In the early 1950s a newly constructed roadway in the Jabbeke area of Belgium was used for measured high speed test runs. I have not been Jabbeke, nor in any part of Belgium for that matter, so I have no idea how these speed runs were able to take place. I understand that in th Jabbeke area, the road was dead flat. From what I can see from the photos, the roadway appears to have been a divided highway with a concrete surface.
Jabbeke, Belgium is located in the northwest part of Belgium in West Flanders. I have indicated the location of Jabbeke in a red box in the map of Belgium shown below.
I first mentioned the Jabbeke speed runs in a post about some South Africa Triumph cars, one of which was similar to the Triumph TR2 that took part in a high speed run at Jabbeke in 1953. But the Triumph TR2 was not the first car to do high speed runs at Jabbeke. The first car that I am aware of that went to Jabbeke to determine how fast that it would go was when Donald Healey took his newly developed Healey Elliot to Jabbeke in 1947.
A Production Healey Elliot(2)
Healey had earlier done some speed testing in Italy in December 1946 for road testing by “The Motor” where it covered a flying quarter mile at 104.65 miles per hour thereby claiming to be the fastest British car. Following the Italian tests there was some speculation about how fast the car would go on the rather poor fuel that was then available to the British public. Therefore in August 1947 Healey took a Healey Elliot to Jabbeke for an observed run on British fuel. The Healey Elliot was timed at 110.8 miles per hour over a measured mile, noticably faster than the speed in Italy.
After that, 0n May 30, 1949 Jaguar brought a XK120 to Jabbeke for a speed run.
Ron “Soapy” Sutton Prepares For His Run In A Jaguar XK120 At Jabbeke (3)
On that day, the Jaguar driver, Ron “Soapy” Sutton drove the Jaguar XK120 to a top speed of just over 132 miles per hour to claim the title as the fastest ever speed for a production car. While it was a production car, you can see that the full windshield was replaced by a smaller “Brooklands” type wind screen and the rear wheel opening was enclosed with fender skirts as shown in the photo above.
The Jaguar XK120 At Speed at Jabbeke (3)
In 1952 Rover sent a turbine car known as the Rover Jet 1 to Jabbeke for some speed testing and development.
The Rover Jet 1 Turbine Car at Jabbeke in 1952 (4)
On June 26, 1952 the Rover Jet 1 driven by Spencer King set a turbine car speed record of 151.965 miles per hour (244.55 kilometers per hour) at Jabbeke. Certainly an impressive speed, but the turbine car failed to catch on.
Later in 1952, just before the 1952 introduction of the Austin-Healey 100 at the London Motor Show, Donald Healey took a prototype for the Austin-Healey 100 to Jabbeke and recorded speeds of 111.7 miles per hour for the flying kilometer and 110.9 miles per hour for the flying mile.
In March 1953, The Rootes Group took a newly released Sunbeam Alpine to Jabbeke for some high speed tests.
Stirling Moss and Sheila Van Damm With The Jabbeke Sunbeam Alpine (5)
The Sunbeam Alpine had the standard windshield removed and was fitted with an undercar belly pan which reduced the air friction underneath the car. On that day Sheila van Damm set the highest average speed when she went 120.135 miles per hour over a flying kilometer. Stirling Moss also made a speed run the same day. His speed certificate is shown below.
Stirling Moss’ Recorded Speeds At Jabbeke on March 17, 1953 (5)
Following the development of the Triumph TR2, the management at Triumph was anxious to show that the TR2 was faster than the Sunbeam Alpine. As a result, they sent a Triumph TR2 to Jabbeke for speed trials.
Ken Richardson, an experienced test driver and contributor to the development of the Triumph TR2 undertook the challenge of breaking the record with just some changes to the aerodynamics of TR2. For speed trim Richardson added a metal tonneau cover, an undershield (belly pan), fender skirts, and fitted a simple plastic windscreen. On May 20th, 1953 Triumph made their speed run at Jabbeke. On the first run, the TR2 was only able to achieve a speed of 104.86 mph. After investigation found that the engine was running only on 3 cylinders . Once a spark plug lead that had become loose was replaced a new attempt was made and the car achieved a speed of 124.889 mph for the flying kilometer.
Ken Richardson And The Triumph TR2 At Jabbeke
In October 1953 Jaguar sent a modified XK120 to Jabbeke to run a speed run. The Jaguar XK120 driven by Norman Dewis attained a speed of 172.412 miles per hour over a flying mile.
Jaguar Advertisement Of Jabbeke Record Run
The Jaguar XK120 was not exactly a Jaguar the way they come off the showroom floor. The car was fitted with a bubble over the driver, much like jet airplanes of that era.
Norman Dewis And The Jaguar At 172 Miles Per Hour (7)
There might have been other runs at Jabbeke, but these are the ones that I currently know of. I’ve noticed that the common thread through all of these runs is that all of the companies that went to Jabbeke were British. I suppose that eventually the traffic implications of shutting down the highway became too significant and the speed runs officially ended at Jabbeke.
1. Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, 1986
2. Healeys and Austin-Healeys by Peter Browning and Les Needham, 1970
3. Jaguar, The Sporting Heritage by Paul Skilleter, 2000
5. Works Team, The Rootes Competition Department by Michael Frostick, 1964
6. The Triumph TRs by Graham Robson, 1977