Theme : Values – The Ultimate

Which is the Best Irish Stout? Well, you could always try looking for the answer in Guinness World Records, the default repository of achievements and natural extremes.

Darrin DiDia 150 - image : Scott Kinkg via
Darrin DiDia 150 – image : Scott King via

I was as nerdish as any other schoolboy, possibly a fair bit more in fact. In the early to mid 60s, I owned several volumes of the, then, Guinness Book of Records, which was published annually. This contained information on the Longest, Heaviest, Brightest, Furthest …… etc that you could quote, authoritatively, to your friends and relatives, who would look politely impressed whilst stifling their yawns.

Naturally, one of the first sections I always turned to was Automotive, so that I could check the Most Expensive and Fastest categories. For a long time it seemed that the fastest production car was the Aston Martin DB4 GT and the most expensive car was the Darrin DiDia. The Aston was accompanied by a photo which corresponded more-or-less with my expectations, but the Darrin had none. It was a mystery to me, a meaningless name, but something that was far more costly that a mere Rolls Royce, so a fact well worth knowing at the time. And those facts stay etched in my mind, so I needed no research to write them for this piece – I wish my more recent memory was that retentive.

Only years later did I find that the ‘Darrin’ referred to the singer Bobby Darrin of ‘Dream Lover’ and ‘Mack The Knife’ fame. He didn’t actually build the one-off car, he just paid in $150,000 for it in 1961; an awful lot of money back then. The car was designed by Andy DiDia and built by Clark Kaiser Customs.

Male children are often obsessed with values. They want to know the quantifiable extremes, but they also want to be able to tame the subjective. Although not shown in Guinness, for years I accepted that the Rolls Royce (no particular model) was The Best Car In The World. That was what people said back then and though, at heart, I must have known that this was just an opinion, I just couldn’t put up with such uncertainty. I rather preferred to imagine that there was some sort of central committee, who took out the measuring tapes of excellence, and calculated this to be A Fact.

Best Of The Best? Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II - image : boldride-com
Best Of The Best? Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II – image :

In reality, motoring is full of uncertainty. Look on any website (except this one, of course) and you will find hot disputes over the ultimate values, from best colour to greatest racing driver*. And subjective opinion is further quantified in order to produce lazy, useless listicles – 10 Most Ugly Ferraris / 25 Unforgettable Motoring Nonentities / 50 Sexiest Diesel Hatchbacks. The fact that there are so many mistakes made in the auto industry means that for every VW Golf, there are several Edsels and shows us that you can’t really analyse. Even measurable figures mean nothing in the end.

The Veyron Super Sport might be The Fastest Production Car In The World, but there are various cars that feel faster and more visceral. I might have grown out of it, but does Ferdinand Piech get a copy of Guinness World Records in his stocking every Christmas?

Several years after my interest had abated, I was actually featured in the Guinness Book of Records. I think it is the 1974 Edition and I am 23rd from the left (that’s probably a desperately inaccurate guess) in the rear segment of the World’s, then largest, unsupported sitting circle. If you have a copy, I will gladly autograph it.

* Incidentally, the answers are Nogaro Blue and Mario Andretti, although tomorrow that might change.

4 thoughts on “Theme : Values – The Ultimate”

  1. The Guinness Book of World Records was popular reading at my primary school library, exactly for the reasons Sean mentions in his story. Blue Flame was the fastest car and the SR71 Blackbird was the fastest aircraft. I’ve managed to see four examples of the Blackbird at various museums but still haven’t seen Blue Flame yet. Unfinished business…

  2. Growing up during the darkest years of the Thatcher government, my comprehensive school had not seen significant investment in more than 15 years. I distinctly remember that the library’s only copy of the Guinness Book of Records claimed that BMC was the world’s largest car manufacturer.

    1. Oh yes, my patriotic little chest puffed up with pride at nuggets like that. Also the knowledge that although Blue Flame’s predecessors might well hold land speed records, those Yankee Jet Boys somehow cheated and that Donald Campbell was the rightful holder since his exploit was ‘wheel driven’.

  3. Ditto for the original Guinness World Book of Records. I got one for Christmas 1958 before we emigrated to Canada. It was red-covered and I loved it. There was a very UK bias to the records, I soon discovered upon alighting in North America.

    Like Donald Campbell: his wheel-driven land speed record of 403.1 mph lasted about 16 months before Goldenrod and the Summers Brothers beat it in Nov 1965. Unfortunately they were Americans, so nobody in the UK concerned themselves. Best of all, the build was featured in Hot Rod Magazine, where a young person like me got to drool over completely machined wishbone suspension, and a build quality that seemed surreal. 409.2 mph. Lasted until 2008 officially or 1991 if a one way run counts.

    Nobody in the UK ever seemed to have heard of this feat when I returned there in 1969. But then again nobody in North America ever heard of Donald Campbell, and a 2007 article attributed the record broken as belonging to John Cobb! Apparently a gas turbine geared to the wheels was not thought of as authenitic compared to 4 Hemi V8s.

    The UK and the US have always disregarded the others’ best points if any hint of competiion is in the air, then the competition simply is never mentioned in subsequent historical writings. That’s the way it seems to me, anyway.

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