Car: Bluebird, 1935

Bluebird was not one single vehicle but a long series of cars and motor boats used to challenge world speed records. The 350bhp Sunbeam (see pages 46–47)was just one of the early models.

Bluebird was the “lucky” name of Sir Malcolm Campbell (and later of his record-breaking son, Donald), the descendant of a wealthy London diamond-dealing family who began his car-racing exploits in 1910.

The appreciative crowd give an idea of the scale of the 1935 incarnation of Bluebird, which would set the world land speed record
The appreciative crowd give an idea of the scale of the 1935 incarnation of Bluebird, which would set the world land speed record

Having topped 150mph (241kph) in the Sunbeam, he now set his sights on bettering 200mph (322kph), which he achieved in 1928 using, for the first time, a car designed to his precise requirements. At its heart was a 450bhp Napier Lion 12-cylinder aero engine. Constantly updated and modified, by 1931 Bluebird featured a supercharged, 950bhp Napier V12 engine. Campbell took the record to 246.09mph (396.04kph), and was knighted for his heroic feat. But there was no stopping him. In 1932, he became the first man on earth past 250mph (402kph).

1935 racing model car Bluebird
1935 racing model car Bluebird

The car pictured here was crafted in partnership with engineer Reid Railton in 1935, with power coming from a huge 2,232ci (36,582cc) supercharged Rolls-Royce R-type V12 aero engine. The design of this unit, at the time, was a closely guarded secret, but Rolls was eager to share the huge publicity Campbell generated. Thoroughly developed from earlier Bluebirds, it now had full-width bodywork and twin rear wheels. Driving it on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, he achieved an amazing, record-beating 301.129mph (484.620kph).

“Salt is the ideal surface for tired LSR cars because it gives far better grip than tarmac. But he [Campbell] wasn’t to have an easy time. On the first of his two-way runs, a tire burst at 304mph.”

Richard Noble, Former world land speed record holder, writing in autocar magazine, 1996

Video racing model car Bluebird

Specification racing model car Bluebird

YEAR REVEALED: 1935
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Brooklands, Surrey, UK
HISTORICAL STATUS: speed record car
ENGINE: V12-cylinder, 2,232ci (36,582cc)
MAXIMUM POWER: 2,500bhp
LAYOUT: rear-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: single-seater racer
TOP SPEED: 301mph (484kph)
NUMBER BUILT: one