French aristocrat Count Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat set the world’s first officially recognised land speed record.
Chasseloup-Laubat’s older brother, the 5th Marquis of Chasseloup-Laubat, was one of the first members of the Automobile Club de France and bought an electric car from the French manufacturer Jeantaud sometime around 1893. The younger sibling was immediately fascinated with the chain-driven vehicle, and he became his brother’s driver.
The first recorded motoring competition took place in 1894 and saw a range of vehicles undertake the route from Paris to Rouen. Focus turned to the raw speed of a vehicle a few years later when the French automobile magazine La France Automobile organised a competition in the commune of Acheres in the Yvelines department in north-central France. Situated less than 15 miles outside Paris, the long straight road on the outskirts of the village was deemed the perfect place to conduct a time trial. As a keen advocate of the electric car, Chasseloup-Laubat took the Jeantaud along to compete.
The day was cold and wet, but this didn’t stop Chasseloup-Laubat from completing a single flying 1 kilometre run in 57 seconds. The time-keepers calculated that this gave him an average speed of 63.13 km/h or 39.24 mph, and this is universally recognised as the first official automobile land speed record. While this record was in turn broken by the Belgian driver Camille Jenatzy a month later on 17 January 1899, Chasseloup-Laubat regained the title later that day in the same car with which he had set the original record.
The current world land speed record is held by British Royal Air Force fighter pilot Andy Green, who broke the sound barrier in ThrustSSC.