1924/1925: Sunbeam driven by Sir Malcolm Campbell

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1924 / 1925
United Kingdom
V12. Aero
18,322 cc
Bore x Stroke:
120 x 135 mm
300 bhp
Top Speed:

146.16/150.87 mph


Malcolm Campbell had more to do with the world land speed record than any other man. He held it nine times with three different cars over a period of eleven years.

It was an obsession with him which dominated his life, allied later to the world water speed record. His son Donald later inherited the same singleness of purpose.

Malcolm Campbell first became involved in 1924, when he was already an established and successful Brooklands driver. His first goal was 150 mph., and his first car for the purpose the 350 horse-power Sunbeam in which Guinness had taken the record to 133.75 mph.

Eldridge's Fiat held the record at 146.01 when Campbell decided to make his first attempt. He took over the Sunbeam, made many changes to it, and twice broke the record, but the A.I.A.C.R. would not approve the timing apparatus.

Campbell was a determined, stubborn, man and was made more so by these early setbacks. He called all his cars "Bluebird" right from the first Sunbeam, in which he set his first world record at Pendine Sands in 1924.

His second Bluebird, built after he had taken the record twice with the Sunbeam, was the aero-engined Napier-Campbell which put the speed up four times, finally to 253.97 mph. Campbell, with this car, was the first man to build a car capable of taking the record but of no use for any other purpose.

But he was never satisfied, although he put the speed on wheels up past 200 miles an hour and then 250. More and more powerful engines went into the Bluebird, the chassis was lengthened, and new sites which would afford the Bluebird a longer straight were sought.

Finally Campbell achieved 301.13 mph., which was fast even for an aeroplane in 1935. The Rolls-Royce engine which he used was the forerunner of the Merlin which powered the Battle of Britain Spitfires.

In his constant searching for more suitable sites, Campbell became the first man to break the record at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, where his last record was established. Bonneville has been the site for many successful attempts since then.

We have said that Malcolm Campbell used three cars to set up his nine world land speed records. To be strictly accurate he used only two cars, but the second one was extensively modified no less than five times.

For his first two successful attempts he used the 350 horse-power Sunbeam. This is of course discounting Campbell's first two efforts, one at Saltburn, Lancashire, and one on the Danish island of Fanoe, on both of which he broke the existing record but failed to have his times accepted.

Before he used the V12 Sunbeam, Campbell covered the original somewhat stumpy tail with a longer streamlined affair. He also went to some trouble to streamline all projections, including the outside handbrake lever, the rear axle, and the brake gear. In addition a headrest was fitted and a wind deflector on the scuttle. The six exhaust pipes on each side were cut off flush with the bonnet.

Discs were added to the rear wheels. For his second run in July, 1925, the long exhaust pipes were replaced, and the new windscreen scrapped. Worth mentioning is Campbell’s chief mechanic Leo Villa, who not only carried out the majority of modifications to Malcolm Campbell machinery, but would go on to assist Douglas also.

Also See:

Land Speed Record Drivers
Herbert Austin LSR Attempt
History Of The Land Speed Record
Unique Cars and Parts USA - The Ultimate Classic Car Resource