Back in 1935 the first canned beer was launched, Monopoly was invented and the average speed of a motor car was 35mph. Although land speed records were already keenly contested, the idea of a motorcycle capable of breaking the 300mph barrier seems fantastical. But that’s exactly what Fred Luther, a Los Angeles racer, decided to attempt.
He asked his employers, Chrysler, to supply him with an engine, and it duly provided him with a complete 1934 six-cylinder Plymouth flathead engine and gearbox. Luther built the bike around a much modified Henderson-X Cycle, lengthening and strengthening the frame. Harry Miller worked on the engine, taking the standard 77hp motor to 125hp. Skid plates were attached, partly to keep the bike upright and also to keep the bike upright on the salt of Bonneville where Luther intended to make his record attempt. Not only was fame and glory at stake, but, apparently, a $10,000 prize to the first man to break the 300mph mark on a motorcycle (Donald Campbell had only just managed that landmark the same year in Bluebird, an achievement so prized that he was knighted for the feat.)
On his first run, Luther clocked 140mph and then stepped up the speed on the return run. Disaster struck at 180mph when a connecting rod broke while the bike was still in second gear. Although he brought the bike to a halt safely, it seems that he had decided that it was too hairy an adventure to continue. Although he was always certain that the Plymouth/Henderson-X could reach 300mph, no-one appears prepared – or brave enough – to try it. An added disincentive to any prospective pilots was that the $10,000 prize was found to be a hoax.
It would be another 76 years before a motorcycle managed to crack the 300mph barrier when Bill Warner took his Suzuki Hayabusa to 311mph last July.