George Eyston

28/6/1897 - 11/6/1979

Record updated 14-Apr-08

Captain George Edward Thomas Eyston, yachtsman, hydroplane champion, distinguished aviator, racing driver, and three-times World Land Speed Record holder, certainly one of the most versatile drivers in the history of the sport.

George Eyston
Captain George Edward Thomas Eyston, yachtsman, hydroplane champion, distinguished aviator, racing driver, and three-times World Land Speed Record holder, was born in Witney, Oxfordshire in 1897. One of the most versatile drivers in the history of the sport.

During his racing career established more records than virtually any other driver including breaking the Land Speed record three times. Between 1926 and 1954 Eyston set hundreds of records at Brooklands, Montlhery, Pendine Sands and Bonneville using cars ranging from a 750 c.c. M.G to the 73 litre 4,500 horse power Thunderbolt.

Originally a motor cycle racer before the Great War, he started in cars in 1923 with an Aston Martin coming 4th in the Junior Car Club 200 at Brooklands that year. In 1926 he raced an Anzani-engined Aston Martin at the British GP,

His first race victory was the Light Car Grand Prix at Boulogne in 1926 driving a Bugatti T39, and he also won the La Baule Grand Prix on sand, the following year. In the 1927 Middlesex County Automobile Club meeting at Brooklands, he won the 50 Miles Handicap race and in the Hill Climb. He won major races at Brooklands, he was runner-up in both the Saorstat Cup at Phoenix Park and the Isle of Man TT, and he shared the second-placed Alfa Romeo in the 24-hour Belgian Touring Car GP at Spa.

He is possibly best remembered for his M.G.s. On the 1st April 1929 he was awarded his Brooklands 120 m.p.h. badge driving a Bugatti and in 1931 won the B.R.D.C. Gold Star.

On the 30th April 1932, driving a Panhard in a duel with John Cobb’s V-12 Delage during the British Empire Trophy Race he was awarded his Brooklands 130 m.p.h. badge and in 1934 he went on to win the race outright in an M.G.

He drove three times in the French Grand Prix, finishing fourth on one occasion while sharing a car with Tim Birkin, and he was third, on his own, in 1933 with an Alfa Romeo. And he drove for the American Stutz team, one year at Le Mans. He had a racing team with Penn-Hughes in 1934, racing an Alfa Romeo Monza.

He even acted as manager of an MG three-car team of lady drivers at the 1935 Le Mans.

He specialised in record attempts taking the world speed record at Bonneville with his 73 litre Thunderbolt in 1937 (312mph) and 1938 (345.49mph). Thunderbolt was built in the Tipton factory of Bean Cars and was powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce engines, one of which, R27, had been used in a Supermarine S.6B seaplane to break the world air speed record. That engine produced 2,530 hp on avgas and 2,783 hp with methanol and is now in the Science Museum, London.

John Roberts has added that the Thunderbolt itself was destroyed by fire in NZ during WWII. It was in storage there following an exhibition tour and was marooned by the outbreak of hostilities. The wreck was buried and though it has now been located deep down in a rubbish tip in NZ, it is going to be too expecive to extract.

Roberts met Eyston at a dinner in London in the 70s. During their conversation he asked Eyston if he worked his way up to LSR speed of in excess of 300 mph as he had only taken records of over 100mph before. His response was that they could not afford to do that. This meant that his very first run in Thunderbolt was at well over 300mph! A brave man, when you consider that this was as fast as man was travelling in any environment at the time, with all the psychology that fact carries with it.
They met subsequently at the British GP at Brands in 1976 and walked down the pit road together discussing history and the current scene. He paused and looked at the P34 Tyrrell 6 wheeler and commented that "there is nothing new under the sun is there". The Tyrrell having the same 6 wheel layout as the Thunderbolt, 2 driving wheels and 4 steering.

Eyston's interest in record-breaking went on for many years after 1938. Donald Healey asked him to join the Austin-Healey long-distance record attempt at Bonneville in 1953. Taking his turn in the streamliner as conditions deteriorated 18 hours into the 24-hour session, Eyston was still going flat out on the rough surface when he went into a 300-yard skid doing around 140mph. He kept the car under control as it tore off a wheel.

His last record was in 1954 when he averaged 120.74 m.p.h. for twelve hours in a car which combined an M.G.A. chassis with an unsupercharged modified 1,500 c.c. TF engine.

Later in 1954 he was back helping MG with another record attempt at Bonneville, although not driving and he was an advisor at the MG EX 181 record run in 1957, when Stirling Moss noted that the old maestro "looked grave because unseasonal rain had soaked the Flats".

George Eyston was also a director of Castrol. He died in Lambeth, London in 1979.