John Cobb: When the world’s fastest man was killed in the Loch Ness speedboat crash


John Cobb was a racing driver who wanted to be the fastest person on land and on water.

He had already set the world land speed record three times when he traveled to Loch Ness in 1952.

Reaching speeds of over 200 mph, Cobb was killed when his jet-powered speedboat effectively disintegrated around him.

To mark the 70th anniversary of his death, a special two-day exhibition will tell his story this weekend.

Who was John Cobb?

Born near Brooklands race track in Surrey in 1899, Cobb won his first race there in 1925, driving a Fiat.

The son of a wealthy fur broker, he worked in his father’s business and used the money he earned to finance his passion for motor racing.

After a number of successes on the track, Cobb focused on setting the land speed record.

How fast did he go?

Cobb became the fastest man on earth three times, in 1938, 1939 and 1947.

All records were set at Bonneville Salt Flats, an area near Utah that has been demarcated for motorsport.

Driving a piston-engined Railton Special, he set the first record at 350 mph, before hitting 369 mph a year later.

His attempts were cut short by the Second World War, when he served as an RAF pilot, before returning to Bonneville to go 394mph in 1947.

Cobb remained the fastest man on earth until his record was broken in 1963.

Tragedy on the water

After setting his third land record, Cobb decided to try extreme speeds on the water.

He ordered a jet-powered speedboat called the Crusader and chose Loch Ness as the location for the attempt.

Following a failure ten days earlier, Cobb returned to the water on September 29, 1952 and was tragically killed on his first attempt when the boat hit a wake and disintegrated around him.

The body of the speedster was thrown 50 meters beyond the wreckage.

Even though the timekeeper’s log showed a new speed record of 206.89 mph, it didn’t count as no second run could be completed.

Theories put forward include that the Crusader’s engine exploded, that Cobb reduced speed too quickly, or that ripples produced by another boat or a current caused it to bounce.

What happened next ?

Thousands of people lined the streets of Inverness on October 1, 1952 to bid farewell to Cobb as a hearse carrying his body left the Royal Northern Infirmary.

He was taken to Surrey and buried at Christ Church in Esher.

Crusasder’s remains were located on the bed of Loch Ness in 2002 at a depth of 656ft and the site received official protection as a ‘scheduled monument’ three years later.

An exhibition, called Remembering John Cobb, will be held at Glen Urquhart Hall in Drumnadrochit on Friday and Saturday.


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