Blue Bird Anniversary Celebration

The 90th anniversary of Sir Malcolm Campbell’s World Land Speed Record of 150mph was celebrated today by the Beaulieu National Motor Museum with a recreation of the run at Pendine Sands.

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Hundreds of spectators gathered on the famous beach to witness a commemorative run of the iconic 350hp Sunbeam with a low speed demonstration run with Sir Malcolm’s grandson Don Wales at the wheel. Don, who is also a Land Speed Record holder, said: “I was thrilled to be given this amazing opportunity to sit at the wheel of my grandfather’s car back at Pendine where he set his record. It was an honour both to follow in his footsteps and to drive this iconic car on such a special occasion. My grandfather was a remarkable man and for us to remember him and honour some of his achievements in this way is very humbling. I really must thank Beaulieu for this opportunity and for all the hard work the restoration team have done on her.”

Don Wales is the nephew of Donald Campbell CBE and Grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell, and has been maintaining the family’s record-breaking tradition since establishing the UK National Land Speed Record for an electric car in May 1998 at a speed of 116mph. In 2000, Don returned with Bluebird electric to Pendine Sands and set a two way average of 137mph, with a peak speed of over 160mph – a national record he maintained for 12 years. In 2009, Don and the the British Steam Car Team achieved a World Land Speed Record of 148mph for a steam powered car, a record previously set in 1906 by Fred Marriott in a Stanley steam car. In 2010 he returned to Pendine Sands and set the World Lawn Mower Record with a speed of 87mph. Don currently holds a World Land Speed Record, two American National records and eight UK National records. His ambition is to be the first to exceed 500mph in an electric car.

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The famous Sunbeam was constructed under the watchful eye of chief engineer and racing team manager Louis Coatalen at the company’s works in Wolverhampton during 1919 and early 1920, with power coming from a modified 18.32 litre V12 Manitou Arab aero engine, a type used on naval seaplanes. It was renamed Blue Bird by Campbell and went on to hold three World Land Speed Records, the first achieved by Kenelm Lee Guinness at Brooklands in 1922 with a speed of 133.75mph. Campbell then purchased the car, had it painted in his distinctive colour scheme and in September 1924 achieved a new record speed of 146.16mph at Pendine, raising it the following year to 150.76mph.

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After that, Campbell sold the Sunbeam, with passing through a number of owners until purchased in a poor condition by Beaulieu owner Lord Montagu in 1957. It was restored to working order and taken to motoring events in the UK, Europe and even South Africa. Its last outing was at the British Automobile Racing Club Festival of Motoring at Goodwood in July 1962 when Lord Montagu took it on a three-lap demonstration run and Donald Campbell a lap of honour.

However, disaster struck in 1993 during a test fire-up to assess the car’s condition, when a blocked oil way in the engine caused it to seize and ‘throw a rod’. For several years afterwards, the car remained on display in the museum but with a very visible hole in its engine where the piston and con-rod had exited.

In January 2014, following a complete mechanical rebuild undertaken by the National Motor Museum’s workshop team over a period of many years, the Sunbeam was fired-up again. This was the first time it had been heard in public in over 50 years. Doug Hill, the National Motor Museum’s Manager and Chief Engineer, said: “When we were rebuilding the Sunbeam, I always hoped it would be finished by 2015 so we could run it here today on the 90th anniversary of its World Land Speed Record. I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to Louis Coatalen, the designers, the engineers who built it and the people who developed it during its racing history. I am also indebted to our team of engineers and volunteers who have spent more than 2000 working hours returning it to running condition.”

The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu houses a collection of over 280 vehicles spanning every period in the history of motoring. The 350hp Sunbeam is one of four Land Speed Record cars on show in a permanent display entitled ‘For Britain & For The Hell Of it’, which opened in 2014.

For more information on the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu visit www.thenationalmotormuseum.org.uk

For more information on Don Wales visit www.donwales.co.uk

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