Car: Sunbeam 350hp Bluebird, 1924

The battle for the world land speed record entered an extraordinary phase in 1922 when aircraft engines became the favored method to push the boundaries of speed.

1924 Sunbeam 350hp “Bluebird”
Mechanics inspect the Bluebird’s engine prior to the world record attempt with Campbell (in plus-fours) keeping a watchful eye.

The 1,118ci (18,322cc), V12 Sunbeam Manitou engine saw active service in only one airplane before being used in powerboats. In 1920, however, an engine was installed in a Sunbeam chassis, to produce a car with record-breaking capabilities.

Redesigned to produce 350hp—50 more than in aircraft form—the engine was given shaft-drive to the rear wheels—much safer than the dangerous chains that could sometimes break and injure the driver.

1924 model car Sunbeam 350hp Bluebird

In 1922, Kenelm Lee Guinness made land speed history at Brooklands when he drove the Sunbeam to a record-breaking 133.75mph (215.25kph). Next it was the turn of dedicated speed freak Malcolm Campbell, who touched 138mph (222kph) at Saltburn, North Yorkshire, although a faulty stopwatch prevented him from becoming the fastest driver on earth. However, Campbell was smitten with the car and persuaded Sunbeam to sell it to him. He painted it blue and named it “Bluebird”, the full name model of the car Sunbeam 350hp Bluebird.

Sunbeam 350hp Bluebird

Campbell eventually took the land speed record after the car had received crucial aerodynamic modifications: in September 1924, at Pendine Sands in South Wales, he achieved the official time of 146.16mph (235.22kph). Later, Campbell would use the Sunbeam to become the first man to drive at a speed of more than 150mph (240kph).

“Happiness is by the side of each and every one of us, always within reach, yet if pursued to catch and possess is beyond our grasp.”

Sir Malcolm Campbell

Video model of the car Sunbeam 350hp Bluebird

Specification model of the car Sunbeam 350hp Bluebird

  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Wolverhampton, UK
  • HISTORICAL STATUS: speed record car
  • ENGINE: V12-cylinder, 1,118ci (18,322cc)
  • MAXIMUM POWER: 350bhp
  • LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
  • BODYWORK: single-seater racer
  • TOP SPEED: 152mph (245kph)