This is the story of two racing drivers and their record breaking cars.
Ernest Eldridge was born in 1897 at 13 Burton Road Kilburn and baptised at St Paul’s in Kilburn Square. The family lived in several local addresses; Gondar Gardens in 1901, and by 1921 they were in 17 Fairhazel Gardens. After a number of different jobs, his father became a financial bill broker and had enough money to send Ernest to Harrow for his education.
When War broke out Ernest left school and joined up, serving as an ambulance driver on the Western Front. He spoke very good French and after the War he lived in Paris. He liked the excitement of driving fast cars, and gambling with the chance of winning £60,000 at Monte Carlo – he lost on the turn of a card.
|Ernest Eldridge (r) with rival John Parry-Thomas (l)|
Beginning in 1921, he made his name by driving huge modified cars fitted with aero engines at races in Brooklands, Paris and the Indianapolis 500. His Fiat with an aeroplane engine made so much noise that a French journalist nicknamed it ‘Mephistopheles’.
George Eyston was born to a wealthy family in Bampton, Oxfordshire, in 1897. He was educated at Stonyhurst College and then Trinity College, Cambridge, a process interrupted by WWI when he served in France throughout the war. He was wounded at the battle of Arras, became a staff captain, won the MC, and was twice mentioned in dispatches. When the War ended, he resumed his engineering studies at Cambridge.
In 1921 while on holiday near Le Mans, Eyston visited the racing circuit and the thrill of speed transformed his life. In England he bought a second-hand Sunbeam grand prix car which he stripped down and rebuilt. Eyston met Lionel Martin who allowed him to drive an Aston Martin at the 1923 Brooklands Whitsun meeting. ‘The Captain’, as he was known, won two races and came second in two others. The following year Eyston married Olga Mary Eyre, the daughter of a New York banker, and they had two daughters. They lived at 52 Lennox Gardens in Chelsea.
During the 1920’s and 30’s Eyston raced MGs and Bugattis and he was the first man to drive over 100mph in a standard car. In 1935 he and his partner Ernest Eldridge designed The Spirit of The Wind which was built at the Delaney motor works in Carlton Vale by father and son team, Terry and Tom Delaney. They had opened their factory at Nos.115-129 Carlton Vale in 1910. Later they moved to Cricklewood.
|Delaney and Sons Works, 115 Carlton Vale|
|Position of the Delaney factory, area now redeveloped|
The Spirit of The Wind was fitted with a V-12 Rolls-Royce Kestrel aero-engine. Extremely advanced for the 1930s, the car had automatic transmission, front-wheel drive, and independent suspension. In September 1935 Eyston and Eldridge took it to the salt flats in Bonneville Utah where they broke the 24-hour record with an average speed of 140.52mph. They were now ready to attempt to break the world land speed record of Malcolm Campbell.
|Spirit of The Wind in Carlton Vale|
|The Spirit of the Wind at Bonneville Utah|
But shortly after returning home Eldridge caught pneumonia and sadly died in a nursing home at 38 Courtfield Gardens Kensington on 27 October 1935. The following year Eyston took The Spirit of the Wind to Bonneville and broke Campbell’s record with an average speed of 162 mph.
Eyston and Eldridge had also designed a second car called Thunderbolt, which was built at Tipton Staffordshire. This was a streamlined seven-ton monster with two Rolls aero-engines and a total capacity of 56 litres; it had four front wheels and twin rear tyres. Returning to Bonneville in November 1937, Eyston set a new record at an amazing 312mph. Then his old friend and rival John Cobb took the record, but by 1938 Eyston had regained it at 357.5mph.
|The Thunderbolt at the Bonneville falts|
During the Second World War Eyston worked as a regional controller for the Ministry of Production. After the war he became a director of Castrol Oil. Eyston died on 11 June 1979 in a railway carriage while travelling between Winchester and London. He was described as ‘the perfect gentleman, well-dressed, softly spoken and modest, courteous but firm in dealing with fools’.
The end of the The Spirit of The Wind came when it was destroyed by a WWII bomb at Eyston’s workshop in No.3 St John’s Works at the Kensal Green end of Kilburn Lane. After travelling to Utah several times, ironically the car ended its life about 1.5 kilometres from where it was built.