John Cobb

Cobb Dies as Boat Breaks Up at 200 MPH;
Briton Set Automobile Speed Marks in U.S.

Wife Watches Jet-Propelled Craft Disintegrate in Bid for Record at Loch Ness

Cobb Holds New Jet boat to 100 MPH in Tryout
Cobb Dies as Boat Breaks Apart at 200 MPH
John Cobb Dies in Pursuit of Speed Mark
Mr. Cobb Killed on Loch Ness
John Cobb and the Crusader
John Cobb : A Reluctant Hero
John Cobb and Crusader Photo Gallery
External site:
Attempt at a Record]

Special to The New York Times. London, Sept. 29 [1952] John Rhodes Cobb, holder of the world's automobile speed record, was killed today when his jet-propelled boat Crusader was halfway to a new world mark of more than 200 miles an our on the waters of Loch Ness in Scotland.

The 52-year-old London business man who sought records for the love of speed, had just completed his first run over a measured mile when the boat bounced and then went to pieces in a fraction of a second. Mr. Cobb, who was alone in Crusader, was quickly lifted from the water, but his neck was broken . He was dead before he could be brought ashore.

His wife, who had watched the series of attempts on the record in recent weeks, put her face in her hands as the boat disintegrated. Friends led her away in tears when his death was confirmed.

The Crusader resembled a pointed torpedo with ski-like floats on either side. She was built around a de Havilland Ghost jet engine the same motor that powers the Comet airliner.

Mr. Cobb's problem was to find a moment when the waters of Loch Ness were so smooth that he could use the engine's power without submitting the 31-foot aluminum and plywood craft to unbearable strain. He thought the moment had come this noon.

The director of the concern that built the Crusader estimated that on the fatal run Mr. Cobb reached 240 miles an hour. Mr. Cobb's unofficial timing for the measured mile was 17.4 seconds a rate of 206.89 miles an hour, compared with the official American-held world record of 178.497 miles an hour set by Stanley S. Sayres, July 7, 1952, with Slo-Mo-Shun IV on Lake Washington at Seattle. To set a record, a run must be made in two directions and the results averaged.

Some spectators thought the Crusader blew up. Others said that the engine might have exploded, after the boat went to pieces.

One theory was that the three bumps seen before the disaster might have resulted from three ripples on the water's surface. Yet another was that on completing the first measured mile Mr. Cobb throttled down too fast and the Crusader's bow dipped too, suddenly throwing the odd-shaped projectile out of line.

Drove Car 394 Miles an Hour

'John Rhodes Cobb, taciturn 200-pound London fur broker, probably traveled faster on land than any man ever had traveled before.

On Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, on Sept. 16. 1947, Mr. Cobb drove a Railton Mobil Special racing automobile for one mile at 403.135 miles an hour. Man has flown well over 1,000 miles an hour.

He roared through the south run a t 385.645 miles an hour. On the north run his official. time was 403.13:5. His mean time for the two runs, which became the new world's record. was 394.196 miles an hour. He thus broke his own 1939 record of 368.9 miles an hour, also set at Bonneville.

Mr. Cobb was born Dec. 2, 1899, at Esher, a London suburb in Surrey. He was a son of Rhodes H. Cobb, a London fur merchant.

The Associated Press quoted Mr. Cobb as having asserted that his principal interest in motor racing and speed testing lay in discovering technical improvements that could be used by the motor industry to improve automobiles. He said motor racing gave valuable data on how tires and oil react to high speeds and that these benefits are passed on to ordinary motor car owners by the manufacturers. I

During World War II. Mr. Cobb was with the Royal Air Force from 1939 to 1943. He served as a ferry pilot in the British Air Transport Auxiliary from 1943 to 1945.

During his career in London Mr. Cobb acquired interests in a number of business concerns in addition to his fur business. He was a joint managing director of Anning, Chadwick & Kiver, Ltd. and: vice chairman of the Falkland Islands Co. Ltd.

Mr. Cobb was married to Elizabeth Mitchell-Smith in 1947. Mrs. Cobb died a year later. He married Vera Henderson in 1950. The Seagrave Trophy for establishing autombile speed records was awarded to Mr. Cobb in 1947 after his record-breaking run at Bonneville. He made his home at Cullford, Coombe Park, Kingston, Surrey.

Other automobile speed records established by Mr. Cobb, all of them in the unlimited weight class and all of them made at Bonneville Salt flats, include the following: five miles 326.7 MPH, 1939, and ten miles, 270.4 MPH, 1939.

International Class A records also established on the Utah course, range from the one kilometer record of 393.825 kilometers an hour set in 1947, to the ten-mile record of 270.1 set in this class in 1939. Mr. Cobb made these records with one of three cars, a Railton Mobil, a Railton-Red Lion or a Napier-Railton.

(Reprinted from the New York Times, September 30, 1952)

Hydroplane History Home Page
This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010 .
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated. Email us at
Leslie Field, 2002