March 9th, 1929, Daytona, FL — Original caption: J.W. White, famous American speed king, standing beside his Triplex machine which he will drive in an attempt to break the world’s automobile speed record. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Jim White was a wealthy Philadelphian who desperately wanted to snatch the land speed record from the hands of British racers Henry Segrave and Malcolm Campbell. Thus, the White Triplex was born. White decided that no single engine would do to challenge the British Napier Lion, so a straight-forward and solid chassis was built, onto which three war-surplus 27-liter Liberty airplane engines were mounted– giving it a total of 36 cylinders, 81 liter displacement, and a staggering 1,500 bhp in all.
The Triplex’s design was a brutish barebones approach– it had no clutch or gearbox, and only a single fixed ratio. Once started by a push start, it had to keep rolling. Driver comforts were minimal to say the least– the forward engine was sheathed in a modest attempt at streamlining, and the two mounted side-by-side in back were totally exposed. The courageous (or crazy) driver was then perched precariously in the middle.
Circa 1928-29– White Triplex land speed record car, showing the three engines. Image from the Florida Photographic Collection. Link
Ray Keech, an experienced Indianapolis racer, and imposing man with flaming red hair, was paid a handsome sum to drive the White Triplex in the first speed record attempt at Daytona Beach, FL. The first trial runs proved to be dangerous indeed– no one had ever been faced with so much massive power, and in such crude form. Keech suffered burns behind the wheel of both runs– first from a burst radiator hose, then by exhaust flames from the front engine.
The overly simplistic design of the White Triplex posed a particular problem for the officials governing the speed record attempt. The regulations required vehicles to have a “means for reversing”, which the White Triplex definitely didn’t. White’s Mechanics first jury-rigged an electric motor and roller drive onto a tire, but it was unable to rotate against the force of the three large engines, which could not be un-clutched. An even more elaborate “solution” was tried. An entire separate rear axle was fitted, held above ground until dropped by a release lever and then driven by a separate driveshaft. The device was ridiculous, and isn’t believed to have been utilized during the actual speed record attempt itself– but it was enough to successfully satisfy the official’s needs.
On April 22nd, 1928, Keech set a new speed record in the White Triplex of 207.55 mph at Daytona Beach.
Circa 1928 — Ray Keech is shown here on the day that he broke the speed record at Daytona Beach, FL. In this image you can clearly see the extra rear axle that was added for record qualification purposes. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Keech’s speed record behind the wheel of the White Triplex stood for almost a year. Then on March 11th, 1929, White’s rival, the Englishman Major Henry O.D. Segrave answered by setting a new land speed record of 231.446 mph in his Golden Arrow, also at Daytona Beach. Segrave then turned his attention to the water, and was later knighted for his racing achievements– on both land and sea.
Learning that Segrave had broken the Triplex’s record, White immediately set out to bring the title back to the United States. When Ray Keech was asked to man the White Triplex again, he declined the offer– considering the car too dangerous to drive for any amount of money. (Ironically, Ray Keech was killed in an AAA race at Altoona three months later, having only sixteen days to enjoy his win at the 1929 Indianapolis 500).
Ray Keech in the tri-motored White Triplex : Daytona Beach, Florida picture. Image from the Florida Photographic Collection | Description:White Triplex land speed record car, being driven by Ray Keech at Daytona Beach. Link
With Keech backing out, White decided on a local mechanic and garage operator as the new driver– Lee Bible, whose racing experience was limited to half-mile dirt oval tracks. For Bible, driving the Triplex represnted the opportunity of a lifetime. Many called his lack of experience behind the wheel of such a massive machine into question. Nevertheless, in practice runs Bible had done well enough to be declared eligible by officials for a record attempt.
Bible’s record attempt behind the wheel of the White Triplex took place on Wednesday, March 13th, 1929. His first run was clocked at less than 186 mph– well short of the record. In the return run he reached 202 mph, but just past the time trap the car suddenly swerved. Most believe it was caused by Bible releasing the gas pedal too quickly–the rapid deceleration causing the loss of control. The machine crashed into the dunes about one hundred feet past the timing trap and rolled– coming to a rest two-hundred feet down the sandy track. Bible’s body was thrown from the car. The out of control Triplex had also run into an unfortunate cameraman Charles Traub, who had panicked and while attempting to avoid the out-of-control car ran directly into its path. Had he stayed at his camera’s set-up location, he would not have been harmed. Both men were killed instantly. The White Triplex was completely and utterly destroyed in the crash.
Circa 1929, Daytona Beach, FL — Lee Bible killed when he attempts to set new auto speed record. Photo shows the wreck of the Triplex auto after it had skidded and killed it’s driver, Lee Bible, while going at a speed of 202.70 miles per hour along the sands here. A movie cameraman who was filming the speed test was also killed. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Racing rival Henry Segrave was in attendance at Daytona Beach for that fateful speed record attempt, and helped during the aftermath at the scene of Bible’s accident. Segrave had planned to attempt another run for the speed record– he was sure that with better beach conditions he could reach 240 mph in his Golden Arrow. But after witnessing the Triplex tragedy Segrave changed his mind and turned his attention to conquering water speed records. Segrave would soon learn that the water was no kinder.
Circa 1929, Daytona Beach, FL — Lee Bible killed when attempting to set new auto speed record. Lee Bible, driving the Triplex auto and going at a speed of 202.70 miles per hour was instantly killed when the auto suddenly skidded, and was hurtled through the air carrying Bible to his death and also killing a movie cameraman who was filming the race. Here is Bible’s broken body as it was tenderly placed on a stretcher preparatory to removal to a mortuary. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Related TSY Posts:
Flat Out on the Salt Flats | The 1954 Bonneville Hot Rod Meet
1950 – 1959 The Santa Ana Drag Strip Days | They Did It For Love
The 1957 Indianapolis 500 | A Sideways Step into the Unknown of Auto Racing History
The Legendary 1970 12 Hours of Sebring Race | Steve McQueen’s Brush with Victory
FAST WOMEN IN HISTORY | AUTO RACING’S TOUGH FEMALE PIONEERS
FAST WOMEN IN HISTORY PT II | AUTO RACING’S TOUGH FEMALE PIONEERS
1928: White Triplex driven by Ray Keech
[e-Library OPAC] State Library and Archives of Florida
Motorsport Memorial – Lee Bible
White Triplex – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pingback: Ancient Matters | Daytona World Land Speed Records « Black Watch
40 years ago one of the car magazines (Car and Driver?) had a project car that was a twin engined Mini Cooper. One the engines seized and, as I recall, the driver was killed.
This blog is excellent. With all the information and opinions on the internet, I must say that this is a veritable treasure of aesthetics and wonderful stories to accompany. Just great.
Thanks so much. I dig your ink.
Thanks- if you ever find yourself in NYC and are lookin to get a tattoo, look me up!
Where’s your parlor?
The Selvedge Yard just keeps getting better and better. Enjoy it immensely, what can I say, keep up the great work!
The car was the “Twini,” a twin-engined Mini Cooper built by John Cooper himself after Cooper saw Alec Issigonis’ twin-engined Mini Moke. At the time of the crash the Twini sported two 1300 cc Cooper-built engines. Cooper was doing around one hundred mph on a fast stretch of the Kingston Bypass when the car swerved violently and hit a retaining wall. Cooper suffered a skull fracture from which he eventually recovered. The crash was caused by the rear steering arm coming adrift. Because the rear wheels weren’t steered their steering rack was removed and the steering arms were used as an additional suspension link (Pivoted on the car’s sub frame). Cooper had been testing the car in the snow a few weeks prior and then the car sat in his shop while the 1300 engines were being installed. During that time the snow melt rusted the ball joint which eventually seized and then snapped off, causing a rear wheel to suddenly turn hard right all by itself.
Pingback: Four-Links – Masano, art from race cars, the $50 surplus Jeep myth, the White Triplex « Memphis Auto