Ah, the Blue Bird. What a machine that was. No, I’m not talking about that rusty four-door Nissan that your dad probably drove. Although that was a pretty cool car in its own right — albeit not nearly as fast as the land-speed-record car you see pictured here.
The Blue Bird name is one of the most famous in land- and water-speed records and it’s synonymous with the Campbell family who helped create it.
It all began back in 1911 when Sir Malcolm Campbell, born when the combustion engine was still being perfected, and who was always fascinated by speed, painted his race car blue after watching Maurice Maeterlinck’s play,
The Blue Bird, and named it accordingly.
The paint hadn’t even dried before he was celebrating victory the next day at the Brooklands track in Surrey, England.
Campbell, who also raced motorcycles, planes and boats and set all manner of records, was most famous for powering his final land-speed-record car, the hulking 1935 Blue Bird.
The mechanics of the 1935 model were significantly different from the Campbell-Napier-Railton Blue Bird of 1931; the biggest change being the addition of a larger, far more potent supercharged Rolls-Royce R 36.7.0-litre V12, which replaced the old Napier Lion engine. And, designed during the Modernist Thirties, visually it was vastly different too.
For instance, the body was now rectangular and spanned the full width over the wheels. It sat higher but you wouldn’t have noticed due to the increased width; the long stabilising tailfin and raised ridges over the engine camboxes accentuated the sleek looks.
During earlier record attempts, Campbell had lost valuable seconds due to lack of grip, but the new Blue Bird eradicated much of that thanks to the addition of double wheels and tyres fitted to the rear axle. This vastly improved traction, while air brakes were added and actuated by a large air cylinder.
The revised Blue Bird made its first record run at Daytona Beach in 1935 where Campbell powered it to 276.82mph (445.5kph). He knew he could get more out of the car but
a bigger and smoother arena was required in order for him to achieve this. This led him to the Utah and the Bonneville Salt Flats and
on September 3, 1935, he again got behind the wheel of this magnificent motoring icon
to smash his lifelong ambition — the 300mph (482kph) barrier — making him the first man to do so.
Son Donald would subsequently obliterate his late father’s record in 1964 by touching 403.10mph (648.73kph) in the Blue Bird CN7 in Lake Eyre, Australia.
Yes, speed most definitely ran in this family, thanks to the legendary Blue Bird.