If there's one thing that Rolls-Royce's designers and product managers are especially good at it's creating fascinating special editions, and the brand's latest effort is no different. Aptly named the Landspeed Collection and based on the Dawn and Wraith Black Badge models, it's Rolls-Royce's way of honoring two landspeed world records set just before World War II that have been largely forgotten by history.
In 1935 engineer and inventor Captain George Eyston was one of the first Brits to race on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where he set multiple endurance speed records. Eyston went back to the Flats in 1937 and set a world record in the spectacular Thunderbolt, a special landspeed racer that was powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce R V12 Aero engines. Yes, I said a pair. Each 37-liter supercharged engine produced over 2,000 horsepower, and the Thunderbolt had an aluminum body with a huge tail fin, three axles, eight wheels and a curb weight of over 15,000 pounds, earning it the nickname "Behemoth."
Eyston first set a world record at the Flats of 312 mph on Nov. 19, 1937, returning with a reworked Thunderbolt on Aug. 27, 1938, to set a new record of 345.5 mph. That record was beat weeks later by John Cobb's Railton Special, who was first to break the 350-mph barrier with a 353.3-mph record, but Eyston returned less than 24 hours later with the Thunderbolt and set a new record of 357.5 mph. Eyston held that record until 1939 when Cobb broke it again 341 days later, which was the last record attempt before the start of the second World War, and Eyston never returned to the Salt Flats again.
While the modern Landspeed Collection cars don't have even close to that much horsepower or those top speeds, they do get a number of lovely design details inspired by the Thunderbolt and the Salt Flats. The cars are painted in a two-tone combo of Black Diamond Metallic and the newly developed Bonneville Blue, a reflective light-blue hue that looks silver under direct sunlight. Eyston painted a black arrow with a bright yellow circle on the side of the Thunderbolt so that it was visible to the photoelectric timing equipment at high speeds, so the Landspeed Collection cars get yellow accents on the front bumper and wheel center caps.
The Wraith's interior is finished almost entirely in black leather, but the Dawn has a light-gray interior with icy blue seat inserts. Both cars have yellow accents on the seats and door pockets, and the Wraith has light-gray contrast stitching while the Dawn has black stitching. The seat centers on both cars have a cool stripe created by a unique perforation pattern. The stripes represent the track lines painted on the Salt Flats for Eyston to follow so as to keep the Thunderbolt in a straight line, as the reflective surface and high speeds made it hard to see, and deviating from the special International Speedway section of the Flats created for record attempts would be dangerous. The armrests are padded and stitched in a way that mimics Eyston's "club armchair" style of driving seat.
One of my favorite details is the wooden fascia on the dashboard, which has an etched, textured pattern that was digitally recreated from an actual scan of the Salt Flats' surface. The wood trim between the rear seats has an engraving of the Silver Island mountain range, which is visible from the Flats, and the aluminum center console lids have engravings of the Thunderbolt and its respective records. The design of the dashboard clock is inspired by the Thunderbolt's gauges, with a yellow dial and an engraving of the speed from Eyston's final record. Eyston received three honors during his life -- the Military Cross after World War I, Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur after his record runs, and Order of the British Empire after World War II -- and the driver's door on both cars gets silk detailing that matches the ribbons of his awards.
Finally, the Wraith gets the coolest special feature of them all. The starlight headliner depicts the night's sky as it appeared over the Salt Flats on the day of Eyston's final record. Yes, really. It's made up of 2,117 fiber-optic "stars" of varying sizes, the most stars Rolls has ever put in a headliner. Some of the stars are connected by blue stitching to represent constellations, and a metal plaque denotes the exact latitude and longitude.
Only 25 Landspeed Dawns and 35 Wraiths will be built, and all 60 cars have already been claimed by customers. As for the Thunderbolt, it was sadly destroyed in a fire in 1947 when it was in storage, but both of its V12 engines are preserved at thein London.