HomeCar CultureBritish celebrate their land speed-record history

British celebrate their land speed-record history


350-hp and 1,000-hp Sunbeams sandwich the Golden Arrow | National Motor Museum photos
350-hp and 1,000-hp Sunbeams sandwich the Golden Arrow | National Motor Museum photos

‘For Britain & For The Hell Of It” is the title of a new and permanent exhibition of Land Speed Record vehicles that opened recently  at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England. The exhibition’s debut coincides with the 50th anniversary of Donald Campbell’s record run in Bluebird CN7.

Campbell’s father, Malcolm, broke the 150-miles-per-hour barrier in 1925 on the Pendine Sands in Wales.

“The 116-year history of Land Speed Records has been dominated by the British. The record has been broken 57 times, 26 by a Briton and 8 by a Campbell,” Don Wales, nephew of Donald Campbell and grandson of Malcolm, said at the exhibition’s opening.

Bluebird CN7 set record at 403.10 mph
Bluebird CN7 set record at 403.10 mph

“My uncle, Donald, broke the Land and Sea records in the same year – a unique double that has never been equaled,” Wales added.

“British Land Speed Record cars are an important part of our heritage and need to be on show for the public to see. It is also vital that the skills required to keep them going is kept alive.”

The exhibition, which includes four LSR cars from the museum’s collection, aims to share the stories of the British drivers, engineers, mechanics and vehicles that have set world speed records. Exhibits include many items not before put on public display, including trophies, driver’s items, etc.

The museum’s cars in the display are the 350-horsepower and 1,000-hp Sunbeams, the Golden Arrow and Bluebird CN7.

The 350-hp Sunbeam was the first car powered by an airplane engine. Kenelm Lee Guinness drove it to a world speed record in 1922. Campbell remodeled the car — twice — and continued to set records.

The 1,000-hp Sunbeam featured two engines — front and rear — with the driver sandwiched between. Henry Segrave, a major in the army, drove the car at 200 mph at Daytona Beach.

Don Wales and Inspiration
Don Wales and Inspiration

In 1929,  the Irving Napier Special known as the Golden Arrow reached 231.446 mph with Segrave driving.

Donald Campbell set new standards in 1964. His first run on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in Bluebird CN7 ended when the car was hit by a gust of wind, went off course and somersaulted. But the car was rebuilt — now with a tail fin — and was taken to Lake Eyre, a dry lakebed in Australia, where Campbell hit 403.10 mph, a record for wheel-driven vehicles.

(The previous year, American Craig Breedlove had reached 407 mph in a jet-powered vehicle. The record currently is 760.343 mph, established in 1997 on the Black Rock Dessert in Nevada by British jet fighter pilot Andy Green in the ThrustSSC.)

Alternative-fuel record setters
Alternative-fuel record setters

In addition to the LSR effort, the temporary exhibition running through Easter 2015 features alternative-powered speed-record efforts including those using electricity, steam and other fuels. Among the vehicles in that group are the “Commuter Dragster,” the first British-built American-style fuel dragster to break 200 mph in a quarter mile sprint.

Also on display is the Bluebird Electric that Don Wales drove to an electric-vehicle speed record of 137.15 mph in 2000 on the Pendine Sands.

Inspiration, a British steam car and the “fastest kettle in the world,” also is featured. The car hit 139.843 mph in 2009 at Edwards Air Force base in California.

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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