White Triplex

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White Triplex
Overview
Also called Spirit of Elkdom
Production one-off (1928)
Body and chassis
Body style minimal-bodywork racing car.
Powertrain
Engine Three Liberty L-12 V12 aero engines

The White Triplex (also known as Triplex Special[1] and Spirit of Elkdom) was a land speed record car built for J. H. White and driven by Ray Keech. It was powered by three 27-litre Liberty aero-engines, for a total of 36 cylinders, 81 litre displacement and a claimed 1500 bhp.

A wealthy American, J. H. White of Philadelphia (unrelated to the White Motor Company), wanted to take the land speed record from the British, then shared in a duel between Henry Segrave and Malcolm Campbell.[2]

Showing the three engines

No suitable engines were available to give a sufficient advantage over the British Napier Lion, so the simplest possible chassis was constructed and three war-surplus Liberty aero engines were squeezed into it. The vehicle was so simple it had no clutch or gearbox and only a single fixed ratio. Once started by a push start, it had to keep rolling. Driver comforts were minimal: the forward engine was sheathed in a crude attempt at streamlining, the two side-by-side behind were bare, with the driver perched between them.[3]

Keech record attempt[edit]

Triplex in 1928, driven by Ray Keech

An established motor-racing driver, Ray Keech, was engaged to drive. First trial runs were hazardous, Keech being injured by burns during both: first from a burst radiator hose, then by exhaust flames from the front engine.

The simplicity of the design also led to a farcical situation with the official scrutineers. The regulations required "means for reversing", which the White Triplex didn't have. Mechanics first jury-rigged an electric motor and roller drive onto a tyre, but this was unable to rotate against the compression of the three large engines, which could not be un-clutched. An even more Rube Goldberg-like contrivance was tried, an entire separate rear axle was fitted, held above ground until dropped by a release lever and then driven by a separate driveshaft. The device was ridiculous, and isn't believed to have been fitted during the record attempt itself, but it satisfied the scrutineers.[4]

On April 22, 1928, Keech set a new land speed record of 207.55 mph (334.02 km/h) at Daytona.

Death of Lee Bible[edit]

Triplex Special in 1929, driven by Lee Bible

This record was raised to over 230 mph by Henry Segrave in Golden Arrow on March 11, 1929. Keech was asked by J. M. White to drive again, this time at Ormond Beach, and to re-break the record in the Triplex. Keech wisely declined, considering the car to be too dangerous. White then hired their team mechanic Lee Bible, a garage owner with no experience driving at these speeds.[5]

On his first two runs, Bible was timed at first 186 mph (299 km/h) and then 202 mph (325 km/h), both below the Triplex Special's previous best and well short of Golden Arrow's standing record. At the end of this second pass, Triplex ran off the track and into the sand dunes, causing it to roll over and finally come to a stop 200 ft (60 m) further on. Bible was thrown from the car, killing him instantly. A Pathé newsreel cinema photographer spectator, Charles Traub, was also killed.[5] Some blame Bible's driving and excessively fast deceleration, others Triplex's lack of stability. There is controversy about both of those deaths, as it's also unclear whether the photographer was in an area expected to be safe, or if he approached the running line too closely to get more dramatic footage.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Northey, Tom (1974). "Land Speed Record: The Fastest Men on Earth". In Tom Northey. World of Automobiles. Vol. 10 (London: Orbis), pp.1164.
  2. ^ Northey, pp.1164-5.
  3. ^ "White Triplex Special". ThrustSSC. 
  4. ^ "1928: White Triplex driven by Ray Keech". http://www.uniquecarsandparts.com.au. 
  5. ^ a b c Motorsport Memorial