Classic Car Catalogue

World Speed Record

Malcolm Campbell
Napier-Railton "Bluebird"
395,992 km/h (246.08 mph)
Daytona Beach
5 February 1931

Great Britain

Motor SportMarch 1931
OF all the names connected with motor racing since the beginning, that of Malcolm Campbell stands out as representing the triumph gained by perseverance. Although having longer motor racing experience than any other Englishman now taking part in the sport, his career has not been one of unbroken good fortune. On the contrary, the record of his steady climb to fame as our foremost all-round driver, has been a story of continual difficulties and repeated misfortune. The fact that in spite of every setback his skill and perseverance have established an unrivalled reputation, makes this achievement even more remarkable. His crowning success, the breaking of the land speed record at Daytona by the very handsome margin of 15 m.p.h. and the raising of this record to the amazing speed of 246 m.p.h. is a fitting end to his endeavours for many years.
A Long Career.
Twenty-five years ago Campbell started racing, being at the same time interested in aviation, on which he did a lot of work in the very early days. Then came the war, and it is only natural that he continued his flying in the R.F.C., and the experience of engines in those days gave him valuable knowledge. After the war he returned to motor racing and in 1920 handled Talbots, as well as Schneider and Peugeot. These were the days of hill climbs and sprint events and he was a prominent figure at these functions. In 1921 and 1922 he broke various hillclimb records but then his ideas turned to larger game, and when K. Lee Guinness, on the 12-cylinder Sunbeam had reached 129 m.p.h., Campbell bought the car and proceeded to raise the record to some 136 m.p.h.
His next attempt on the land speed record was at the meeting in Denmark at the Fanoe Islands, but owing to the electrical tuning apparatus not being passed officially the speeds achieved could not be claimed, and it was not until 1924 that he reached new figures. Still driving the Sunbeam, this time at Pendine, he raised the mean speed to 146.16 m.p.h. for the kilometre, but did not gain the mile record until 1925 when he exceeded 150 m.p.h. for the first time.
It was evident that the limit of the old Sunbeam had been reached, so in 1927, he started to build the first " Bluebird " with a Napier engine, which was the basis from which the present record breaker was evolved. In this car 174.2 m.p.h. was reached at Pendine. He was still working against disappointments, however, and his record fell to the big Sunbeam in the hands of the late Sir Henry Segrave. Spurred on rather than discouraged, he reconstructed Bluebird, and raised Segrave's speed of 203.79 m.p.h. to 206.956 m.p.h. only to have his record again beaten by Ray Keech by half a mile an hour.
Once more he set about the reconstruction of his car and went to Verneuk Pan, in South Africa, where he was not only faced with terrible difficulties due to the country and climate, but further knew that Segrave, with the Golden Arrow was at Daytona. Before he could get conditions suitable for his attack on the record he was to learn that the Golden Arrow had put up the astounding speed of 231.36 m.p.h.
The Verneuk Victory.
Such a series of discouragements would have daunted most men, but Campbell was determined not to leave Africa without some records, and he performed the remarkable feat of averaging 211 m.p.h. for 5 miles, and 216 m.p.h. for 5 kilometres, records which are likely to remain unbroken for a very long time to come.
Still determined to gain the coveted record for the highest speed on land, he started the greatest reconstruction in "Bluebird's" career. This was carried out by Thompson and Taylor of Brooklands and the design was carried out by Mr. Railton. Campbell's troubles were not over when he left for America, as there were still financial arguments in connection with the Daytona authorities. However, these were eventually smoothed over, and at last the car was ready for her trial runs.
The actual breaking of the record was carried out just as it should have been. There was no undue waiting about, no violent last minute alterations. Everyone connected with the design, building, and equipment of the car had carried out their work with such accuracy and thoroughness that after the trial runs Campbell went out for his actual attempt.
Those few seconds during which the shapely blue car flashed down the sands of Daytona at a speed never before reached on land, may have seemed all too short to the watching thousands. To the driver they were the crowning effort of a career of dogged persistence in the face of difficulties, a fitting reward to the many who had helped directly and indirectly in the attempt, and a fine vindication of the efficiency and enterprise of British engineering.
Accessories Before the Fact.
The following contributed to Campbell's great achievement :—
1,450 h.p. Napier supercharged racing aero engine ; car designed by Mr. R. A. Railton, of Thomson and Taylor, Ltd., Brooklands ; car erected by Thomson and Taylor, Ltd. ; chassis frame by Vickers ; Hoffman ball bearings ; petrol tank by the Gallay Radiator Co. ; Ferodo lined clutch ; gearbox built by K.L.G. Sparking Plugs, Ltd. ; Marles steering gear ; Woodhead road springs ; Alford and Alder brakes with Clayton-Dewandre vacuum servo ; Serck honeycomb radiator; Silentbloc bushes by T. B. Andre and Co., Ltd. ; Claudel-Hobson carburetters by H. M. Hobson, Ltd. ; Watford magnetos by North and Sons, Ltd. ; bodywork by J. Gurney Nutting and Co., Ltd., London. K.L.G. plugs ; Moseley Float-on-Air pneumatic upholstery ; Triplex glass screen ; Castrol oil by C. C. Wakefield and Co., Ltd. ; tyres and wheels by the Dunlop Rubber Co., Ltd. ; instruments by S. Smith and Sons (M.A.), Ltd. ; Andre shock absorbers ; Pratt's ethyl petrol ; retroflex petrol tubing ; Ace wheel discs.
Motor Sport, March 1931
IN any attempt on the record for the highest speed in any element, experience can only be a guide up to the point reached in previous attempts. Such experience is, however, of vital importance in anticipating the difficulties likely to occur at an increased speed, and it is Capt. Campbell's unique experience of this particular work which must give everyone connected with the present attempt the greatest possible confidence.
The actual car, although virtually an entirely new vehicle as a whole, incorporates a large amount of the chassis of the previous cars used by him. Many people might consider this made the construction an easier matter, but anyone who has had any experience of re-designing or modifying the simplest contrivance, will realise that it is often far easier to start with a clean sheet than to adapt something which is already in existence.
To Mr. Railton, of Thomson and Taylors, fell the task of re-creating the present car, and whatever the result of the attempt, anyone who has had an opportunity of inspecting the Napier-Campbell, will agree that the greatest praise is due to him and to his firm for the ingenious and efficient manner in which the job has been done.
The chassis has been designed to enable the driver to sit as low as possible, and this has meant that both the seat and the transmission, have been offset. One of the difficulties of a vehicle of this type, is that the mechanical details are so much governed by the shape of the body. This was decided on after exhaustive wind tunnel experiments with a Plasticine model, and possesses many unusual features, the chief of which is the fact that the body is not symmetrical. Owing to necessity of including the driver's compartment in the streamlining scheme, it has made it impossible to have the car the same on each side, which gives it a peculiar appearance when viewed from above.
The body was built by J. Gurney Nutting, of Chelsea in the remarkable time of only six weeks, and is one of the finest examples of panel beating we have ever seen. The framework consists of steel tubes, and it is so constructed that the tail is the only fixed section. The rest is made in three sections, one covering the Napier engine, one the cockpit, and the third, the intermediate space. The top of the scuttle is less than 45 inches from the ground, while the clearance under the chassis is only 5 inches.
In discussing the prospects of the attempt with Capt. Campbell, prior to his departure for the States, we found him very modest in his statements, and while evidently confident, he adopted the very wise tone of refusing to make any rash statements as to possible speed, and pointed out that after the event was the only time for going into this!
Commenting on the increased power of the latest Napier engine he said, "This engine gives 1,450 h.p., as against 850 h.p. from the engine I used previously. There is no doubt that the power is sufficient to improve on the present speed, but the greatest factor is the stability of the car, which at the speed of a new record is bound to be somewhat of an unknown quantity."
"From my previous experience of such attempts I know some of the difficulties encountered, and though we have done all the experimenting we can, theory and practice are not always in agreement. However, we will hope for the best!"
With this we wished him luck in his adventure and departed, feeling that if any man could drive that car at a speed in the region of 250 m.p.h., Malcolm Campbell would do so.
The specification of the car is as follows:—
Chassis.—The chassis frame has been built at Messrs. Vickers' River Don Works. The frame is underslung under the rear axle to provide a very low layout, the centre of gravity being considerably under the centre line of transmission.
Tubular cross members are used throughout, some of which are made out of solid forgings and machined.
The engine is supported on a sub-frame, made under a similar principle as the chassis, and providing a three-point suspension by one spherical socket in the front and two at the rear.
The petrol tank is mounted at the rear end of the chassis and has a capacity of 23 gallons, and was made by the Gallay Radiator Co.
The oil tank is mounted inside the frame members alongside the engine and contains five gallons.
The wheelbase is 12ft. 2¾ins., the front track 5ft. 4ins. and the rear track 5ft. 2ins.
Wheels and Tyres.—Special wheels of the steel disc type have been designed and built by the Dunlop Rubber Co., with tyres by the Dunlop Company designed after a series of special tests to ensure their being capable of standing up to the high speeds anticipated.
Pairings to streamline the wheels and tyres leave only 1½ ins. clearance between the tyre and the fairing, so a section 5ins. deep of the fairing near the tyre is made of very light sheet, so that in the event of a tyre deflating, this will he torn to pieces without locking the wheel.
Engine.—The engine is one of the latest type Napier racing engines, as fitted to the Gloster-Napier seaplane which set up a speed of 336 m.p.h. Special permission has had to be obtained from the Air Ministry for the use of the engine by Capt. Malcolm Campbell.
Only certain information is allowed to be divulged, as it is still on the Air Ministry Part Publication List, and the following is the brief information available:—
Number of cylinders 12
Arrangement Three blocks of four each, one vertical, two at 60°
Bore 5 1/2 ins.
Stroke 5 1/8 ins.
Horespower Approx. 1,450 h.p. at 3,600 r.p.m.
Weight of engine 1,140 lbs.
Weight per h.p. 0.781 lbs.
Lenght overall to centre of airscrew 64-13/16 ins.
Width overall 37 3/8 ins.
Height overall 34 1/8 ins.
Clutch.—The clutch is of the dry multiplate type, Ferodo lined. Messrs. Perodo having greatly assisted in the design of the clutch.
Gearbox.—Three speed constant mesh, all dog clutches. The gear ratios are 1.58, 2.27, 4.01 and rereverse. Built by K.L.G. Sparking Plugs Ltd.
Rear Axle.—The central casing of the rear axle is offset 7ins., so as to enable the driver's seat to be brought within 10ins, of the ground.
The final drive, which for the higher speed has a ratio of 1.58 to 1, is of the bevel gear type. Full floating axle shafts are provided, and the driving dogs at the hub end are formed solid with the axle shafts.
Front Axle.—The front axle is made in two pieces joined in the middle by substantial flanges and provision has been made for relieving the springs of torsional stresses.
Steering.—Both front wheels are directly controlled by the steering gear, while the track rod is retained. Two Marles steering gears are used in connection with the device, and although the lock of each wheel is directly controlled, the Ackerman action is maintained by the layout.
Suspension.—Half elliptic springs are provided in front and rear, the springs being of the Woodhead type with weldless solid eyes and solid lug plates and rebound clips. The dimensions of the springs are, at the front 3ft. 1in., and 4ft. 2½ins. at the rear. The spring blocks, which are made of manganese bronze, anchor the springs to the axles by a double set of clamping "U" bolts.
A feature of the springing is the fact that each rear spring has a different camber, so that when the car is at rest there is a slight list, but when engine torque comes into play it brings the car on an even keel.
Hartford shock absorbers and Silentbloc bushes are utilised and fitted.
Brakes.—Four wheel brakes are provided, controlled by foot pedal, with an auxiliary control by vacuum servo of the Clayton Dewandre type. The front wheel brake mechanism of the Atford & Alder system provides large logarithmic cams, mounted on special carriers which form the universal joint, and the whole of the arrangement is set well within the centre line of steering, a difficult thing to obtain in the ordinary way owing to the small width of the drums.
The brakes on the four wheels are all of the same size. The brake drums are made from solid forgings of special high carbon steel, and having an internal braking surface of 18ins. diameter and 1 5/8 ins. width. Thin fins for cooling purposes are machined on the outside. The shoes, made in "Wilmil" alloy, specially lined by Messrs. Ferodo, Ltd., are also identical, both for front and rear, and are operated by the same logarithmic type of cam as described above. The rotation plates for the front are formed by extension lugs made integral with the stub axle, and the rear reaction plates which are made also in steel are bolted to suitable flanges solid with the steel arms of the rear axle casing.
Radiator.—A special Serk honeycomb radiator has been designed, and the system has a specially large water capacity. The radiator is situated in the front of the car. There is a gap between the radiator and the front of the actual body, the casing of the radiator being streamlined with that of the rest of the body. This arrangement was decided on after considerable experiment, as providing the minimum of wind resistance, and also relieving the pressure inside the body, which is bound to occur with a normal radiator arrangement.
Instruments.—Smith's instruments are installed throughout, including a rev. counter mounted on the front of the body, offset to the same extent as the driver, which can be used as a sight when driving.
Motor Sport, February 1931