an accident and managed to lay down a trail of rubber 950feet long. However Craig Breedlove (also known as Norman) managed to skid for 6 miles when Spirit of America went out of control in 1964 on Bonneville Salt Flats.

Churchmans issued a set in 1939 which has been created for all-us speed freaks, Kings of Speed.

The set harks back to an age when a gentleman leapt into his car having enjoyed a pleasant cup of tea dashed off a land-speed record and would be wiping the oil off his face as his mechanics were passing around the cigars all in time for nanny to make some supper.

Churchmans, Kings of Speed #13

Major Gardner was wounded in WW1, which was not helped by a bad crash in 1932, so perhaps he did not leap into this MG Magnette

The set is a black and white photo series which has a multitude of styles. Some of the cards show the man (they are all men, no Queens of Speed here.) in formal pose, others have a newsreel feel about them. Others are seen with the plane/car that they set a record with and still others are seen indulging in the sport for which they were famous at the time. The last two are seen leaping over hurdles.

History has been kinder to some of the entrants in the set than it has to others, a quick browse through the checklist will bring back some memories. However I must admit a complete ignorance in the matter of '...one of the world's most famous aviators...' JA Mollison. He actually flew from Australia to England in 1931, setting a record of 8 days 33 hours 25 minutes.

Howard Hughes.

I was surprised to find Howard Hughes in the set and was expecting to read about the Spruce Goose (okay so I know that was 1947) on the reverse of the card but that was not to be the case. In fact in July 1938 with 4 companions he flew around the globe in the record time of 3 days 19 hours 17 minutes. The card also says he produced the 'great aviation picture Hell's Angels at a cost of £800,000.'

Hughes is till in the record books for Spruce Goose, the flying-boat with the largest wingspan. Concorde flew around the globe in 32hrs 49min 3sec in 1992.

Card 12 is John Cobb and he is a personal hero of mine. This Scots man was born in 1899 and died in 1952. The card explains that he was the first man to go over 350mph on land (Sept 15, 1938) His speed record was short-lived as Capt. Eyston was to go 7mph faster 24 hours later (Card 11) which at the time the set was published was the land-speed record. The card goes on to explain that Cobb was by profession a fur trader. In 1952 Cobb was killed trying to set the water-speed record.

This brings us to Card 36, Sir Malcolm Campbell who held the water speed record at the time the set was produced. It stood at 130.91mph achieved piloting Bluebird. His son Donald was to die attempting to break the land-speed record on Coniston water many years later, crashing at 328mph. It should also be noted that Sir Malcolm is pictured smoking a cigarette the only person in the set to be doing so.

Details from Card
B. Bira
Prince Birabonse, better known as 'B. Bira' is the son of the late Prince Bhanuranse of Siam. On the motor-racing tracks they call him, 'Blue Lightening' a tribute to his skill as a fast racing driver and the fact that he affects pale blue not only as the colour scheme for his cards, but also for the uniforms of everyone associated with him. Two of his 1938 successes were the Nuffield Trophy Race at Donnington and the British Racing Drivers' Club 192-mile Road Race at Brooklands. 'B.Bira' is as good a sculptor as he is motorist, and has exhibited at the Royal Academy.

JM West (Card 29) gets into the set because of his prowess on two wheels. He achieved the fastest average speed for a motorcycle road race ever when he powered a BMW in the Ulster Grand Prix to a win with an average speed of 92.27mph.

Card 30 depicts 'Bluey' Wilkinson. Australian born the card explains 'Bluey' is the Australian nickname for anyone with red hair. In 1938 he became Speedway Champion of the World despite the fact he had his shoulder in plaster (says something about the opposition really). The card goes on to detail his wage as '£100-a-week Speedway Champion.'

Cobb was to improve the water-speed record to 194mph in 1947 which he was to hold for 17 years. Campbell was to set the record at 202.32mph in 1955.

However enough of motorisation and onto sheer human effort. Of all the people mentioned in the set Jesse Owens deserves to be (if indeed he is not) the most famous. Certainly the black American put one over on Hitler in the 1936 Munich games, winning 3 individual gold medals and was a member of the winning 400m relay team . The card fails to mention Hitler's reaction but does say that the US voted Jesse Owens best athlete of the year. The card mentions his 4 amateur records, 100 yds (9.4sec) 220yds (20.3sec) 100m (10.2sec) 220yd hurdles (22.6sec)

At the end of 1936 Jesse was to turn professional which of course was a very different proposition for athletes then. The card says he was nicknamed the Black Panther and raced against horses and greyhounds and became involved in film work.

As a sign of how things have changed, Card 46 JE Lovelock held the 1500 metre world record at 3min 47.8seconds. As a freshman at Oxford he set up the British mile record of 4min 12 seconds. But that as they say is all history.