John Godfrey Parry-Thomas

6/4/1884 - 3/3/1927

Record updated 06-Apr-20

John Godfrey Parry-Thomas was the son of a vicar and born in Wrexham in April 1884. John was fascinated with engineering and studied the subject at college in London.  A talented engineer, an accomplished racing driver and holder of many track and speed records, he was the first driver to be killed in pursuit of the land speed record

John Godfrey Parry-Thomas
John Godfrey Parry-Thomas was born in Wrexham in Wales, the son of the curate of Rhosddu, in the north-western suburbs of the town. After finishing school he studied engineering at the Central Technical College, London, a branch of the University of London, and from there went to Clayton and Shuttleworth’s.

He went on to become the chief engineer at Leyland Motors, at the time a commercial vehicle manufacturer. However after the First World War Leyland Motors investigated the possibility of building a large luxury car and, to this end, he and his assistant Reid Railton designed the Leyland Eight. Dubbed the 'Lion of Olympia' when shown at the 1920 Motor show in London, they hoped to be able to compete with Rolls-Royce. 

The cars were expensive and only about sixteen were built. Parry-Thomas drove one around Brookland achieving 100 mph with an almost mechanically stock vehicle fitted with 2-seater body. On the back of this experience in 1920, he persuaded Leylands to enter into a racing programme and then, when they shut it down, he decided to go it alone and took up permanent residence at Brooklands. He hired Ken Taylor, later of Thomson and Taylor to assist him in producing a number of Leyland-Thomas racing specials. In 1924 and 1925 he broke the lap record in one of these cars, raising it on 1st June 1925 to 129.36 m.p.h. Previously the record had stood at 123.39 m.p.h. which Kennelm Lee Guinness had set in a Sunbeam in 1922. 

He went on to build smaller four cylinder cars winning the 1925 News of the World handicap in one of these which in turn were followed by the straight eight supercharged flat iron specials, so called because of their very low front ends. 

After Louis Zborowski died he bought the 400 h.p. Liberty engined Higham Special for about £125.00, modified the engine by fitting pistons of his own design and extra carburettors and re-worked the body, lightening and streamlining it. He re-christening the car Babs, it is said, after one of his young nieces and set about racing the car at Brooklands, breaking the outer circuit lap record in the process and also taking the Land Speed Record at Pendine Sands in South Wales. 

In 1926 he again took the car down to Pendine and twice broke the Land Speed Record, raising it to 172.331 m.p.h. 

Parry-Thomas was killed on 3rd March 1927 at Pendine while trying to break the world land speed record again. Babs used an exposed chain to connect the engine to the right hand drive wheel while the high engine cover required him to drive with his head tilted to one side - also the right. On his final run the drive chain broke at high speed decapitating him. 

John Godfrey Parry-Thomas was buried in St Mary's Churchyard in Byfleet, Surrey, close to the Brooklands Circuit. Following the inquest, Babs was buried in the dunes at Pendine Sands. In 1969 Babs was disenterred and during the subsequent restoration of the car by Owen Wyn Owen (a Welshman), it was found that it was more likely that Thomas had been killed as a result of the injuries he sustained while the car rolled and slid along the beach at more than 100 mph rather than a head injury from the drive train.

Babs has sinced raced in VSCC events and made a number of other appearances.