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The fastest man on earth - Glenn Curtiss hits 136mph in 1907

Before achieving fame with aircraft, Glenn Curtiss started with motorcycles, setting a world record with this 4 litre V8. The early aviation community began to seek out Curtiss because of his growing reputation for building powerful, lightweight V-twin motorcycles, so in 1906 he designed a V8, effectively four of his existing V-twin motors. Of course Curtiss set to wondering how fast a motorcycle with the V8 could go, making some 30 to 40 horsepower at 1,800 rpm. Transmission was direct drive because a conventional chain-and-belt transmission would never cope. in January 1907 at the Florida Speed Carnival at Ormond Beach, he had an answer and a world speed record speed of 136mph (218kph) . Trains actually held the land speed record until Curtiss’s 1907 run – the only time a motorcycle has held the outright world speed record - and it would be 1930 before it was bested by a motorcycle, and 1924 before a car took the record. By then Curtiss was a captain of the aviation business, generally regarded as the father of naval aviation. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross as a civilian and the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company became the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world during World War I, producing 10,000 aircraft. When it floated in 1916, it employed 21,000 people. In 1929, Curtiss-Wright was formed by the merger of companies founded by Glenn Curtiss and the Wright brothers. As an aviator Curtiss was so significant he made the cover of Time magazine, but he was primarily an ingenious engineer, and his initial main business was the manufacture of high-power, lightweight engines for a range of purposes, notably motorcycles and aircraft. He also manufactured complete motorcycles under his own name from 1903, and was a pioneer of the low weight and minimal frontal area mantra. Even from an age when some family hatchbacks can manage 136mph, riding this 4 litre V8 motorcycle on sand with no brakes, gears or crash helmet surely makes Glenn Curtiss one of the finest pioneers of our sport.

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