White Triplex: 81,000 cc of doom

Hooning is nothing new. Sure the term is relatively new and it is often used to refer to one who drives in a manner that is fast, noisy or dangerous. I like to think that adding crazy, dangerous engines to already questionable cars and mashing the go fast pedal with complete disregard for safety also fits the description up to a point. Adding three 27-liter aircraft engines to a hastily cobbled together frame with no transmission and complete lack of safety equipment for the purpose of setting a landspeed record… ok, well now we have shot right past hoon and gone to plaid.  Sadly, this story doesn’t have a happy ending.

There is no replacement for displacement… except more engines
 Picture this:  The year is 1928, you are a rich guy with too much time on your hands.  What do you do with all that cash laying around?  Wallpaper your mansion in Benjamins?  Custom toilet paper?  Try and break a landspeed record?  Well I would probably choose all three but that’s not important now.  You see, J. H. White went with the latter.  And since it was infact 1928, powerful automotive engines were practically nonexistant and he did what any real hoon would do, go find one of the biggest non-automotive powerplants available at the time, a 27-litre aircraft engine.  Well, 3 27-litre Liberty aero-engines to be exact.  And Mr. White took the high backroad in designing/building his sand rocket, everything was fixed ratio.  No clutch, no transmission, no way to really stop the damn thing once it got a push start. Ray Keech was the first driver tasked with attempting the record as he had a fair amount of racing experience.  The trial runs could possibly be considered a success if you don’t count the fact that Ray was burned not once, but twice by a burst radiator hose and then flames from the forward engine.  Injuries aside, the trials went well.  At least until official rules dictated that any vehicle attempting a land speed record must be able to reverse and turn around under its own power… I’m sure you see the problem also.  A redneck fabulous fix was put in place, looong before redneck fabulous was the norm. Initially an electric motor was added to temporarily power the rear wheels once the car was stopped but it proved ineffective at doing its job.  Eventually a third set of retractable wheels was added for the sole purpose of reversing the car.  Rumors have it that this setup was never actually used, but placated the judges enough to allow the record attempt. And, on April 22, 1928, Keech achieved his goal, setting a record of 207.55 mph at Daytona Beach. Then, less than a year later, Henry Segrave broke the record hitting over 230 mph.  Ray Keech was asked to make a second attempt to reclaim the record and politely declined.  A second driver was recruited for the task.  Lee Bible, a garage owner and all around great guy signed up.  The only problem was, he didn’t have experience driving at such speeds, much less controlling a vehicle with no active user interface.  On his first two runs, Bible clocked 186 and 202 mph resepectively, short of either record.  Bible’s second run was also his last as he lost control in the sand and went off the track into a sand dune at around 200 mph causing the whole thing to roll down the beach for another 200 ft or so, ending the record attempt and his life. It is said that Seagrave was also in attendance at the event and helped in the aftermath.  He had planned to also attempt a run to beat his own record but, after the crash decided to turn his attention to water-based speed records.  Alas, that turned out with similar results. Source and photo credits 1, 2

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