One very exclusive and very bespoke Landspeed Collection motor car from Rolls-Royce is here in Malaysia. The Wraith Black Badge Landspeed revealed by Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Kuala Lumpur is one of only 35 built by Rolls-Royce as a special tribute to a historic event. The limited edition Landspeed Collection also includes 25 units of the Dawn Black Badge, making it just 60 collectible motor cars worldwide.
The Landspeed Collection celebrates the achievement and pioneering spirit of Captain George Eyston who broke the land speed record with a car powered by Rolls-Royce engines. Rolls-Royce has been associated with world speed records on both land and water for over a century. But while the exploits of Sir Malcolm Campbell are well documented and widely known, Captain Eyston’s has been largely overlooked by history.
It was Captain Eyston’s fearless character and engineering prowess that helped him break the land speed record not once, but 3 times. Born in 1897, George Eyston was fascinated with motorsport from childhood, racing both cars and (under an assumed name) motorcycles while still at school. His degree in engineering at Trinity College, Cambridge, was interrupted by the Great War, in which he served with distinction, rising to the rank of captain and earning him the Military Cross. He spent most of the 1920s and ’30s developing and driving racing cars. As a talented inventor, he also held a number of patents, particularly in the field of supercharging.
In 1935, Eyston was among the first British racers to travel to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA. It was at Bonneville that he set new 24-hour and 48-hour endurance speed records. He later received the Segrave Trophy, awarded to ‘the British national who demonstrates Outstanding Skill, Courage and Initiative on Land, Water and in the Air’.
In 1937, he returned to the Flats and went on to set 3 world land speed records with his car, Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt is an extraordinary machine with 3 axles and 8 wheels. Weighing in at 7 tonnes, it earned monikers such as ‘behemoth’ and ‘leviathan’ in contemporary reports. The body was made from aluminium and, in its original form, had a blunt, heavyset profile topped with a large triangular tailfin.
Notably, Thunderbolt was powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce R supercharged 37L, V12 aero engines, each producing well over 2,000 horsepower. Only 19 of these engines were ever made, making them a rarity. As such, Thunderbolt’s engines had a previous career in the Schneider Trophy-winning Supermarine S6.B seaplane that would lay the foundations for the legendary Spitfire fighter plane.
Currently, Thunderbolt’s pair of R engines are preserved at the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon and the Science Museum in London. The car unfortunately, has been lost. After being exhibited at the 1940 Centennial Exhibition in New Zealand, it was placed in storage, but was sadly destroyed in 1946 when 27,000 bales of wool, housed in the same building, caught fire.
The Landspeed Collection Wraith however, isn’t fitted with a pair of Rolls-Royce engines but just one V12 with 624 hp and 870 Nm. Paired with an 8-speed automatic, this enables the 2,420 kg (unladen) Wraith to sprint from standstill to 100 km/h in 4.5 seconds.
Eyston set his records on the International Speedway, a specially compacted section of the Bonneville Salt Flats measuring 16 km long and 24 m wide. The terrain is perfectly level in all directions and shines brilliant white in the sunlight. The absence of landmarks and the ferocious glare however, combine to make holding course and judging distance extremely difficult at high speed.
George Eyston commented, “On the salt bed, which has to be carefully prepared by dragging, we paint one or more black lines along the whole length. These lines act as guides and prevent the driver straying; for errors of a few feet in steering might culminate in disastrous results. You see, you might drive a few feet away from the absolute line, something else might happen and you get a few feet more and, believe me, you will never get back”.
Eyston knew that deviating from the speedway would have been extremely hazardous, particularly given Thunderbolt’s enormous weight. In response, Eyston’s team painted darkened track lines on the salt surface for Eyston to follow, which are essentially his sole means of keeping Thunderbolt straight at over 350 mph (563 km/h).
This simple yet ingenious idea of the painted line is recalled in the Rolls-Royce Landspeed Collection which adds perforated dark detail in the upper-centre of the steering wheel that continues through the centre-line of (only) the driver’s seat, to accentuate both the Wraith and Dawn’s driver focused appeal.
Furthermore, the Bonneville Salt Flats may appear smooth but the surface is in fact seamed with tiny fissures. Rolls-Royce had digitally retraced this landscape feature and perfectly reproduced it in the wooden veneer of Landspeed Collection’s fascia and console lids. The interior references continue with Thunderbolt’s unique silhouette, and the records it achieved, depicted on the polished, anodised aluminium surface of the Landspeed Collection’s front tunnel. Dawn Landspeed additionally celebrates George Eyston’s vision with the outline of the Silver Island mountains, which dominate the Bonneville horizon, engraved on the upper ‘waterfall’ between the rear seats.
According to the history books, Eyston’s 3rd and final land speed record of 357.497 mph (575.336 km/h) stood for 341 days. In the new Collection Cars, it is commemorated for all time, engraved into the housing of the dashboard clock alongside the name ‘Bonneville’, in homage to where the record was set.
Eyston’s Thunderbolt was originally left unpainted, which had caused an unexpected problem. During the first record attempts, the photo-electric timing equipment was unable to detect the polished aluminium body against the searing white of the Salt Flats’ surface, making accurate timing impossible. Eyston’s brilliantly simple solution was to paint a large black arrow with a yellow circle on the side, to heighten visibility when travelling at great speed. These are now represented by bright yellow accents throughout the Landspeed Collection, including 2-tone yellow and black bumper inserts.
Additionally, the Collection Car duo is presented in a specially created 2-tone finish, which marries Black Diamond Metallic with a new Bespoke colour, Bonneville Blue. This specially developed hue bears particular significance to the Collection, with a colour that transitions under sunlight from light blue to silver, illustrating the reflections of both the vast sky over Bonneville and the crisp salt flats on Thunderbolt’s aluminium body.
The clock’s design also recounts the yellow-black theme. Based on the instrument dials from Thunderbolt, with yellow and black details, black-tipped hands are inspired by the arrows painted on the original car’s exterior.
The allure of the Bonneville Salt Flats draws not only record-breakers, but astronomers, too. Stargazers prize this vast, unpopulated wilderness for its exceptionally dark night skies, which create perfect conditions unspoiled by artificial light. In Wraith Landspeed, the Starlight Headliner perfectly recreates the heavens as they appeared over the Flats on 16 September 1938, the date on which Eyston and Thunderbolt set their 3rd and final world land speed record. The constellations are precisely marked using 2,117 individually placed fibre-optic ‘stars’, the largest number of stars in a Rolls-Royce Wraith Starlight Headliner ever featured.
During his lifetime, George Eyston received 3 significant honours. He was awarded the Military Cross (MC) while serving in the Great War; in 1938, after his record-breaking runs with Thunderbolt he was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest civilian decoration; and in 1948, he received the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
These honours are marked in both Wraith and Dawn Landspeed with a subtle detail in the driver’s door, made in the same Grosgrain weave silk and colours to match the original medal ribbons. Further, the armrests on both the passenger side and below the ribbon detail are specially padded to give them the comfortable ‘club armchair’ quality that Eyston favoured in his driving seats, much to the amusement of his fellow racers.
“It’s human nature to want to go further, do more, be greater than ourselves. The innate desire to extend horizons and define new limits is an instinct we’ve always understood at Rolls-Royce; and we have acted upon it once again with our new Landspeed Collection,” said Torsten Müller-Ötvös, CEO, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
“The Collection, which includes both Wraith and Dawn Black Badge, celebrates someone with exactly that dauntless, fearless, pioneering spirit. His name was Captain George Eyston, a Cambridge University graduate, racing driver, gifted inventor and engineering genius. In the late 1930s, he broke the world land-speed record three times with his car Thunderbolt, powered by two Rolls-Royce R V12 aero engines. He was a true hero from an age of epic endeavours; yet both he and Thunderbolt have been all-but forgotten for more than 80 years,” he continued.
“With this Collection, we have revived Eyston’s memory and retold his remarkable story. Throughout Wraith and Dawn Landspeed, clients will find numerous subtle design elements and narrative details that recall and commemorate his amazing achievements, grand vision and exceptional courage.”
In closing, Mr Müller-Ötvös said, “Rolls-Royce has been synonymous with adventure, daring and pushing boundaries throughout its history. We are delighted that with the Landspeed Collection, we can add another hitherto unsung hero to the illustrious roll call of pioneers associated with our great marque. With his vision, boldness, determination and genius for innovation and invention, George Eyston embodies so much of what makes Rolls-Royce unique. These cars are a fitting and long overdue tribute to a truly inspiring character”.
Meanwhile, Anas Zawawi Khalid, Director, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Kuala Lumpur said “As with many of the cars I bring to Malaysia, I try to make them unique. Not only do we have some of the most discerning customers here who appreciate true luxury, I also believe in the mantra: “Rolls-Royce is Bespoke, Bespoke is Rolls-Royce.” The Landspeed Wraith is Bespoke Luxury of the finest order, craftsmanship and an unwavering dedication to achieving the very highest levels of excellence”.
The Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge Landspeed seen here with the chrome grille (uncommon for a Black Badge), has been allocated to a Rolls-Royce customer in Malaysia.