John Cobb

John Cobb Dies in Pursuit of Speed Mark
(The Great American Sports Book, 1978)
By George Gipe

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]

Thumbnail of John Cobb(3359 bytes)By September 1952 it could be said with little fear of contradiction that powerboat racer John Rhodes Cobb, a taciturn 200-pound London broker, had traveled faster on land than any man alive. At the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, for example, he drove a special racing automobile over a mile course at the rate of 403.135 miles per hour. That was on September 16, 1947, but the records established by Cobb went much farther back. In 1939, he covered a mile at the rate of 368.9 mph, a mark that held up for eight years. He also sped over a 5-mile course that same year, averaging 326.7 mph, and he covered 10 miles at the rate of 270.4 mph.

Cobb also enjoyed powerboating and in September, 1952, decided to have a shot at breaking the existing record of 178.497 mph set by Stanley Sayres on July 7 with Slo-mo- shun IV on Lake Washington, Seattle. To be accepted as an official time, the mile course had to be covered twice -- once in each direction -- and the results averaged. Cobb was confident that he could shatter the mark if he could find a time when the waters of Loch Ness, Scotland, were so smooth that the full power of his jet-propelled Crusader could be applied without submitting the 31-foot aluminum and plywood craft to unbearable strain.

Thumbnail of John Cobb's Crusader (2829 bytes)On September 29, at high noon, he thought the right moment had arrived. The 52-year-old sportsman entered his craft and roared down the first mile in just 17.4 seconds -- a rate of 206.89 mph. With any kind of luck at all, it was apparent that Cobb would shatter the speed record easily.

No sooner had Cobb finished the first mile, however, than the Crusader was seen to bounce slightly. It bounced twice more, then flew out of the water and disintegrated. In a matter of seconds, the debris created by the shattered boat settled onto the surface of the lake, smoke and mist rising from the whirlpool of destruction. Cobb was taken from the water quickly but his neck had been broken and he was dead before he reached shore.

One theory was that the bumps were caused by ripples in the otherwise perfectly smooth surface of the lake. Some spectators thought the engine exploded. Still others felt that when he completed the first mile, Cobb throttled down too rapidly, causing the Crusader's bow to dip, throwing the odd-shaped projectile out of line.

(Reprinted from the UHRA Thunder Letter Issue Number 347 Friday, March 27, 1998)

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