For Britain and for the hell of it!

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By Robert Harland


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I HAD not realized that the Brits have broken more World Land Speed Records than anyone else. As a former student employee of Britain's National Motor Museum in southern England I should have known that. Now I do.

In 1964 I worked at the magnificent Montagu Motor Museum along with two student friends, Chris Owen and John Stolper. It became the National Motor Museum in 1972.

Among the many spectacular vehicles we proudly showed visitors were three world record breakers – the 350hp and 1000hp Sunbeams and the Golden Arrow.


And now, to tell the story of British pluck, technological mastery and national pride, these three amazing vehicles along with a later record breaker, the Bluebird CN7, are being showcased in a new multimedia exhibit entitled, “For Britain and for the hell of it!”

The exhibit also includes contemporary souvenirs and memorabilia, trophies and personal items belonging to the drivers.

It was opened last week by Don Wales, grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell, who broke the World Land Speed Record eight times from 1924 to 1935.

Mr. Wales said, “The 116 year history of Land Speed Records has been dominated by the British. The record has been broken 57 times, 26 by a Briton including eight by a Campbell.

"My uncle, Donald, broke the Land and Sea record in the same year – a unique double that has never been equaled. British Land Speed Record cars are an important part of our heritage and need to be on show for the public to see."

The odd name of the exhibit comes from driver Richard Noble’s reply as to what motivated him just after he set a new World Land Speed Record of 633.468 mph (1,019.47 kph) in the Thrust 2 in 1973. “For Britain and for the hell of it!” he yelled.

The earliest of the record breakers on display is the 350 bhp Sunbeam, which was the first powered by an aero engine and that Irishman Kenelm Lee Guinness used to break the world record in 1922.

After it was re-modeled a few times, Captain Malcolm Campbell used it again to break the record twice at Pendine Sands, Wales – first in 1924 at 146.16 mph (235.22 kph), then in 1925 when he broke through to 150.76 mph (242.62 kph).

Next is the purpose-built 1,000 bhp Sunbeam. Using two 22.5-liter V-12 engines mounted front and rear, Major Henry Segrave reached an average speed of 203.792 mph (327.971 kph) at Daytona Beach, Florida in March 1927. It actually only had 900 hp, but the directors of the Sunbeam Motor Company liked the sound of 1000 hp, so that was its name.

The Irving Napier Special, Golden Arrow, was built by the KLG Robin Hood Works, Putney Vale, London. Major Segrave was again the driver in 1929 when it did 231.446 mph (372.476 kph) at Daytona Beach - breaking the record by 24 mph (38 kph), and setting Britain on a 20-year run of holding the World Land Speed Record.

The fourth featured car in the exhibit, the Bluebird CN7, was driven by Donald Campbell, son of Sir Malcolm. After a record attempt on the Bonneville Salt Flats that ended in a wind-induced somersault in 1960, a tailfin was added and Campbell had a second go in 1964 at Lake Eyre, Australia, where he topped out at 403.10 mph (648.72 kph). It became a permanent exhibit at the museum in 1972.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on April 02, 2014.


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