The world speed record for locomotives – steam trains – was set on the 3rd July 1938 by Number 4468 Mallard. Built at the Doncaster railway works of the London and North Eastern Railway in England just four months before its record-setting journey, Mallard was retired in 1963. Despite being restored to working order in the 1980s, it’s now a static exhibit at the National Railway Museum in York.
Mallard set the record of 125.88mph on a stretch of slightly downhill railway track at Stoke Band, south of the town of Grantham. The A4 Pacific Class locomotives, of which Mallard was one of thirty-five, were specifically designed to haul the high-speed Silver Jubilee train from London King’s Cross to Newcastle. The designer, famed steam locomotive engineer Sir Nigel Gresley, streamlined the body of the locomotive to improve its aerodynamic performance through testing and refinement in a wind tunnel.
Mallard was pulling a dynamometer car fitted with various measurement instruments, along with six regular coaches, when it momentarily hit its maximum speed. However shortly after doing so the “stink bomb” fitted in the big end bearing of the middle cylinder was released, indicating that the bearing had overheated. Consequently the remainder of Mallard’s record-setting journey was completed in a damaged state at very low speed.
Mallard continues to be an iconic locomotive for steam enthusiasts, but also gained enormous exposure during the Britpop era in the 1990s when a painting of it by the artist Paul Gribble was chosen to be the cover image for Blur’s 1993 album Modern Life is Rubbish.