John Godfrey Parry-Thomas was an outstanding engineer born in Wrexham, North Wales, in 1885. In 1917, he was appointed chief engineer of Leyland Motors Ltd. He patented electrical transmission systems, the Thomas piston, and designed an advanced luxury car, the Leyland Eight. When plans to manufacture the Leyland Eight were axed, Thomas decided to set up as an independent. In 1923, he established his own small factory at Brooklands circuit, in Surrey, where he already enjoyed a growing reputation as a racing driver. He also nurtured an ambition to take the land speed record.
Thomas's break came when he bought one of of Count Zborowski's unfinished "Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang" cars for just £125. Officially, it became the "Higham Special", powered by a stupendous 1,581ci (25,900cc), V12 Liberty aero engine, but it was soon re-christened "Babs." Thomas made his first assault on the record with Babs in 1925 on Pendine Sands in South Wales. It was not to his satisfaction so the car returned to Brooklands for a new body and reworked engine.
In April 1926, again at Pendine, Thomas pushed it to 169.30mph (272.46kph) and then, the very next day, to 171.02mph (275.23kph). Malcolm Campbell broke the record the following February. A month later, suffering from flu, Thomas unofficially bettered 180mph (290kph) at Pendine when one of the drivechains snapped. Babs crashed and caught fire, but Thomas was already dead-fatally wounded by the flailing chain.