1928 White Triplex


Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
April 22, 1928 Daytona Beach, USA Ray Keech USA White Triplex Spirit of Elkdom
3x Liberty V-12
IC   207.55 mph (334.02 km/h)  

A wealthy American, J. H. White from Philadelphia, was behind the successful attempt to take the land speed record for the USA with the biggest motor car ever built, the White Triplex, which boasted an enormous 81 liter engine.

Ray Keech, a red-haired giant, was a ranking Indianapolis driver hired by White at an enormous fee to drive his brutal monster.

Keech appeared on the scene at Daytona Beach when a whole gaggle of drivers were after top honours, and the Segrave-Campbell duel was at its height.

Keech had his troubles, apart from the obvious one of trying to tame more horse-power than had ever before been assembled together in one chassis in such a crude form.

When he came to the line, officials pointed out that his car was not equipped with the required "means for reversing". White, who had invested a great deal in the project, was annoyed but not defeated.

His mechanics devised brackets to mount a large electric motor on the chassis in such a position that a roller attached to the motor's shaft would rub on a tire and drive the heavy chassis backwards.

But there was a snag, the compression of three aero engines proving to be a little too much for the electric motor.

But White, like Eldridge with his chains so many years before, would not give up. A second rear axle was fitted to the car, behind the normal driving axle and clear of the ground until Keech operated a lever.

Then the axle dropped to contact the ground, and a special drive from one of his engines pushed the car backwards at something less than walking pace. It seems unlikely that this contrivance was actually in place when the record run was made, but Keech's 207.55 mph was accepted and stands to the honour of the U.S.A. in the official international records.

One title must go to the Triplex: the weirdest record-breaker of them all. The strange device consisted of a normal but naturally large and strong chassis on which were mounted three Liberty aero engines of a total capacity of 81 liters (give or take a few cc). This 36-cylinder machine was alleged to produce 1,500 horsepower and White said it would do 220 mph with the power from its ten-or-more-year-old engines.

There was not a great deal of finesse about the Triplex. One engine stuck out in front with a homemade cover on it. The other two were one either side of the driver out in the open air without benefit of any wind-cheating device. The driver crouched in the middle of his cylinders, protected by a cowling with a glass panel to peer through. There is said to have been no clutch or gearbox, so it must have been a split-or-bust affair once it had been tow-started.

There were brakes on the rear wheels as some kind of concession to convention. First time out a water-hose burst and scalded Keech, necessitating a trip to hospital. He was given more protection, but next time flames from the front engine got at him and burned his arm, after a 50-foot leap in the air. But he got his record.

1928 White Triplex
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
1928 White Triplex

1928 White Triplex
Ray Keech in the tri-motored White Triplex : Daytona Beach, Florida picture. Image from the Florida Photographic Collection
1928 White Triplex
Circa 1928-29– White Triplex land speed record car, showing the three engines.
1928 White Triplex

1928 White Triplex
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).

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 Triplexwas completely and utterly destroyed in the crash.

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 theTriplex tragedy Segrave changed his mind and turned his attention to conquering water speed records.  Segrave would soon learn that the water was no kinder.

1928 White Triplex
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
1928 White Triplex

1928 White Triplex
Aftermath of Lee Bible's crash, during his 1929 attempt on the land speed record at Ormond Beach, driving the White Triplex