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SNAPSHOT 2: 1927 ‘Bluebird’

One of the problems with showing photographs of competition vehicles is that most images of them have been seen time and time again simply because there were comparatively few such machines and only a limited number of reproducible shots were taken of them. In circuit racing a team of three cars was most frequently encountered, but sometimes more or less, whilst with land-speed record ‘contestants’ these were almost always one-off vehicles.

By 1914 the ‘Land Speed Record’ had come to be the fastest averaged speed from two-way runs over a mile distance. These runs were made with what became known as a ‘flying’ start to build up speed prior to the timed mile being covered, plus a suitable deceleration distance beyond it. Venues where a straight, flat, ‘course’ of around 7 miles minimum distance could be laid out were few and far between and the sandy beach at Pendine in South Wales had a period of popularity in the 1920s.

Many people will have no problem in recognising Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird that was specially designed and built for record breaking and there are quite a number of images of it both when stationary and moving at speed. However this particular shot of Campbell descending the slip-way on to the beach for a practice run in late January 1927, which because of the dark background gives a very clear profile view of the car, does not seem to have been widely reproduced, if at all.

The car’s nickel-steel chassis had been built in the KLG works at Putney Vale with power coming from a 12-cylinder Napier ‘Lion’ aero-engine which developed a quoted 502 bhp at 2,200 rpm. This proved capable of propelling the 3-ton car at an average speed of 174 mph on the 2nd February, only just over 3 mph up on the record achieved by Parry Thomas with the Higham Special ‘Babs’ the previous April. It was during an attempt to regain his record that Thomas was so sadly killed a month later. As for Bluebird, regular improvements and engine transplants eventually enabled Campbell to achieve his goal of 300+ mph 8 years later.

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