Lots of cars these days can hit 200 miles-per-hour. It’s not nothing, but it’s not anything either. But back in 1927, 200 was unheard-of. That is, Until Sunbeam’s “Slug” broke the record at Daytona Beach with Major Henry Seagrave behind the wheel.
Wolverhampton, England-based Sunbeam is probably a lot more familiar to you all as the builders of cheerful little sportscars like the Alpine and the Tiger, which the company built before eventually getting wrapped into Chrylser Europe’s demise and absorption into Peugeot. But before the brand got pigeon-holed into building small cars with a little more pep than usual, it was trying to make land speed records.
Starting off with the Sunbeam 350HP, the company put some of its airplane engines onto simple frames to try and stretch the limits of what land vehicles could do. In speed maniac Malcolm Campbell’s hands, the 350 HP, which had become the fourth in Campbell’s line of Blue Bird record cars, hit 152 MPH in 1924. But that wasn’t enough for Sunbeam. And that’s where this car came in.
The “Slug,” or as Sunbeam officially called it, the 1000 HP Mystery, was specially designed to break the record, with not one but two massive V12 airplane engines inside displacing nearly 45 liters powering the rear wheels. The two engines didn’t quite put out the promised thousand horsepower, but it seemed close enough, I guess.
With all that motor inside, the car was no lightweight. The car weighed over three tons, barely hiding its girth under its streamlined bodywork, hence the nickname. The car was But looks aside, this was a car built for speed and speed only.
The fateful two runs (necessary to make the record official) which proved that 200 MPH was attainable on the ground took place 93 years ago today in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Out on the sand, driver Major Henry Seagrave managed to send get the mighty Slug up to an average speed of 203.7 MPH in front of a crowd of tens of thousands. It was an immense feat and, lucky for us, it was caught on camera. See below for an incredible film documenting Seagrave’s attempt and the entire scene down at the beach. It’s always a treat to see cars moving that fast, but it’s even more exciting, in my view, to see just what kind of fanfare a record attempt like this got nearly a hundred years ago.
These days, the old Slug is still with us. It was restored in honor of the 90th anniversary of the attempt back in 2017, and can be seen at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England. The process of getting the car restored to operational condition is detailed in a set of blogs that you can read here.
The Slug might not have been a good-looking car, but it did its job that day back in 1927 and inched ever closer to dominating velocity. It wasn’t long after that the Sunbeam’s record was doubled in 1938, and we’re still edging ever closer to a four-digit land speed record. It’s certainly a dangerous proposition. We know that now as well as we ever have. But it doesn’t seem like that might get in the way of trying again and again to out-do ourselves.