John Cobb (racing driver)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

John Rhodes Cobb
John Cobb (motorist).jpg
At Brooklands
Born2 December 1899
Died29 September 1952(1952-09-29) (aged 52)
Cause of deathCrash during water speed record attempt
Resting placeChrist Church, Esher
ResidenceEsher, Surrey
Known forSpeed record holder
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Mitchell-Smith (1947-1948) (her death)
Margaret Glass (m. 1950–1952) (his death)

John Rhodes Cobb (2 December 1899 – 29 September 1952) was an early to mid 20th Century British racing motorist. He was three times holder of the World Land Speed Record, in 1938, 1939 and 1947, set at Bonneville Speedway in Utah, U.S.A. He was awarded the Segrave Trophy in 1947. He was killed in 1952 whilst piloting a jet powered speedboat on Loch Ness water attempting to break the World Water Speed Record.

Early life[edit]

Cobb was born in the village of Esher, in the English county of Surrey, on 2 December 1899, near the Brooklands motor racing track. He had a career as a successful businessman as the Managing Director of the fur brokers 'Anning, Chadwick and Kiver', the financial resources from which he used to fund a passion for large capacimotor high speed racing.

Speed record career[edit]

He held the ultimate lap record at the Brooklands race track, driving the 24-litre Napier Railton at an average speed of 143.44 mph (230.84 km/h) achieved on 7 October 1935, having earlier overtaken the 1931 record set by Sir Henry "Tim" Birkin driving Bentley Blower No.1, and regaining it from his friend Oliver Bertram.

The Railton Special and John Cobb in the cockpit

Driving the piston-engined, wheel-driven Railton Special, he broke the World Land Speed Record at Bonneville on 15 September 1938 by achieving 350 miles per hour. He broke it twice more at the same site, on 23 August 1939 achieving 369 miles per hour, and without this being beaten, he raised the record to 394 miles per hour in 1947.[1]

War service[edit]

During the World War 2 he served as a pilot in the Royal Air Force, and between 1943 and 1945 in the Air Transport Auxiliary, being demobilized with the rank of Group Captain. He made an (uncredited) appearance in the wartime propaganda film Target for Tonight (1941).[2]


Start of John Cobb's measured mile where he lost his life

Cobb was killed at the age of 52 on 29 September 1952 whilst attempting to break the world Water Speed Record at Loch Ness in Scotland, piloting the jet engine-powered speedboat Crusader at a speed in excess of 200 mph (320 km/h). During the run the speedboat hit an unexplained wake in the water and disintegrated about Cobb, killing him instantly.[3] His body, which had been thrown 50 yards beyond the wreckage by the vehicle's stalled momentum, was recovered from the loch and conveyed back to his home county of Surrey, where it was buried in the graveyard of Christ Church, Esher.[4] A memorial was subsequently erected on the Loch Ness shore to his memory by the townsfolk of Glenurquhart.

Personal life[edit]

The memorial to John Cobb

John Cobb married twice, first to Elizabeth Mitchell-Smith in 1947. After her death in 1948 he married Margaret Glass (1917–2007) in 1950.[5]


Segrave Trophy (1947).

On 27 March 1953 he was posthumously awarded the Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct:

John Rhodes Cobb (deceased), Racing Motorist. For services in attempting to break the world's water speed record, and in research into high speed on water, in the course of which he lost his life.[6]


  1. ^ 'Land Speed Record: The Fastest Men on Earth', by Tom Northey (1974), 'World of Automobiles', Vol. 10 (Pub. Orbis, London).
  2. ^ "John Cobb". Flight. LXII (2280): 439. 3 October 1952. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
  3. ^ Pathe Newsreel report of the crash, September 1952. Published on Youtube 18 June 2013.
  4. ^ Cobb's entry in Findagrave (2018),
  5. ^ The Automobile. Obituaries. November 2007
  6. ^ "No. 39813". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 March 1953. p. 1806.

External links[edit]