This BBC short film from the 27th of February 1974 is titled “Is This 27 Liter Rolls-Royce The Fastest Car On Earth?” It tells the story of “The Beast” – now one of the most famous custom cars of its era and a Guinness Record for being the world’s most powerful road car.
We’ve included the 1998 Top Gear episode about The Beast below as it dives into more detail on the car’s history and it includes footage of it being driven around an airfield by an understandably excited presenter.
The Beast is the creation of John Dodd, unfortunately he passed away in December of 2022 which is just a few weeks ago at the time of writing. A feature to showcase his most famous creation seems like the best way to pay tribute to one of the most colorful characters the British custom car community has ever seen.
The Beast was originally developed by Paul Jameson who designed a chassis to accommodate a front-mounted Rolls-Royce Meteor V12 tank engine – this was the non-supercharged variant of the legendary Rolls-Royce Merlin aero engine from WWII.
The Meteor engine has a displacement of 27 liters (1649 cubic inches) with 12 cylinders in a 60º V layout. It has a single overhead cam per bank operating four valves per cylinder and in standard tune on leaving the factory it would have produced 550 – 650 bhp with a hefty 1,450 lb ft of torque.
During the build process Jameson was having a custom gearbox made by an Epsom automatic transmission specialist named John Dodd. When Jameson’s project stalled it was bought by Dodd who took over the project and undertook a significant amount of work to finish the car and get a body designed and built for it.
Above Video: This is the 1998 Top Gear feature on The Beast, it goes into a little more detail and includes period footage of John Dodd outside court after battling Rolls-Royce over the name. As you can see, this is the later version of the car with the new body after the first one had burned to a crisp.
Due to the Rolls-Royce origins of the Meteor V12 it was decided to call the car a Rolls-Royce and to take (some) styling cues for the body from Rolls-Royces of the period. This would later result in a cease-and-desist court case from Rolls-Royce which Dodd battled in his own unique way, becoming a bit of a celebrity in the British news at the time for his antics.
Once the body had been designed a mould was created and the company Fibre Glass Repairs in Bromley, Kent built it. It’s an unusual shape given the proportions of the car, with a long hood and a rear end based on the Ford Capri.
The aesthetics of the design has always been controversial however this didn’t stop the car from becoming a legend in its own lifetime. Dodd managed to get the car licensed and legal for use on British roads (a remarkable feat in itself) and he would take it across the Channel to the German Autobahns where he could test the car without worrying about speeding tickets.
Interestingly it was said to be on one of these Autobahn excursions that Dodd went flying past a man driving a performance car almost like he was standing still. This man apparently called Rolls-Royce to enquire about buying one of these new models, and it may have been this incident that resulted in the original cease and desist being filed.
Tragically the original Beast caught fire on the way back from being viewed by the King in Sweden, try as he might Dodd couldn’t extinguish the blaze and the car burned to the ground. Not one to be defeated he set to work rebuilding the car now with a new body with a very long hood, two doors, a station wagon rear and he fitted it with a Merlin V12.
With its new body The Beast would live a long and celebrated life, Dodd later moved to Spain and took the car with him where he regular showed it at events – to much delight from the general public.
In the years since The Beast was built there have been a number of other Meteor and Merlin engined cars made. Jay Leno famously owns one and we featured another just last month on Silodrome.
It’s not known who currently owns The Beast, most believe that the car still belongs to the Dodd family but it may be sometime until they bring it out to show it again.
Articles that Ben has written have been covered on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, Autoweek Magazine, Wired Magazine, Autoblog, Gear Patrol, Jalopnik, The Verge, and many more.
Silodrome was founded by Ben back in 2010, in the years since the site has grown to become a world leader in the alternative and vintage motoring sector, with well over a million monthly readers from around the world and many hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.