Born on this day, John Godfrey Parry-Thomas, Welsh engineer and motor-racing driver who at one time held the Land Speed Record

Sunday 6th April 1884

Born on this day, John Godfrey Parry-Thomas, Welsh engineer and motor-racing driver who at one time held the Land Speed Record. He was the first driver to be killed in pursuit of the land speed record (1927). Parry-Thomas became chief engineer at Leyland Motors, a company whose main products were commercial vehicles. He filed for and received a number of patents, in the fields of electrical and automotive engineering. After the First World War he and his assistant Reid Railton designed the Leyland Eight luxury motor car, which was intended to compete with Rolls-Royce. His experience of driving this car around Brooklands in 1920 persuaded him to give up his career with Leyland to become a full-time motor-racing driver and engineer. By 1925 Parry-Thomas realised that commercial success required a higher profile, and switched his attention to the land speed record. He acquired the Higham Special from the estate of the deceased Count Zborowski and rebuilt the car with new bodywork for improved aerodynamics. The car was powered by a huge 27-litre Liberty V-12 aero-engine. Without Campbell’s money and prestige, or Henry Segrave’s factory connections, Parry-Thomas was unable to obtain a brand-new Napier Lion, as the other record contenders were planning. The car was running in 1925 but did not perform as expected. In April 1926 the car, now named Babs, emerged with another new body. He celebrated by driving the lanes around Brooklands that same evening, despite his lack of headlamps.A few days later, despite the poor conditions and soft, wet sand, Parry-Thomas took the record at Pendine Sands, Wales, the same six-mile beach that Campbell had used in 1924 and 1925. The following day, 28 April 1926, he raised it to over 170 mph (270 km/h), a record that stood for almost a year.During the winter of 1926/7 Babs was fitted with yet another new body, partially enclosing the drive and rear wheels by fairings. Parry-Thomas was killed at Pendine Sands on 3 March 1927 while trying to regain his own world land speed record that had been broken just weeks earlier by Malcolm Campbell on the same beach. At the time of the accident it was thought that the right-hand chain had broken and had hit Thomas, causing a fatal head injury as the car was rolling. During the subsequent restoration of the car, it was found that this could not have been the case and 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 (160 km/h). 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. Some 42 years later in 1969 it was controversially recovered, and over the next 15 years was restored by Owen Wyn Owen, at the time a member of Bangor University. For part of every summer, Babs is on display at the Pendine Museum of Speed, Carmarthenshire.

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