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Blue Bird returns to Pendine for anniversary run

Published 03 June 2015

Iconic world land speed record car Blue Bird will return to Pendine Sands in July to celebrate the 90th anniversary of its record-breaking run.

But while the 350hp Sunbeam hit the magic 150mph mark in South Wales back in 1925, the event taking place on 21 July and organised by the National Motor Museum will be a more low-speed affair.

The car will be driven by Sir Malcolm’s grandson, Don Wales, himself a Land Speed Record holder.

Don said, 'I am really looking forward to driving the 350hp Sunbeam, which is the car that gave my grandfather his first Land Speed Record.

Malcolm Campbell At Pendine.

Malcolm Cambell at Pendine Sands

‘I cannot believe that I will get this fantastic opportunity to drive this iconic machine on Pendine.’

He added, ‘My grandfather was a remarkable man and for us to remember him and honour some of his achievements in this way will be very humbling.’

Wales also thanked the team at Beaulieu for the chance to drive the car, and for the hard work the restoration team have done to get the car ready.

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

Sir Malcolm Campbell , Pendine Sands

Campbell and his team working on the Sunbeam

Its power came from a modified 18.322-litre V12 modified Manitou Arab aero engine, a type used on naval seaplanes.

The Sunbeam, renamed Blue Bird by Campbell, holds 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.

Campbell then sold the Sunbeam and it passed through a number of owners and was in a poor condition when purchased by Lord Montagu in 1957, for his expanding motor museum.

Sunbeam On The Start Line At Pendine

Campbell and at the start line at Pendine Sands

It was restored to working order and when not on display, it was taken to motoring venues in the UK, Europe and as far afield as 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 did a lap d’Honneur.

During a test fire-up in 1993 to assess the car’s condition, disaster struck when a blocked oil way in the engine caused it to seize and ‘throw a rod’.

For several years after that, the car was on display in the museum 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 - the first time it had been heard in public in over 50 years.

The following month it was a star of the show at Retromobile, Paris and was also run at the 2014 Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Doug Hill, the National Motor Museum’s manager and chief engineer said, said he was delighted to be able to celebrate such an amazing achievement with the historic motorcar, 90 years to the day after Malcolm Campbell achieved 150mph with it on the same stretch of sand.

Hill said, 'Having spent more than 2000 hours on the engine alone, this low speed commemorative demonstration run is a fine tribute both to the team of engineers at the museum involved in its restoration and to the original creators of the car. It is also a tribute to Lord Montagu who had the foresight to preserve this iconic motorcar and to the courage and determination of Malcolm Campbell.'

24 Litre Napier -Railton

1933 aero-engined Napier Railton Special will support the run

Supporting the run will be the 1933 aero-engined Napier Railton Special, which holds the all-time lap record of 143.44mph at Brooklands.

The Napier-Railton has its own unique history at Pendine, having been the star (alongside James Mason and Ava Gardner) of the 1951 movie Pandora & The Flying Dutchman.

In the film, the car is used for an attempt on the Land Speed Record, for which the action sequences (culminating in the car being driven into the sea to quench an engine fire) were filmed on Pendine Sands during 1950. 

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