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SNAPSHOT 450: 1931 Blue Bird

The story of the various iterations of Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird land speed record cars has been told in part before on this website – way back in Snapshot No. 2. That Snapshot dealt with the first of Campbell’s record cars to be powered by the Napier Lion aero engine. Campbell had broken the record before with his Sunbeam ‘Blue Bird’. With around 500bhp of Napier power, he aimed to break the 200mph barrier. But a two-way average of only 174.883mph was achieved in February 1927.

Segrave’s 1,000bhp Sunbeam achieved both the 180mph and 200mph targets a month later. So Campbell rebuilt his car for 1928, persuading the Air Ministry to allow him to fit a Schneider Trophy-tuned “Sprint” engine, as fitted to the Supermarine S.5 seaplane, of 900bhp.

The streamlined car, with rear-mounted side radiators, may have looked ungainly (one French newspaper compared its looks to a whale), but on 19 February 1928 Campbell took the record at 206.956mph. But Ray Keech’s White Triplex broke that record only two months later.

Campbell rebuilt his car again, this tome to run on the more predictable surface of a dry lake bed in South Africa. It was not, however, dry. Campbell encountered the first rain in five years, and could only set long-distance records – while Segrave had upped the record to a staggering 233.44mph in Golden Arrow.

And now we arrive at this week’s Snapshot. Campbell’s new machine, named the Campbell-Napier-Railton Blue Bird, used a supercharged Napier Lion VIID with over three times the power of the previous Blue Bird. On 5 February 1931, at Daytona Beach in Florida, he raised the record to 246mph. Such was the public acclaim that Campbell was knighted as Sir Malcolm Campbell. A year later he returned and pushed this car to 251mph. Our Snapshot shows the car during this successful attempt.

Campbell had not finished. He rebuilt the car again, this time with a larger, heavier and far more powerful supercharged Rolls-Royce R V12 engine. In 1933 he raised the record again, to 272mph. Finally, at the far smoother and more suitable Bonneville Salt Flats in 1935, that car set Campbell’s final record at 301.337mph. That would do nicely.

Image courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive:

One response to “SNAPSHOT 450: 1931 Blue Bird”

  1. Tom Clarke says:

    The body from 1930 onwards was by Gurney Nutting, adjusted for later engine change to Rolls-Royce and altered front cowl. Keep up the flow of great work!

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