One of the most memorable cars at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed - due to its boisterous sideways antics - was also one of the oldest: the 1905 Darracq 200HP. It’s been dubbed as an ‘engine on wheels’ because, well, other than the monstrous 25.4-litre unit up front, there’s not a whole lot else to it. The engine was created by joining two large inline-fours to one crankcase, making a V8.
In 1906 at Daytona Beach, it clocked 122.5mph.
The last of the Bluebird land speed record cars piloted by legendary speed freak Malcolm Campbell, this 8.2 metre monster hides quite an engine under its long snout. It’s a Rolls-Royce R V12, displacing 36.7 litres and developing around 2300bhp.
On 3 September 1935, it became the first car to break the 300mph barrier, when it hit 301.129mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The Blitzen or ‘Lightning’ Benz started out life as a Grand Prix racing car, at a time when engines were reaching rather ridiculous sizes (rules brought in for the 1914 season curtailed the displacement madness). It was adapted to take on the land speed record, which it broke. Several times actually, with its best effort of 141mph coming in 1911, at a time when most motorists were pottering around in Ford Model Ts with a 40mph top speed. In fact, it wasn’t just the fastest car in the world, it was the fastest machine of any kind, including trains and aeroplanes.
The key to its speed was its 21.5-litre, four-cylinder engine, plus its shape, which was relatively streamlined for the era. Interestingly, its engine wasn’t borrowed from a plane like many of the cars on this list. The engine was originally designed for Grand Prix racing, and enlarged for record attempts.
Fiat wasn’t terribly happy about Benz waltzing away with all these records. So, the Italian company built a car to beat the Blitzen. Laughing in the face of the Blitzen’s puny 21.5-litre engine, Fiat’s challenger - the S76 - was fitted with a 28.5-litre engine, also a four-banger. It produced almost 300bhp.
The record snatching side of things never quite worked out for the ‘Beast of Turin’, but it remains one of the most astonishing pre-war cars ever built.
The recipe for the Mephistopheles - another crazed Fiat - was a simple one: grab a racing car chassis and garnish it with a giant aeroplane engine. The racing car in question was a 1908 Fiat SB4, while the engine was the company’s A.12 aircraft engine. Displacement? 21.7 litres. Power? 316bhp. The result was something rather demonic, hence the car’s name - Mephistopheles is a demon referenced in German folklore. It broke the land speed record in 1924 when it hit 146mph with its creator - Sir Ernest A.D. Eldridge - at the wheel.
Stepping away from land speed record cars, it’s time to look at The Beast. Nope, not Barrack Obama’s armoured ride, but an absolutely insane creation by a bloke called John Dodd.
Its comically long bonnet is home to a 27-litre Merlin V12 - the engine famed for powering the Supermarine Spitfire, although in this case it’s nicked from a Boulton Paul Balliol trainer aircraft. It produces almost 1000bhp and sits in a homemade chassis littered with bits of Jaguar XJ12. John Dodd sounds like our kinda guy.
On the subject of aircraft-engined cars built for the sheer hell of it, we have to consider Brutus. It was put together by someone who works at the Auto und Technikmuseum Sinsheim - where the car lives most of the time - using the chassis of an old fire engine.
The flame-spitting motor up front is a 47-litre BMW VI V12, a unit from the 1920s used almost exclusively in aircraft, aside from an experimental train called Schienenzeppelin it once powered. It produces 750bhp in the Brutus, shifting a total vehicle weight of 2500kg.
All these cars mentioned so far are a little extreme. How about a more genteel machine with a socking great engine? That’ll be the 2003 Cadillac Sixteen. Sadly never more than a concept, this two tonne chunk of ‘Murican luxury is powered by a 13.7-litre V16, good for 1000bhp and 1000lb ft of torque.