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When people think of the Isle of Wight the word “speed” does not normally come into their head — well not unless they were at the 1991 rave at Golden Hill Fort.

Here on the Island we enjoy a gentler pace, sometimes infuriatingly gentler, where drivers say things like “it’s a speed limit, not a target”.

 

 

We are known for our sleepy meadows and rolling hills, our lazy shores and…. I dunno, being a white ghetto?

Robin Crossley Carisbrooke IW Classic Tractors annual road run, starting from The Eight Bells.
Robin Crossley
Carisbrooke
IW Classic Tractors annual road run, starting from The Eight Bells.

But, lurking under the surface is a proud history of a thirst for blood-curdling speed and adventure.

Welcome to the little known history of the Isle of Wight’s Need For Speed.

1

In January, 1899, the first ever speeding ticket issued on the Isle of Wight was handed down from magistrates in Newport to Henry House.

And at what perilous speed had he zoomed by a police officer at the junction of New Barn Road and York Avenue, East Cowes? 80mph? 100mph? No.

Rather less actually. Mr House drove his innovative motor-vehicle “at a speed greater than 8pmh to the public danger”.

The story emerged in the paper under the headline — Furious Driving in East Cowes.

A later example of a driving offence. This time for the faster speed of 12 mph
A later example of a driving offence. This time for the faster speed of 12 mph

The adrenaline junkie was fined £3 and 11 shillings for his efforts and sent on his merry way.

But who was this daredevil?

The American inventor had established the Liquid Fuel Engineering Company in East Cowes in 1894 and the firm built high-speed launches, vehicles, buses and commercial vehicles using a steam engine fuelled by kerosene.

Mr House left the Island in 1900, but his lust for speed had lit the touch paper.

2

Fast forward 70 years and the Isle of Wight was at the heart of the space race.

At 4.09am on October 28, 1971, the Black Arrow rocket, developed in Totland, launched the first British satellite by a British rocket.

The launch took place in Australia, but all the testing had taken place near the iconic Needles.

via GIPHY

The chief designer, and later IW College chairman of the governors, was Islander Ray Wheeler.

The rocket was manufactured and assembled at East Cowes based business Saunders Roe (— subsequently the British Hovercraft Corporation and now GKN Aerospace).

Unfortunately the successful launch also marked the close of the entire project, with the government ending it immediately.

3

Move forward to this year and the IW was again at the forefront of pioneering technology.

With petrol now considered as old hat as steam, the electric car is the future.

And once again, the IW is clocking up the highest speed, with an incredible 113mph in six seconds set by a modified Enfield Electric car.

It is now the fastest accelerating street-legal electric vehicle in the world and is even capable of leaving petrol supercars in its wake, including the Lamborghini Aventador, McLaren’s 650S and Porsche 911 Turbo S.

Restoring Enfield Electric Car
Restoring Enfield Electric Car

The Enfield was originally built to the design of Islander John Ackroyd and could achieve 40mph.

This year Fifth Gear motoring journalist Jonny Smith drove a modified version into the record books.

In an interview for Adrian Flux, the insurers who sponsored the effort, Jonny said: “The original designer John Ackroyd, spent a lot of the budget on the aerodynamics, and went on to work with Richard Noble on Thrust 2 (which was also built on the IW).

“The car never feels like it is out of its comfort zone.

“To be honest I have disconnected the speedo, and just drive it by feel. You quickly forget how small it is when the lights go green.

“The instant electric torque delivery is something I have never experienced in over 15 years of driving and testing sports cars.”

4

That brings us nicely to the Thrust 2.

On October 4, 1983, Richard Noble’s Thrust 2 smashed the world land speed record with a two-way average speed of 633.468mph across the Black Rock desert, Nevada.

The jet-powered car was built by Island craftsmen to Mr Ackroyd’s grand design.

Ryde Woodlands Vale, Literary Gala. John Ackroyd with his book.
Robin Crossley. Woodlands Vale, Literary Gala. John Ackroyd with his book.

Mr Ackroyd told the County Press three years ago: “We started with absolutely nothing. I had a drawing board, a room without a telephone and very little pay. To phone up people, such as Rolls Royce, I had to cycle up to the public phone box. In today’s world, that’s unbelievable.”

Mr Ackroyd, a former Saunders Roe apprentice, has been working on a 1,000mph jet car for Australian driver Rosco McGlashan.

The Thrust 2 record was eclipsed by its successor, Thrust SSC, which Mr Ackroyd also helped design, when it set a supersonic record of 763mph in 1997.

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Matthew Mckew
Matthew Mckew is the Yoppul Coordinator and the one who usually answers your e-mails... eventually. He is also a senior reporter for the Isle of Wight County Press - covering health, general news and sport. He has a keen interest in theatre, football and cricket. Follow him on Twitter at @IWCPMatthew or Facebook: Matthew Mckew IWCP