Triumphing over injury to achieve worldwide fame

Wed, Nov 14, 2007, 00:00

PastImperfect/Goldie Gardner:In May 1939, a rather dour Englishman, Lt Col Arthur Thomas Goldie Gardner, drove his 1100cc MG Magnette along a special section of the Frankfurt-Dessau autobahn over two kilometre and mile distances, at average speeds of 203.5 and 203.2 mph respectively.

The German timekeepers were so astonished at the speeds achieved that they delayed for over an hour before releasing them.

Professor Robert von Eberhorst, who was present as the engineer responsible for the development of Auto Union's Grand Prix and record breaking cars, described Gardner's record runs as "possibly the finest achievement in record breaking history". Only 12 years earlier, Segrave's Sunbeam had required two engines and 45-litres to take the Land Speed Record to the same speed.

In the first World War, Gardner received severe injuries to his right leg in a plane crash, and 20 operations and two years in hospital did little more than give him a barely workable leg. As a diversion, he bought an Austin Seven in 1924 and began to race it on the British circuits.

At the 1932 Tourist Trophy at Ards in Northern Ireland, a rash overtaking manoeuvre sent the MG somersaulting three times and again his right leg took the impact. Gardner recovered although he was left with a virtually useless leg.

Most people would have given motor racing a wide berth thereafter and Gardner did also, but instead decided to concentrate on record-breaking, arguably an even more dangerous pursuit.

Gardner had a number of other handicaps against him as he embarked on his record-breaking career. For a start he was six foot three inches tall - huge for a record-breaking driver who needed ideally to be as small and light as possible. His height together with his damaged leg made it particularly difficult for him to fold his frame into the confines of a record-breaking car's cockpit. Secondly, Gardner had an almost total ignorance of the technical side of cars, being simply possessed of a great deal of courage and an utter belief in his own ability.

Despite these handicaps, Goldie Gardner, in the 11 peacetime years between 1936 and 1952 set over 100 international and national records in England, France, Germany, Italy and the United States. Post-war he returned to record-breaking right up to 1952 when at the age of 62 he was at Bonneville where he just failed to beat his own 13-year-old records for the flying kilometre and mile, but set new US national records at over 200mph. When he died six years later in 1958, he was truly the last of a breed - men such as Segrave, Malcolm Campbell and Cobb - who had single-mindedly gone after ever greater speeds.