In the final part of our World’s Fastest Jensen series, we discover whether Ian Northeast managed to break the 200mph barrier at the El Mirage Land Speed Races, and what’s next for both car and driver
It’s been a good year for motorsport guests at Dyler.com in 2024.
We started the year by previewing the 2023 Formula 1 season with the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix, Jarno Trulli. Mid-way through the year, Brendon Hartley, a four-time WEC champion and triple winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours, delved into the magic that makes the LM24 the greatest motor race on the planet.
Fast-forward to autumn, and M-Sport’s Malcolm Wilson recalled the moment when Markko Märtin put Estonia on the World Rally Championship with the groundbreaking Ford Focus RS WRC 03 courtesy of his victory at the 2003 Rally Finland.
“At El Mirage, you basically put your foot down, keep the accelerator pinned, and try to go as fast as you possibly can” - Ian Northeast
Yet last month, we spoke to Ian Northeast. A British engineer previously involved with the 1,000mph Bloodhound project, Ian is also out to set a land speed record of his own, albeit one that’s very much done in the spirit of the United Kingdom.
In 2018, Ian endeavoured to set a 200 miles-per-hour land speed record in an early 1960s Jensen CV8; once a rival to the Jaguar E-Type, this British-made GT has been slightly tweaked by Ian and his team of fellow petrolheads, but that’s pretty much it; if you think “The World’s Fastest Jensen” is a bespoke silhouette racer, then read on.
Ian, his team, and his car are very much part of Britain’s celebrated “men in sheds” culture, who go out of their way to create something glorious and ambitious simply because they want to, and ultimately because they can.
For the most part, modern motorsport is dictated by big budgets, rigorous R&D programmes, and intense training regimes for the drivers. Meanwhile, Ian’s endeavour is much the opposite.
Before heading to the El Mirage Land Speed Races in early November this year, we spoke to Ian about what he felt the Jensen could achieve at the 1.3-mile straight run across this now-dried up lake bed of the Mojave Desert.
After all, both car and driver had taken part in the iconic Bonneville Speed Week in 2018 where a “woefully unprepared” Ian set a top speed of around 130 mph in the Jensen.
Would El Mirage - an almost-mythical locale amongst speed freaks the world over since the early 1930s - prove to be a happy hunting ground for Ian in 2023?
Ultimately, no. But that’s what makes the whole story of “The World’s Fastest Jensen” so appealing. In fact, what’s that quote again - “no guts, no glory, no legend, no story” or something, right?
“The rules dictate that you have to do a run in the rookie lane to get a feel for things, and set a speed between 125 mph and 150 mph - after all, you might not be wanting to go any faster than that on a surface you’ve never driven before!” - Ian Northeast
“I think we reached around 140 mph or something,” Ian recounts to Dyler after his El Mirage run. “It’s some speed off of the 200 mph we’re going for, but the whole event, the car ran absolutely faultlessly - if anything wasn’t quite right, then that was down to me, not the car.
“The biggest difference between El Mirage and Bonneville is the length,” he explains. “El Mirage is 1.3-miles, whilst Bonneville runs up to five miles depending on the category you’re racing in.
“The racing system between the two events is different - at El Mirage, you basically put your foot down, keep the accelerator pinned, and try to go as fast as you possibly can. Your speed is then registered when you cross the finish line.
“At Bonneville, an average speed is taken per-mile then added together at the end, so it’s whatever you registered in the first mile, second mile, then divided by however many miles you covered at the end.
“Another thing that differentiates the two events, is that if you haven’t done El Mirage before, the rules dictate that you have to do a run in the rookie lane to get a feel for things, and set a speed between 125 mph and 150 mph - after all, you might not be wanting to go any faster than that on a surface you’ve never driven before!”
The surface of the Mojave desert would go on to be one of the biggest behind-the-wheel challenges Ian has ever faced. It wouldn't be the biggest at El Mirage, though.
“At El Mirage, they have events every month from May to November because it’s pretty dry, and you’ll probably have seen these fantastically visual plumes of dust that the cars kick up through the four runs or so they have each day.
“Whilst these big rooster tails look brilliant to spectators, they end up making life really difficult for the drivers, as they drop a load of marbles down onto the surface.
They’re almost like ball-bearings, so it gets a bit scary as they really reduce your grip - you don’t get much confidence to push on!
“Fortunately, I managed to get my run in early, so the ball bearings weren’t too much of a factor. The coolant tank was, mind you!”
Like the Jensen’s rear spoiler, its 25-gallon coolant tank was developed by Ian and his team.
According to the man himself, it cools the car’s 6.2-litre MOPAR V8 “perfectly” when it’s converting water into steam. Any more, and the engine will cook due to overheating. Any less, and the engine will also cook due to overheating.
Timing, then, is of the essence at El Mirage.
“To be honest, I think the biggest reason why we missed out on the record is down to me,” Ian concedes. “It’s bloody cold in the mornings out there, and on the morning of the second day, we had some problems with getting the car warmed up. Ultimately, I started the engine way too early.
“The clutch was red hot, and instead of six gears, I was running on three - first, fourth, and sixth, which proved a challenge to say the least [...] With only three gears, that really makes things interesting!” - Ian Northeast
“I sat on the start line with the car running, and it felt like forever. At El Mirage, you have to wait for the dust I mentioned to settle, because it’s pretty dangerous. If dust gets in any of the car’s seals or engine components, it can blind the driver or cause the car some serious mechanical issues.”
When set off, the Jensen’s engine temperature had rocketed off the charts to 11. By the time he reached the finish line of the 1.3-mile stretch, the Jensen’s coolant tank was completely dry.
Despite the very real risk of causing a five-year-long project to go pop, Ian kept his foot in. Because racing drivers, and racing drivers are wired differently.
“The clutch was red hot, and instead of six gears, I was running on three - first, fourth, and sixth, which proved a challenge to say the least. “The car’s engine is quite big, so it has plenty of torque - keeping the revs high enough to pull through the gears isn’t hugely difficult.
“However, what is difficult is managing the turbo. Once that kicks in, you get an extra 200bhp added to the 300bhp you’re already playing with. With only three gears, that really makes things interesting!” Ian laughs. “I definitely spun the rear tyres up, and I think I could have reached at least 160 mph on this run, which turned out to be our last one of the event.
“Alas, things weren’t to be, but I really feel this was our best performance yet. Like I said, the car ran perfectly - it didn’t have a single problem. As a team, we now know what we’re doing properly, and as a driver, I’m doing what I can to get the best out of myself - in fact, in the new year, I’m going to rally school to learn how to handle the car better on loose surfaces!
“Oh, and remember I said that I would retire the car after El Mirage? Well, it turns out that it’s cheaper to keep the car in America until after Bonneville next year, so we’ll run it there, and then I’ll wheel it home back to the United Kingdom and make it my daily driver…
“... at least that’s the plan for now, anyway!”
In the meantime, if you’re looking for your very own Jensen CV8, follow this link to browse the selection of classic British GTs we have for sale on Dyler.com!
El Mirage 1st run