HomeUncategorizedSir Malcolm Campbell's Blue Bird 'flies' again

Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Blue Bird ‘flies’ again


A crank and a cloud and the Blue Bird lives again | National Motor Museum
A crank and a cloud and the Blue Bird lives again | National Motor Museum

The famed “Blue Bird” Sunbeam that Sir Malcolm Campbell drove to several land speed records returned to life Wednesday at the National Motor Museum in England.

The car was the brainchild of Sunbeam chief engineer and racing team manager Louis Coatalen and was constructed at the company’s works in Wolverhampton in 1919 and early 1920.

After World War I, cars powered by aircraft engines vied for speed records. The Sunbeam was equipped with a modified 18.322-liter Manitou Arab aero engine, a type typically used on naval seaplanes.

Campbell bought the car from Kenelm Lee Guinness, who drove it to a record speed of 133.75 miles per hour at Brooklands in 1922.

Campell had the car painted and gave it its nickname. In 1924 he drove it 146.16  mph at the Pendine Sands in South Wales. He returned the following year and reached 150.76 mph.

The car moved into the then-new National Motor Museum in 1972. Its engine was tested in 1993 but a blocked oil line caused it to seize. It went back on display with a hole in its engine where the piston and connecting rod had exited the block.

In 2007 the ’93 damage was examined. The rod had gone through the side of the crankcase, scoring the crank shaft and damaging three pistons and valves. Volunteers did much of the manual work, which took 2,000 hours and donations from several suppliers.

“This project has been a long-running labor of love for the whole team,” said Doug Hill, the museum’s chief engineer. “There is huge satisfaction in seeing it finally completed.

“However, there is more that we still want to do and our next objective is to research the design of the original gearbox – all original drawings and records were lost when the Sunbeam factory was bombed during WWll — so that we can restore the car to the full 1920s specification, as driven to two world land speed records by Sir Malcolm Campbell at Pendine Sands in 1924 and 1925.”

The Sunbeam’s engine will be run again at the Retromobile classic car show in February in Paris. Afterward, the car returns to the museum as part of a new display, For Britain & For The Hell Of It – the story of British land speed records. That exhibition opens Easter weekend.


Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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