Category Archives: Motoring

The Swind E Classic Mini

A sight becoming more commonplace in major cities.

As Governments around the world wrestle with the possible long-term effects of climate change and aided by a groundswell of public opinion to stop global warming, Electric and Hybrid vehicles continue to gain traction in the model line-up of many of the mainstream automotive manufacturers.

Outwardly a classic E-type but with an electric heart.

It has also created the by-product of a potential electric future for classic vehicle enthusiasts to consider.

Last year Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works in Coventry, part of the Jaguar Land Rover group, revealed the E-Type Zero.  The Concept Zero is built around a 1968 Series 1.5 E-Type Roadster, which has been converted to utilise an electric powertrain that offers equivalent performance to the original petrol engine but with zero emissions. The conversion is fully reversible and future-proofs classic car motoring, and the good news is it can be applied to any classic Jaguar built between 1948 and 1992 and is intended to preserve the looks and handling of the original petrol XK engine classics.

The Mini still holds its own in the efficient use of space.

And now this year, 60 years on from the birth of the iconic Mini, British engineering firm Swindon Powertrain, is offering an electric classic Mini.  The Swind E Classic is the brain-child of Swindon Powertrain’s managing director Raphael Caille, who saw an opportunity to produce an electric car that people from all walks of life would instantly fall in love with. “This is the first time an electrified classic Mini has entered production,” confirms Caille. “There have been one-offs and prototypes before, but Swind is the first company to launch such a car to the public. The classic Mini has such a special place in people’s hearts, not only in the UK but around the world. The packaging of Sir Alec Issigonis’ 1959 design was truly ground-breaking, and now we are making it relevant again. Its compact size and good visibility, together with contemporary performance and handling, make it a car you’ll want to drive in the city and put a smile on your face.”

Iconic Mini instrument dial still looks good.

It is city driving that the Swind E classic is built for, utilising state of the art EV technology, replacing the petrol engine and gearbox with a bespoke 80kw electric motor and 24kWh lithium-ion battery give a range of over 200km. A full charge takes four hours from a type 2 connector and with the petrol tank removed boot space is improved by 200 litres. Performance is nippy to with 0-100kph in under 10 seconds and a top speed of nearly 130kph

The conversion adds 80kg to the total weight of the car, but the centre of gravity is 44mm lower, helping to enhance its already legendary handling. Weight distribution is also superior from 68:32 to 57:43 front and rear. Other nice modernities are new brakes with regenerative capability, new suspension and contemporary rust protection. Also, there’s heated front, and rear windscreens, underfloor heating, 2 USB ports, and leather heated seats.

60 years young and still good looking.

There are a number of options on offer as well such as an infotainment system, electric air-conditioning, central locking, electric front windows, openable rear windows, electric power steering and full electric sliding roof.

The Swind E Classic is also available in left or right-hand drive. Only 100 are to be produced and with a price tag of 79,000 pounds ($145,000 Australian) without options.

Words © Geoff Dawes 2019. Images © 2019 Courtesy of Swindon Powertrain https://swindonpowertrain.com,  Jaguar Land Rover Classics https://media.jaguar.com/news/…/jaguar-e-type-zero-most-beautiful-electric-car-world

Electric Dreams? The Jaguar E-Type Zero

The announcement in recent months that both France and the U.K. are to ban the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040 has sent shockwaves through the car industry and will force automotive manufacturers to step up the pace of change to hybrid and electric powered cars.

The French announcement in July by Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot is in line with the Paris climate accord and part of a commitment by the French Government for the country to become carbon neutral by 2050.

However, it was the loss of a Supreme Court battle to environmental group ClientEarth in 2015 that has forced the British Government to act. The U.K.’s air pollution problems have been in breach of the EU limits for years, and several British cities have failed to meet standards on nitrogen dioxide levels since 2010. According to the Royal College of Physicians, around 40,000 deaths in the U.K. per year are caused by air pollution.

Perhaps a big cat that will not be on the endangered list?

All of the above is no doubt something of a nightmare to owners of vintage and classic cars that could in future years be penalised in some way or be seen merely as anti-social for using a “dirty” petrol driven vehicle. It, therefore, must come as some sort of relief that at least one company is offering an integrated option to solve this dilemma.

Jaguar Land Rover Classic Works in Coventry are part of the Jaguar Land Rover group responsible for maintaining, restoring and building continuation classic Jaguars. But it is their latest offering, the Jaguar E-Type Zero that allows owners “to have their cake and eat it too”.

The Concept Zero featured, is built around the 1968 Series 1.5 E-Type Roadster, which has been converted to utilise an electric powertrain that offers equivalent performance but with zero emissions. The conversion is fully reversible and future-proofs classic car motoring.

The good news is the conversion can be applied to any classic Jaguar built between 1948 and 1992 and is intended to preserve the looks and handling of the original petrol XK engined classics.

Lithium-ion batteries replace the XK petrol engine.

The lithium-ion batteries have the same dimensions and similar weight to the six-cylinder engine used in the original E-type and are placed in the same location. The electric motor (and reduction gear) lies behind the battery pack, in the identical position to the E-type’s gearbox. A propshaft then sends the power to a carry-over differential and final drive.

The electric power unit develops 220kw and compares favourably against the 198kw of the original XK6 petrol engine, and is 46kg lighter while the overall weight is 82kg lower than the Series 1 E-type.  It’s also quicker than an original E-type; 0-100km/h (62mph) takes only 5.5sec, about one second faster than a Series 1 E-type. The 40kwh battery has a real-world range of 270km and can be completely recharged in six to seven hours.

An inverter hides in the boot.

Another positive aspect of the conversion is that by using an electric powertrain with comparable weight and dimensions to the outgoing petrol engine and transmission, the car’s structure, including suspension and brakes, doesn’t need to be changed. The E-Type Zero drives, handles, rides and brakes like an original E-type, thanks to a front and rear weight distribution that remains unchanged.

Outwardly there are only a few hints that this is no regular E-Type. The dash sports modified digital instruments and facia, inspired of course by the original E-Type and the headlights are L.E.D. in the name of energy efficiency.

I only hope owners of a Zero are given a USB to play through the cars sound system that features the sonorous melody of an XK engine, being driven hard….

Words © Geoff Dawes 2017. Images and video courtesy of Jaguar Land Rover Ltd,

 

Archives: The Great Wings and Wheels Challenge

Jeff Evans aboard his 1950 Norton International and Neville Schubert on his 1956 MSS Velocette take on the Supermarine Spitfire MK V111 (background) in the feature event.

The classic racing scene has become a worldwide phenomenon over the past thirty years or more.  The highly successful Goodwood Festival of Speed was first held in 1993 followed five years later in 1998 by the Goodwood Revival that celebrates not only historic racing cars and motorcycles but also aircraft with spectators dressing in period costume to recreate the era.

1993 was also the year Adelaide had its own unique historic event in aid of charity. Below is my report on the meeting.

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The idea for the Great Wings and Wheels Challenge was inspired by the writings of T.E. Lawrence – the fabled “Lawrence of Arabia “. It was Airman Lawrence’s exploits racing his “super tuned” Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle against the likes of World War One aircraft such as Bristol fighters and Sopwith Camels that captured the imagination of Blind Welfare fundraising promotions officer, and motorcycle racing enthusiast, Chris Wain.

With the help of the Historic Motorcycle Racing Register, Tourism S.A., the Historic Racing Register and the Federal Airports Authority, this unique event was put together to aid the Blind Welfare Association by pitting historic motorcycles, cars and aircraft against each other.

Held in absolutely perfect weather conditions on Sunday, November the 14th at Adelaide’s Parafield Airport, the organisers turned on an entertaining family event that was enjoyed by approximately 20,000 spectators.

But how do you translate Lawrence’s daring races on public roads into an event contained within the safety conscious confines of Parafield Airport? The answer turned out to be really quite simple. By utilising three of the northwestern runways, it was possible to have the motorcycles, cars and aircraft race each other side by side over a measured four hundred metres.

Kent Patrick’s magnificent Type 37A Bugatti.

In the spirit of the era, well known “flagman”, Glen Dix, waved them away with each competitor’s progress being timed by hand-held stopwatch. With some sixty entrants in the car division and thirty-five in the motorcycle class, it was going to be quite a feat to get through the various categories before a final “top ten shootout” for the three divisions could be held. Each competitor though was guaranteed at least three runs, with their best time to be recorded on a special certificate and accompanied by a plaque.

The air was filled with nostalgia as the time trials started with exciting machines for both motorcycle and car enthusiasts to watch and aircraft aficionados to admire. In the motorcycle class, these ranged from Doug Treager’s 1961 Manx Norton and Dean Watson’s 1948 KSS Velocette to Mark Schuppan’s 1962 pan head Harley Davidson outfit. The sight of Peter Graham’s vintage 4.5 litre Bentley and Kent Patrick’s Type 37A Bugatti whipped up images of Le Mans and Brooklands in the car class, which added to the atmosphere of the occasion, helped along with such classics as the SS100 (Jaguar) of Simon Finch and Don Davies MG TC special.

Colin Pay taxies his Supermarine Spitfire MK V111.

The aircraft were well represented too, including perhaps that most loved of bi-planes the Tiger Moth owned by Bryan Price and also the Boeing Stearman’s of Ivor Peaech and Tim Knappstein.

The time trials, however, were not the only attraction of the event. The organisers had made sure there was a carnival atmosphere with plenty of sideshows, rides and static displays to admire. The latter included public access to the cockpit of an Avon Sabre jet fighter of the type used during the Korean War.The Southern Cross Trust also had on display their replica of the Focker V11 that carried Australian pilot Charles Kingsford Smith on the first aerial crossing of the Pacific from America to Australia in 1928.

But the stars of the show for most were Colin Pay’s World War Two Supermarine Spitfire Mark V111 and the Hawker Sea Fury owned by Guido Zuccoli. It was the individual lunchtime acrobatics of these two aircraft that had the crowd enthralled. If the Spitfire could be described as swift agile and elegant, then the Sea Fury was fast furious and loud. With 2,550hp on tap from its radial 18 cylinder engine, the Sea Fury is one of the most powerful piston engine aircraft ever built, and after seeing it in action, few would dispute this claim. Genuinely awe-inspiring stuff and a fitting build-up to the feature event of the day – a match race between a Brough Superior, the Supermarine Spitfire and a Type 37A Bugatti.

Time trials winner Andy McDonald on his 650cc Triton (15) lines up against Bob Eldridge on his Honda CB72 based racer.

Unfortunately, this brought the only disappointment of the meeting when the Brough Superior was unexpectedly scratched. Neville Schubert’s 1956 MSS Veloccette and Jeff Evans 1950 600cc Norton International however ably filled its place. To the entertainment of the crowd, these classic and vintage competitors lined up against each other in a cacophony of revving engines as they waited to be flagged away. At the starter’s signal, they launched themselves off the line with the motorcycles scrambling to an immediate advantage, which they held to the finish line. The Spitfire, although putting in a creditable 17.38 seconds run, was no match, but it was still quick enough to beat home the vintage Bugatti.

By now most of the vast crowd were suffering from a severe case of nostalgia overload, as the meeting started to wind down.  The final runs of the top ten entrants were held for each class – although it would be the fastest pass the competitors had accomplished on the day that would decide the winner of the time trials.

The most powerful piston engined aeroplane in the world the Hawker Sea Fury.

And they were pretty close too, with eight competitors getting into the 13-second bracket in the motorcycle category and two in the car class. The overall winner and first in the motorcycle division went to Andy McDonald on his 1962 650cc Triton with a 13.04sec pass. Overall second and first in the car class was the Elfin of F. Greeneklee with a 13.12sec run while third place and second in the motorcycle category went to Wal Morgan on his 1962 650cc Tribsa with a time of 13.25sec.

Worth a mention also is the effort of Neil Munro and Shane Edwards who came sixth overall with a13.47sec on their 1000cc Vincent HRD outfit. Perhaps not surprisingly the aircraft didn’t fare so well, with the best time of 16.0sec being achieved by Tim Knappstein with his Boeing Stearman.

But the real winners, of course, were the public who got a unique opportunity to see some fantastic machinery compete against each other and in doing so contribute toward a very worthwhile cause.

 

Words and photographs, Geoff Dawes © 1993. Published in British Bikes Magazine 1993.

Vintage Jaguars

 

The South Australian Barossa Vintage Festival is the oldest of its type in Australia with 2017 marking 70 years of celebrating the end of the grape harvest and vintage. As is usual with this type of event there were numerous opportunities for visitors to immerse themselves in the regions famous wines and locally produced food against the backdrop of Borossan history and heritage.

The car that started it all. A 1932 SS 100.

Held from Wednesday the 19th to Sunday the 23rd of April 2017, there were altogether some 90 events to charm all age groups that showcased arts, music, culture and community. But access to one of Australia’s most extensive collection of Jaguar cars was a pleasant surprise for any avid car buff.

The collection, which boasts some 50 vehicles, is the obsession of fifth generation Barossan, Carl Lindner. Carl, who is of descent from the religiously persecuted Silesian Lutherans that immigrated to South Australia in the 1840’s and settled in the Barossa Valley, has interests in a number of vineyards and is also a property developer. He is also passionate about the Barossa and works tirelessly to promote the region.

Part of the extensive collection.

Carl’s interest in the Jaguar marque began almost by accident in 1982 when at an auction in Tanunda he was determined to outbid a friend for a lot that turned out to be a 1932 SS 1 with coachwork by HW Allingham. Lindner became fascinated with the story of Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons and the rest, as they say, is history.

Carl has purchased an array of different models over the years, although the E-Type figures prominently, and has a spotless display in two separate buildings one of which has a restoration area. Lindner also has a number of replica model Jaguar’s built in association with Rob Firman and Matt Gill of Whitestone Panel Paint and Coach based at Oamaru in New Zealand.

Replica C Type Jaguar.

The exhibition of cars at 55 Basedow Road Tanunda is not usually open to the general public although car clubs have arranged to visit the collection and the cars are occasionally used to raise money for charity at events in the Barossa.

What more could classic car enthusiasts ask for? Good food, great wines and classic cars. Pencil in the 2018 Barossa Vintage Festival.

Words and photographs © Geoff Dawes 2017

The 2016 McLaren Vale Vintage Classic

1920's Citroen 5CV on display at Lecconsfield Winery McLaren Vale.

1920’s Citroen 5CV on display at Lecconsfield Winery McLaren Vale.

For those who enjoy the sight, sounds, and smells of classic cars there is no better environment to appreciate them in than the annual McLaren Vale Vintage Classic. Held for the 11th time on the Sunday 16th of April 2016, this prestigious wine region of South Australia, with its moderate Mediterranean climate and diversity of soil in its rolling hills, celebrated the final days of the grape harvest with this exceptional event.

Part of the over 500 vehicles that paraded in McLaren Vale.

Part of the over 500 vehicles that paraded in McLaren Vale.

The fun began on Saturday evening with a dinner at the Serafino Winery for participating entrants in the event. The winery was also the staging ground for the over 500 vehicles entered in a parade that took place just after 11 a.m. on Sunday. The streets of the town of McLaren Vale were lined with onlookers; families with their young children and baby boomers who may have owned one of the diverse numbers of vehicles “back in the day”.

When the parade was completed for this multi-award winning event, the crowd of over 20,000 admirers dispersed and the numerous car clubs assembled at their allocated winery allowing themselves and the public to enjoy live music, great food, exceptional wines and a chance to see these wonderful classic vehicles up close.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2016. Photographs Geoff Dawes © 2016.

Below is a link to a map of the McLaren Vale wine region.

https://www.google.com.au/maps/@-35.2277921,138.5461075,15.07z

Archives: The Classic Adelaide Rally

The1997 Classic Adelaide winning 1969 Ford GT HO of Hogarth and Walters.

The1997 Classic Adelaide winning 1969 Ford GT HO of Hogarth and Walters.

For eleven years, from 1985 to 1995, the city of Adelaide in South Australia was host to the Australian Formula One Grand Prix. Held in early November, it was, for the most part, the last race of the season and the teams and drivers enjoyed its “end of school year” atmosphere and many would holiday in Australia before returning to Europe. The race was a popular one with the Formula One “circus” and three times won the Formula One Promoters’ Trophy as the best run Grand Prix of the season.

The momentum started to gather for Australia to host a Grand Prix when Australian Alan Jones won the 1980 Formula One driver’s championship. The races were being televised, and the ratings were good. Rumours started emanating from the eastern states of Australia of a willingness to hold a Grand Prix event. But it was the South Australian Labor Premier, John Bannon that took the trouble to fly to London and meet with Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone and secure the race for Adelaide.

The State Bank collapse in 1991 and Bannon’s resignation in 1992, plus the political infighting over the cost of staging the Grand Prix, saw Ecclestone award the race to Victoria and it has been held at Melbourne’s Albert Park since 1996.

The loss of the Formula One Grand Prix left a large vacuum in the major events calendar for Adelaide causing the State Government to support a number of other events in an effort to fill the void. One such event was the Classic Adelaide Rally, a competitive meeting on closed country bitumen roads that showcased different regions around Adelaide and attracted competitors from Australia and overseas and also some extremely rare and exotic machinery. It also catered for non-competitive entries that could take part in the touring category to enjoy a uniquely South Australian experience.

The first event took place in 1997 and ran until 2009 although it was revived briefly as part of the Targa Australia series. The rally though is about to be resurrected once more as an essential part of the Adelaide Motorsport Festival. The festival was first staged in 2014 at the home of Adelaide’s Formula One racetrack Victoria Park. The event was a great success showcasing Australia’s motor racing heritage including some significant Formula One cars.

The Sporting Car Club of South Australia, with the help of the State Government, is responsible for putting this exciting event together and this year the Adelaide Motorsport Festival and Classic Adelaide Rally will be held over four days from Thursday, October 15th to Sunday, October 18th, 2015.

In 1997 I covered the inaugural Classic Adelaide Rally for English publication Classic and Sports Car, and its revival has prompted me to delve into the archives and publish my article and photos for MotoVue below.

The Ferrari 246GT of Angliss and Mcmahon tackle the Paris Creek hairpin.

The Ferrari 246GT of Angliss and Mcmahon tackle the Paris Creek hairpin.

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Bruce Hogarth and co-driver Bruce Walter have won the inaugural Classic Adelaide Rally held over the 6th to 9th of November in South Australia.

The FIA sanctioned event attracted nearly 100 entries and covered some 1000km of bitumen road with 300km of closed special stages over four days. Competitors left race headquarters at Adelaide’s Hilton Hotel each morning before completing a loop of some of South Australia’s most demanding hills roads. This included visits to the sites of former road circuits that have held an Australian Grand Prix such as Victor Harbor (1937), Lobethal (1939) and Nuriootpa (1950) before returning to Adelaide’s Victoria Park Racecourse to complete a Super Special Stage on the remains of the Formula One Grand Prix circuit.

It was Hogarth though who drove his hairy-chested 1969 351 cubic inch V8 XW Ford Falcon GT HO to victory on the last day of the event to beat overnight leaders and Panama to Alaska winners Rick Bates and Jenny Brittan who crashed their 1971 Porsche 911 out of contention on the final Paris Creek stage. Hogarth and Walter, however, had been strong contenders for outright honours during the four days of the event consistently running in the top three. Chris Stephen and Adrian Mortimer claimed second place outright 27 seconds behind the leaders in their 1964 Iso Rivolta with Tom Barr-Smith and Mark Barr-Smith third 1 min and 05 seconds adrift in their 1964 BJ8 Austin Healey Rally.

Ritter and Ruess tackle the special stage in their 1952 Pan Americana winning Mercedes 300SL prototype.

Ritter and Ruess tackle the special stage in their 1952 Pan Americana winning Mercedes 300SL prototype.

But the event was marred by a number of accidents one of which claimed the life of former F1 Grand Prix Board Chairman Ian Cocks who was 5.7km into the 22nd stage and holding third place overall when he failed to take a corner on the Mt. Bold road. Mr Cocks’ 1967 Porsche 911S hit a tree and rolled over before catching fire. His 19-year-old daughter and co-driver Chantel Cocks were pulled from the wreck by spectators and taken to hospital suffering from severe burns. It was her first competition event.

Mr Cocks was an experienced rally driver and had recently completed the Panama to Alaska Rally. He was also an advisor to the directors of the Adelaide Classic Rally, an event that many had hoped would fill the void left by the loss of the Adelaide Formula One Grand Prix which was also held in early November.

Sherman and Walkley attack the Paris Creek hairpin.

Sherman and Walkley attack the Paris Creek hairpin in their 1964 Aston  Martin DB4.

Although the event had secured naming rights sponsorship from Ansett Air Freight and had captured television coverage by German Sports TV Network DSF, most of the support for the rally has come from the State Government through the Major Events Corporation via the South Australian Tourism Commission. The Premier Mr Olsen would not comment whether the Government would continue to support the event until a full investigation had been completed into the accident.

Chairman of the organising body, Rally and Motorsport S.A. and well-known rally driver, Dean Rainsford, described the tragedy as “our worst nightmare.” However three international teams of Tony Brooks and Baron Otto Reedz-Thott driving the 1957 Le Mans-winning D-type Jaguar, Ditter Ritter and and Micheal Ruess competing in the 1952 Pan Americana winning Mercedes 300SL Proto and Paul Vestey and Doug Nye in the Le Mans class winning 1966 Ferrari 365GTB, had nothing but praise for the event, comparing the organisation as the best they had encountered anywhere.

Vestey, who has competed in similar events in Europe and America commented, “ This is the first time we have encountered the use of Grand Prix type Medical Intervention Vehicles anywhere for this type of event.” Well-known motoring historian Doug Nye summed up their feelings by describing the Adelaide Classic Rally as, “Mind-blowingly fantastic.”

Words Geoff Dawes © 1997/2015. Photographs by Geoff Dawes © 1997. Published in the February 1998 issue of Classic and Sports Car

Here is a link to the 2015 Classic Adelaide Rally: http://www.classicadelaide.com.au

The Double

 

Bluebird CN7 sits poised on her built-in jackass Lake Eyre In South Australia.

The year 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Donald Campbell’s incredible double world speed records set on both land and water. No other person has ever achieved this mammoth feat in the same calendar year, and it is highly unlikely that it will ever be repeated.

As a boy living in England, I was aware of Campbell and his achievements, and it was a shock to see the terrible accident on television that claimed his life on January the 4th 1967 on Coniston Water in Cumbria. It was a moment from the 60’s that stayed with me.

The following month, in February 1967, my family immigrated to Australia, and little did I realise when we settled in South Australia that this was where Campbell had broken the World Land Speed Record.

Some years later, in 1981, two wonderful articles appeared in “Wheels” magazine, which rekindled my interest in Campbell. Written superbly by Evan Green who was Ampol’s Project Manager for the record attempt at Lake Eyre, it gave a remarkable insight into Campbell and the struggles he faced with the record attempt while trying to overcome his own demons.

This set me on course to gather a wide range of research material on Campbell that has continued this day. Part of this journey back in 1991 resulted in funding from FilmSouth, to write a two-part TV mini-series about the events at Lake Eyre. Unfortunately, the project fell over several times due to circumstances beyond my control.  However, in 1997, I had feature articles published about the record attempts in both Australia and the U.K., while appropriately this July I have an article entitled  “The Double” in SALife magazine.

Campbell discusses problems with the track to his team.

Campbell discusses problems with the track to his team.

My reason for mentioning all this is that for many years to have an interest in Donald Campbell was akin to being a Bluebird “anorak”, and at times it seemed as though there was a certain amount of apathy towards his achievements.

But what is refreshing, in this 50th anniversary year, is that the communities in Australia that were touched by his record attempts are coming together to celebrate them.  Thanks to those that were involved in some way with the record attempts and others that witnessed them or have heard anecdotes from friends or family, there has been a groundswell of community support.

The people of the Shire of Dumbleyung in Western Australia have been gearing up for a big 50th celebration of Donald’s World Water Speed Record, set on December 31st, and they would welcome any visitors to share in the new years eve celebration. The Dumbleyung Bluebird committee is building a full-size replica of Bluebird K7 and has acquired a former post office building that will become a Bluebird interpretive centre.   Donations to their fund are welcome, and they have a terrific web page at www.dumbleyungbluebird.com.au as well as a great Facebook page.

Jean Pearse captured the scramble to get the World Water Speed Record with only hours of light. remaining

Jean Pearse captured the scramble to get the World Water Speed Record with only hours of light. remaining

In South Australia, the community of Barmera is also fundraising towards building their own Bluebird K7 replica to be placed on the shore of Lake Bonney where Campbell set an Australian National Water Speed record on November 23rd, 1964, before it proved unsuitable for the world record attempt.  The Barmera committee is also working hard towards establishing a Campbell and Bluebird museum as well. Their 50th-anniversary celebrations will take place over the weekend of November 22nd-23rd.  They also have a very good web page at www.k7projectbluebird.net and also an excellent facebook page.

Perhaps the most pleasing thing that has occurred through these hard-working community committees is a significant number of unseen photographs, movie films and personal recollections that have surfaced on these marvellous websites for everyone to share.  And just as importantly they are helping Donald Campbell’s outstanding achievements finally get the kind of recognition that they really do deserve.

Words Geoff Dawes © 2014 Photographs John Workman and Jean Pearse  © 1964. Video courtesy www.dumbleyungbluebird.com.au and YouTube.

Showdown On The Salt

There are few places on planet earth that are as alien in appearance as the desolate surroundings of Bonneville Salt Flats. Situated not far from the Wendover Air Force Base in the State of Utah USA, this extraterrestrial looking terrain, covered by an expansive sheet of grubby white salt and girdled by a jagged brown-black mountain range, became an eerie backdrop for one of the greatest gatherings of outright Land Speed Record contenders the world had ever seen.

Four Americans and their streamlined leviathans assembled on the salt during a cool August in 1960 to try and break Englishman John Cobb’s 1947 record of 634.40kph (394.20mph) which for 13 years had stood unchallenged. In a flurry of national pride, it became the aim of these four very different individuals to recapture the title that was last held by the United States in 1928, when Ray Keech, driving his White Triplex Special, exceeded Captain Malcolm Campbell’s record of 333.063kph (206.956mph) by a mere 0.959kph (0.596mph).

BUR100815WendoverBonneville-0338

Athol Graham’s City Of Salt Lake record contender.

But in 1960 the array of potential record breakers was even more formidable.

Athol Graham, a devout Mormon, had dreamed he would break the Land Speed Record and regarded it as a divine revelation.  His “car”, named the City Of Salt Lake, used the aero engine from industrialist Bill Boeings Miss Wahoo unlimited hydroplane and produced more than 2,238kw (3,000hp).  Clothed in a channelled ex-Air Force fuel drop tank, the agricultural standard of preparation had led some to consider it a “clunker”.  But nonetheless, Graham clocked a surprising 538.76kph (344.761mph) the previous December in the rear wheel drive machine on the Bonneville salt.

Then there was Mickey Thompson, a product of the American Hot Rod scene and the American National Land Speed Record holder.  Thompson was the most experienced of the group and undoubtedly the best prepared with his LSR car Challenger 1.  Although on paper it may have seemed an unsophisticated device, using four scrap 6.7litre V8 Pontiac engines, with supercharging it produced over 2088kw (2,800hp).  The engines were also ingeniously mounted in pairs and facing each other so the power could be transmitted to both the front and rear wheels through their own individual transmissions and final drive.

A newcomer to Land Speed Record breaking was the well-known drag racer, Art Arfons, driving number 12 in his series of soon to be famous Green Monsters. Nicknamed “Anteater” due to its long pointed snout, it used a more powerful version of the Allison aero engine than Graham’s, putting out around 2,834kw (3,800hp) in Arfon’s untried rear-engined machine.

But perhaps the most amazing LSR contender of this gathering was physician Dr Nathan Ostich’s pure thrust jet engined vehicle called Flying Caduceus. Named after the medical emblem taken from Greek mythology, it used a General Electric J47 turbojet from a Boeing B36 bomber, which produced the equivalent of 5,220kw (7,000hp) and was the first of a new breed of jet-engined record contenders.  Although it was technically ineligible, according to the world governing body of motorsport, the F.I.A., Ostich was prepared to thumb his nose at the European based governing body to become the fastest man on land.

flying-caduceus015

Dr Nathan Ostich’s Flying Caduceus powered by a pure thrust jet engine.

The scene was now set for one of the great confrontations in Land Speed Record breaking history.

First to venture onto the salt was Athol Graham. Concerned about the prevailing crosswinds and some aspects of Graham’s engineering, the experienced Mickey Thompson talked caution to the Mormon idealist. Off his own back, Thompson had already asked for a telephone pole to be removed at the southern end of the course to reduce any potential risk during Graham’s run. But Graham could not be dissuaded and using full power from the Allison aero engine he rocketed his two-wheel drive vehicle flat out down the salt.  The City of Salt Lake was clocking over 482.80kph (300mph) when tragedy struck. The strong crosswinds caused the home built special to yaw off course and snap sideways into a tumble before losing its tail and becoming airborne.  With a sickening crunch, City Of Salt Lake landed upside down before rolling over and over.  There was little hope for Graham who had not worn a safety harness.  Although an inbuilt roll bar had withstood the numerous impacts, the engine firewall had crumpled, protruding into the car and breaking Graham’s spine.  He was dead on arrival at Tooele Valley Hospital 177km (110 miles) away.

If this was to be a warning of how treacherous Bonneville could be, it did not work.  Five days later 52-year-old Los Angeles physician, Dr Nathan Ostich, took his jet-powered car out on the salt.  Designed and engineered by Ray Brock, the publisher of Hot Rod magazine and hot rod doyen Ak Miller, Flying Caduceus had been wind tunnel tested at California Poly Tech, and with 5220kw (7,000hp) on hand, it was calculated to be capable of 804.67kph (500mph). But problems with a porous fuel pump, collapsing air intakes, then severe vibrations and brake and steering problems forced Ostich and his team to eventually withdraw.

Even so, the flying doctor salvaged some pride by reaching over 482.80kph (300mph) during one precarious run.

Art Arfrons contender nicknamed "Ant Eater". Its clear to see why.

Art Arfons contender nicknamed “Ant Eater”. It’s clear to see why.

Art Arfons took briefly to the salt with his Allison rear-engined Green Monster, only to have a bearing go in the cars final drive on the return run. Arfons released his breaking parachute, which then promptly snapped its nylon line.  Even though his first probe run had reached almost 402.33kph (250mph) with plenty in hand, Arfons acknowledged that “Anteater” was not up to Land Speed Record breaking standard and withdrew.

In the meantime Thompson had been building up speed, making one run at an impressive 569.70kph (354mph).  He too had been encountering problems, the suspensionless Challenger 1 suffering from a lack of front wheel adhesion, which was finally solved with some extra ballast and an aerofoil above the nose of the car.  Thompson was now ready for some serious runs, but an unexpected downpour had washed away the black guideline and the oil truck re-laying it became bogged in the mud flats.  This did not faze Thompson at all, and he elected to run without the guideline, easily managing a one-way speed of 596.67kph (372 mph).  Buoyed by this Thompson was ready to go for the record, and with his next run recorded a sizzling speed of 654.35kph (406.60mph). This was faster than Cobb’s best run of 648.783kph (403.135mph), and Thompson knew if he could get a half decent return run through the measured mile then his two-way average would be enough to beat Cobb’s record by the required minimum of one percent.  America would, at last, regain the world record.

Challenger 1, Mickey Thompson's National Land Speed Record holder.

Challenger 1, Mickey Thompson’s American National Land Speed Record holder.

Regrettably, as so often happens in record-breaking, the return run was an anti-climax with Challenger 1 suffering a broken driveshaft.  Thompson did try his luck again, but this time a broken chain driving a supercharger put paid to Mickey’s dream.

There was, however, one more record contender.  Arriving at Bonneville in early September in an attempt to usurp any American record, enigmatic Englishman, Donald Campbell, returned to where his father, Sir Malcolm Campbell, had set a new outright Land Speed Record of 484.620kph (301.129mph) in 1935 to become the first man to break through the 483kph (300mph) barrier.

As a fourteen-year-old boy, Donald had witnessed his father’s triumph. Twenty-five years later and with six World Water Speed Records under his belt, Campbell was challenging for the record his father had held nine times. In keeping with family tradition Donald also named his record-breaking hydroplane and his Land Speed Record contender, “Bluebird”, as his father had, in honour of Maeterlinck’s play, “The Blue Bird”.

Doanld Campbell's Bluebird CN7. British pride and prestige was at stake.

Donald Campbell’s Bluebird CN7. British pride and prestige were at stake.

But if the American gang had been imposing, it was Campbell’s entourage that made the hard to impress Americans jaws drop.  With nearly a hundred personnel, forty tons of equipment and a convoy of support vehicles, it would have been hard not to gasp at the sheer size of Campbell’s undertaking.

And then there was Bluebird herself.  Designed by Ken and Lewis Norris, (who had also been responsible for Campbell’s World Record-breaking hydroplane) Bluebird CN7 had been built by Motor Panels, a subsidiary of Sir Alfred Owen’s Rubery-Owen group, with the support of approximately 80 British companies and at the cost of close to one million pounds sterling. The massive car was powered by a Bristol-Siddeley Proteus gas-turbine engine producing 3,057kw (4,1000hp) at 11,000rpm that powered all four wheels through two David Brown fixed ratio gearboxes.  Bluebird was to be a shining example of British technology and engineering at its best, and no expense had been spared in this pursuit.

Unimpressed by the Englishman’s seemingly limitless resources. Thompson played on Campbell’s superstitious nature by telling him how poor the condition of the salt was in an attempt to psyche him out.  Arfons too was critical of the fact that Campbell had not driven Bluebird before coming to Bonneville and dryly referred to it as, “on the job training”.

Now it was time for Sir Malcolm’s son to prove himself.

Campbell (left )in discussion with Mickey Thompson (right). Thompson played on Campbell's surreptitious nature.

Campbell (left )in discussion with Mickey Thompson (right). Thompson played on Campbell’s surreptitious nature.

Campbell initially made some gentle runs to get accustomed to the monstrous blue car, building up slowly from 200kph (124mph) to 386kph (240mph) before asking for the steering ratio to be lowered after the runs.

Despite still being unhappy with the steering, Campbell went back out to make his fifth run.  Bluebird managed to accelerate to 483kph (300mph) within three miles, putting a smile of relief on Campbell’s face. CN7’s designer, Ken Norris, promptly reminded him that the minimum required was two miles if they were to achieve a new record.   Campbell then made what would be a fateful decision to do some acceleration tests. Norris was clearly unhappy about this and Dunlop tyres Don Badger also reminded Campbell that the test tyres fitted to CN7 were only good for 483kph (300mph).

On the return run Campbell accelerated the massively powerful car much harder and had reached almost 580kph (360mph), when, in circumstances almost identical to Athol Graham’s accident, Bluebird strayed progressively off course before spinning sideways and rolling over.  The massive 4,354kg (9,600lb) car suddenly leapt into the air for what seemed like an eternity before crashing back down onto the salt as it continued to roll over, shedding wheels and bodywork until finally sliding on its belly to a halt.

Campbell somehow survived the worlds fastest automobile accident.

Campbell somehow survived the worlds fastest automobile accident.

Although sustaining a fractured skull, contusion of the brain, a burst inner ear and various lacerations, Campbell had somehow survived the world’s fastest automobile accident.  But the car was a total write-off except for the Proteus gas-turbine engine and some minor ancillary components.

Bonneville Salt Flats and Cobb’s record had not been conquered. But this was to be just a prelude to a new chapter, as Campbell and a rebuilt Bluebird would challenge for the record again in Australia, while Arfons, Ostich and Thompson would try their hand once more at Bonneville.  For as different as these men were, they all shared the same dream and possessed the same kind of superhuman courage and determination that is needed to try and become the fastest man on land.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 2002.  Images courtesy http://www.samuelhawley.com, http://www.gregwapling.com, http://www.thompsonlsr.com, http://www.dburnett.photoshelter.com, and http://www.rbracing-rsr.com.

Speed King

For enthusiasts of Land Speed Record breaking, the title “Speed Ace” or “Speed King” conjures images of such archetypal heroes as Segrave, Campbell and Cobb, frantically sawing at the wheel of some aero-engined behemoth as it thunders down the beaches of Daytona or along the dazzling white salt flats of Bonneville. English gentlemen who would risk life or limb for King and Country and the prestige of Britain.

But record-breaking often creates less likely heroes who would arguably qualify for the same distinguished mantle.  Don Vesco was one such person, who not only set an outright World Land Speed Record for motorcycles of 318.598mph (512.73kph), but also an outright World Land Speed Record for a wheel-driven vehicle of 458.440mph (737.787kph).

Don Vesco.

Don Vesco.Record-breaking was only one part of a lifetime chasing speed.

Record-breaking for Vesco though was only one part of a lifetime chasing speed.

Don was born in Loma Linda Southern California on April the 8th 1939, in an environment that not surprisingly nurtured a “need for speed”.  His father, John Vesco, ran hot-rods and streamliners out of his body shop on Southern California’s numerous dry lakebeds – a perfect setting for Don and his two younger brothers Rick and Chuck to gain an education in all things fast.

Vesco was mechanically gifted as a child, and while still in his teens, modified a rigid framed Triumph 500cc T100R twin to enter his first official race, a local drag race meet at San Diego’s Paradise Mesa drag strip. What followed was that unique blend of American motorcycle racing, on bitumen, dirt track and TT steeplechase. One of Don’s old Hoover High School buddies and main rival on the track in those days was a future legend, Cal Rayborn.

It was in the discipline of road racing that Vesco excelled and it soon became apparent that the Triumph was no match for the Manx Norton’s many of his rivals were racing.  Thanks to a loan from his girlfriend Norma, who would become the first of his three wives, Don was able to purchase a Manx.  The combination proved almost unbeatable in local road races at tracks like Willow Springs and Riverside in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s – at a time when Japanese manufacturer Honda was trying to take a foothold in the lucrative American motorcycle market.

Don on the salt at Bonneville with his Manx Norton.

Don on the salt at Bonneville with his Manx Norton.

Honda hired Vesco to race its highly successful RC161 four-cylinder four-stroke 250cc Grand Prix racer in American events to help promote the brand. Don duly notched up two wins on the RC161 first time up at the Goleta Airport track in Santa Barbara but crashed the bike several months later at the same venue.  When a promised ride in the 1962 US Grand Prix at Daytona (an FIM sanctioned international event) was given to Japanese rider Kunimitsu Takahashi, it appeared that Don was out of favour.

In a twist of fate another Japanese manufacturer, Yamaha was also trying to promote their motorcycles in America. Yamaha contacted Vesco to race its RD56 250cc two-stroke Grand Prix racer the following year in the open class at the same event. The race, however, wasn’t to be all smooth sailing. Vesco, suffered a fall in the Daytona infield, but remounted and went on to lap the entire field to win the 1963 US Grand Prix, giving the Japanese manufacturer their first major victory in America. Vesco was to ride again for Yamaha at Daytona in 1964, and this time the Grand Prix was a fully sanctioned round of the FIM 250cc World Championship.  Unfortunately, a nasty fall in practice resulted in a broken collarbone for Vesco, and the GP racer was handed to up and coming English rider, and future World  Champion, Phil Read. The bad luck continued for Yamaha and the bike seized during the race.

Don aboard the Open Class winning Yamaha RD56 at Daytona 1963 with Japanese rider Fumio Ito.

Yamaha was now offering Don a dealership, which initially he declined, but reconsidered when his employer complained he had too much time off through racing accidents. He opened shop in El Cajon California in 1966.

By the early 70’s Vesco had two of the world’s best racers riding out of his dealership, former world 250cc Grand Prix champion, Australian Kel Carruthers (who had come to live and race in the U.S. at Don’s invitation), and his old racing buddy and rival Cal Rayborn.   By the late 70’s other such greats as Gene Romero, Dave Aldana, Ron Pierce and Yvon du Hamel had all ridden under the Team Vesco Yamaha banner.

Don had by now shelved his own racing ambitions to concentrate on the dealership with the satisfaction of having been a factory rider for a number of manufacturers including Honda, Yamaha, Bridgestone and BSA.

Don on the cover of the Orange County Raceway program riding a 250cc Bridgestone GP racer.

It was during this period that Vesco began his highly successful motorcycle land speed record runs at Bonneville Salt Flats. Don was no stranger to the salt having first run a motorcycle at Bonneville at the age of 16, and in 1963 joined the exclusive 200mph (321.87kph) club, driving his fathers Offenhauser powered four-wheeled streamliner #444 to 221mph (355.67kph).

However, it was the outright Motorcycle Land Speed records that Vesco became synonymous with. The first was in September 1970 using a twin-engine streamliner fitted with Yamaha R3 air-cooled 350cc two-stroke engines to set a new world record of 251.924mph (405.43kph), becoming the first man to break the 250mph barrier.  It was short lived though, as less than a month later Harley-Davidson broke his record with Cal Rayborn at the controls. Vesco knew of his friend’s record attempt and made sure he received his contingency money from Yamaha and his other sponsors quick smart!

Vesco and Big Red the first motorcycle to achieve over 250mph.

Vesco and Big Red the first motorcycle to achieve over 250mph.

Five years later Don returned to the salt and was the first to crack the 300mph barrier and set a new record in the Silver Bird Yamaha, (a stretched version of his old streamliner Big Red, fitted initially with two TZ700cc two-stroke Yamaha racing engines), leaving the mark at 302.928mph (487.53kph).

This was not enough for Vesco, and in August 1978 he established a new outright world record of 318.598mph (512.73kph) with Lightning Bolt using two modified 1015cc turbocharged Kawasaki KZ900 engines.  Remarkably this outright world record stood for 12 years.

But it was only two months later that success turned to failure when Don took Lightning Bolt to El Mirage dry lake and crashed.  Vesco escaped without injury, but much of the streamliner’s bodywork was damaged.  By 1980 Don had finished work on a new streamliner using two turbocharged 1300c six cylinder Kawasaki engines, although success eluded his latest creation.

Don with the Silver Bird Yamaha streamliner after setting an new world record of 302.98mph.

Don with the Silver Bird Yamaha streamliner after setting a new world record of 302.98mph.

Vesco now started to eye the record for wheel-driven automobiles and in 1982 returned to Bonneville with a unique machine called Sky Tracker. Built along the lines of Don’s motorcycle streamliners, Sky Tracker used the driver’s compartment from Lightning Bolt and sported five wheels, two next to each other at the rear, one on each side and enclosed in the middle of the bodywork, and one at the front.

Rain, in both 1982 and 1983, thwarted attempts with Sky Tracker at Bonneville, although a speed of 235mph (378kph) was achieved in 1984 using a turbocharged Drake-Offenhauser engine before the meet was rained out again.  1985 saw Vesco qualify Sky Tracker for the World Finals record runs with a pass of 318mph, (512kph) his unusual creation starting to show its potential. Like anybody involved in the pursuit of speed, Vesco was well aware of the dangers, but a blown rear tyre at 350mph (563kph) underlined that point in no small way.  Sky Tracker crashed end over end five times utterly destroying the car. Don came away with damaged vertebrae, concussion and a broken bone in his hand and right foot.

Don with the Kawasaki Lightning Bolt. His record stood for 12 years.

Don Vesco with the Kawasaki Lightning Bolt. His record stood for 12 years.

Finding enough money to continue chasing the record was not unfamiliar territory for Don and his brother Rick who was also working on a parallel project. It made sense to join forces to complete a new twin-engine car, although it was not until 1991 with a pair of turbocharged 160 cubic inch Drake-Offenhauser power units that it started to show promise with a run of 372mph (598kph).   Expensive engine failures were now becoming a problem, and it was apparent to the brothers that piston engine power was reaching its upper limits. A different power source was needed if they were to break Al Teague’s wheel-driven record of 409.97mph (659.78kph).

A gas turbine was seen as the best solution, and a compact helicopter unit could be found comparatively cheaply in the form of an Avco Lycoming T55-L-11A SA. The streamliner now became known as the Turbinator with its engine producing 3,750hp at 16,000rpm, driving all four wheels through a gearbox bolted to the front with a reduction ratio on the shaft of 2:1.

Turbinator.

Turbinator.

The first development runs took place in 1996 at Bonneville, and over the next four years, Don and Team Vesco set three national records at the World Finals in excess of 400mph (643.74kph), culminating a one-way run of 427mph (687.19kph) in 2000. The world record slipped through their grasp that day when a gearbox failure with Turbinator prevented the team turning the car around for the return run within the one hour stipulated by FIA regulations.

Team Vesco returned to Bonneville once again in 2001 for the World Finals, with 500mph squarely in their sights.  The team were buoyed by the fact that in a one-way “shakedown” run Turbinator reached 470.28mph (756.84kph) and was still accelerating out of the measured mile. The record runs however produced a real problem.  Don was unable to hold open the throttle as the engine temperature at the burners kept creeping up dramatically and could have caused the engine to self-destruct. Vesco had to modulate the throttle 16 times to contain the temperature but still hit over 458.mph (737.08kph) on the first run. The problem was the reduction gearbox, bolted to the shaft on the front of the engine, prevented enough cooling air to flow into the turbine.

The return run was going to be challenging, and again Vesco was required to modulate the throttle 18 times to contain engine temperature. Worse was yet to come as the rear left tyre blew inside the measured mile. It took all of Don’s skill and experience to keep the Turbinator on track and slow it down, stopping a mere 15 feet inside the black line.

Team Vesco had done the job; the return run had equalled the first to give a two-way average of 458.44mph (737.79kph).

Don and the team were happy to have beaten Al Teague’s 1991 wheel driven record of 409.986mph (659.81kph) in Spirit of ‘76. But more delighted to have broken the record for a gas turbine automobile of 403.10mph (648.73kph) set 37 years earlier in 1964 by Donald Campbell at Lake Eyre in South Australia driving CN7 Bluebird.

Don and Team Vesco break the wheel-driven Land Speed Record 2001.

Don and Team Vesco break the wheel-driven Land Speed Record 2001.

In 1999 the American Motorcyclist Association had honoured Vesco’s achievements and inducted him into their Hall of Fame. Don turned 60 that year.  If there is one thing, that old motorcycle racers know from experience, crashing and riding injured come with the territory. Vesco had suffered his share, but in 1995 while spectating at a sprint car meeting at the Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix Arizona, Don was struck in the left eye and permanently blinded by a piece of debris thrown up by the rear tyre of a sprint car. Driving Turbinator with one eye was just another obstacle for Don to overcome, which makes those 400mph (643.74kph)  plus runs all that more remarkable. It didn’t deter Vesco from competing at Daytona in the BMW legends series, riding an R1100RS as fast as ever, and he continued to compete in AHRMA events on one of Team Obsolete’s Manx Nortons.

Unfortunately, there was one final obstacle Don was unable to overcome before he could achieve his dream of 500mph (804.67kph). He was diagnosed with prostate cancer and succumbed to the illness on the 16th of December 2002 aged 63.  Vesco was inducted posthumously into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2004.  Today, after 13 years, Don’s record still stands, but Team Vesco will continue to work towards that dream of 500mph (804.67kph) and will be back at Bonneville with an upgraded and improved Turbinator 11.

Don Vesco, factory motorcycle racer, team owner, engine tuner, designer, Land Speed Record Breaker. Speed King.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 2013. Images http://www.bluebird-electric.com, http://www.bikernet.com, http://www.gregwapling.com, http://www.forumboxerworks.com, http://www.yamahapart.com, http://www.eliteday.com, http://www.global.yamaha-motor.com and http://www.croinfo.net.

Archives: The Longest Mile

Bluebird k7 becomes airborne.

” Full power…tramping like hell here…I can’t see much and the water’s very bad indeed…I can’t get over the top…I’m getting a lot of bloody row in here…I can’t see anything…I’ve got the bows out…I’m going…Oh…”

It was over five decades ago, on January 4th, 1967, that British speed ace, Donald Campbell, lost his life to the cold dark waters of Lake Coniston in the English Lake District.  In a macabre sense, it was a fitting end to Britain’s most enigmatic record breaker and one that lifted him from a flawed hero into legend.

For Donald Campbell had appeared to be many things.  He was fiercely patriotic, extremely superstitious, generous and charming one minute, arrogant and uncompromising the next.  But to those who got close enough, Donald Campbell was full of a gnawing self-doubt that did not sit well with the popular belief of what a hero should be.

To understand this man that had broken the World Water Speed Record on seven occasions, and the Land Speed Record once, one has to search his past.

Born in 1921 the son of Sir Malcolm Campbell, Britain’s most successful record breaker, it was hardly surprising that he would one day try and emulate the man he hero-worshipped, even idolised.  But Sir Malcolm was a tough, overbearing, and some would say, cruel father, who had unrealistically high expectations for a son who did not shine academically at school, and who much preferred to be playing sport or working with his hands.

Bluebird CN7 sits poised on her built-in jacks.

Bluebird CN7 sits poised on her built-in jacks.

Indeed, the young boy afflicted with a nervous stutter barely survived a childhood fraught with accidents and illness.

At the age of eight Donald was taken by his father on an unsuccessful record attempt to South Africa, and upon returning to England contracted typhoid fever, which very nearly claimed his life.  Eight years later he came down with rheumatic fever, a debilitating disease that permanently damages the hearts’ valves, forcing the teenager to be wheelchair bound for many months.  Then the following year, he fell from his motorcycle and fractured his skull in two places.

When war broke out in 1939, Donald spent no time in enlisting for the RAF but was rejected when it was discovered he had suffered rheumatic fever.  This was an extremely low point in Campbell’s life.  His father, having served in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War, was acting as a liaison officer in the Middle – East, while Donald filled in time as a special constable and a progress chaser between component manufacturers and aircraft constructors.

Donald was quoted as saying, “It appeared I was somewhat of a failure.  The Old Man was doing a real job of work, and here was I, playing at Policeman and having bloody silly accidents.”  The accident in question was between his motorcycle and an army truck, which resulted in a broken shoulder, two cracked ribs and a broken arm.

It was not until after the war, following the death of his father and the auction of his estate, that Campbell decided to don the mantle.  A friend of Sir Malcolm’s, Lt. Col. “Goldie” Gardner, visited Donald and told him of an American threat to his father’s World Water Speed Record.  Campbell had decided years earlier to follow in his father’s footsteps but had been reluctant to throw his hat into the ring while Sir Malcolm was still record-breaking, “The Old Man being what he is.”

Donald Campbell in discussion with Andrew Mustard at Lake Eyre.

Donald Campbell in discussion with Andrew Mustard at Lake Eyre.

Campbell immediately enlisted the help of Leo Villa, who had come to work as Sir Malcolm’s chief mechanic when Donald was only months old and was now almost part of the family.  There was no question that Villa would help.  He had always kept an eye out for the mischievous young Donald, whom among other things he had taught to drive and to dismantle a motorcycle engine.  Campbell would also continue another family tradition by naming his record-breaking car and boat, Bluebird, just as his father had, in honour of Maeterlinck’s play The Blue Bird.

Although Sir Malcolm had been a wealthy man, making his fortune as an insurance broker with Lloyd’s, he had left little money to Donald and his sister Jean.  Most of it was held in trust for Sir Malcolm’s grandchildren, granting only a modest ten-pound a week allowance to his own children.  Record-breaking had been an expensive hobby to Sir Malcolm, but for Donald finding enough money would always be a problem.

In fact, after six frustrating years of trying to break the record with his father’s old boat, Campbell was forced to sell his share in the successful engineering firm, Kine’s, and mortgage his home to finance a new design Bluebird hydroplane that would finally give him a new World Water Speed Record of 202.32mph in 1955.

In doing so, he had succeeded in breaking the hypothetical “water barrier”, claimed by its proponents to lurk at 200mph and cause such severe buffeting to the hull of a boat that it would eventually disintegrate.  Campbell had proven this to be wrong, and for the next five years, he continued to push the record higher, leaving it at 260.33mph.

Campbell's third wife Tonia Bern in an off guard moment at Lake Eyre.

Campbell’s third wife Tonia Bern in an off-guard moment at Lake Eyre.

However, the cost of his success on a personal level had been extremely high.  His first two marriages had failed, due in no small part to Campbell’s single-minded preoccupation with record-breaking.  He would marry his third wife on Christmas eve 1958, and outwardly, Tonia Bern, a well-known Belgian cabaret artist, seemed like an odd match.  But they were both determined, strong-willed characters, and Tonia understood that in an age of increasing commercial sponsorship, they were both, to a degree, in “show-business”.

But it was after his second World Water Speed Record on Lake Mead in the United States that the idea for Campbell’s most significant challenge gelled.

In 1947, Englishman John Cobb had set an outright Land Speed Record of 394.20mph which for years had stood unchallenged.  It now became Campbell’s obsession to recapture the record his father had held nine times.  He even toyed with the idea of breaking both the water and land record on the same day!

At this time Campbell’s stock had never been higher, and he was able to persuade, charm and cajole, eighty British companies to support his quest for the land record.

After a fanfare of publicity, in September 1960, Campbell took the enormously expensive gas-turbine Bluebird car to Bonneville Salt Flats and very nearly killed himself.

Campbell prepares to make another run at Lake Eyre.

Campbell prepares to make another run at Lake Eyre.

Anxious to get the record, he accelerated the massively powerful car too hard, too soon.  It became airborne at 360mph before slamming back down onto the salt track, bouncing back into the air then rolling over several times as it shed wheels and bodywork, before finally sliding on its belly to a halt.  Somehow though, Campbell had survived the world’s fastest automobile accident.

But the car was gone, a total write-off except for the gas turbine engine.  When it became known from Campbell’s hospital bedside that his first concern was the Bluebird car, and how soon he could have another crack at the record, his sponsors’ rallied.  Sir Alfred Owen, a hard-nosed north England industrialist whose company, Motor Panels, had been responsible for constructing Bluebird, immediately sent off a telegram offering to build Campbell a new car.

Bonneville Salt Flats, however, was no longer considered a suitable venue, the American track being considered too short to exploit Bluebird’s full potential.  Campbell’s longtime sponsor, British Petroleum, suggested an alternative.  It was a little-known salt lake in the far north of South Australia called Lake Eyre.

Base camp southern end of the lake.

Base camp southern end of the lake.

There had been a drought at Lake Eyre for seven years, but as soon as Campbell and his huge entourage arrived in the Australian autumn of 1963, the heavens opened.  The bad weather would plague the Bluebird team from that point on, eventually flooding the lake and causing the abandonment of the record attempt that year.

Then came another blow.  On August 5th, 1963 an almost unknown American set a new record of 407.45mph at Bonneville Salt Flats.  His name was Craig Breedlove, and his “car” was a three-wheeled device with a pure thrust jet engine called Spirit of America.  It did not, however, conform to the rules laid down by motorsports world governing body the F.I.A., and the record was not recognised officially.

But it did fire increasing criticism of the Bluebird Project.  Sir Alfred Owen arrived in Australia with a flurry of publicity, accusing Campbell of mismanaging the record attempt, while questioning his ability to drive the car to its full potential.  He also raised questions over who actually owned Bluebird.  Campbell retaliated by challenging Owen to a television debate and finally had his solicitor issue a writ for defamation on Sir Alfred in his Adelaide hotel.

More fuel was added to the fire, when later that year, Breedlove also arrived in Adelaide, and after examining Lake Eyre as a possible venue for his next record attempt declared he could go faster with a fraction of the money and support that Campbell had at his disposal.

Eventually, Campbell’s dispute with Owen was resolved, but by this time he found himself locked into staging the attempt at Lake Eyre.  So in 1964, he returned only to face the same problems with the weather, the car, and a team who had started to believe in a Campbell jinx.  Even Campbell’s ability to drive Bluebird was brought into question as rumours of a phobia of really high speeds persisted, because, it was said, of his Bonneville crash.

Campbell discusses problems with the track to his team.

Campbell discusses problems with the track after a run.

And indeed, Campbell’s approach was cautious.  The effects of the crash had taken their toll, and the possibility of damaging the car again must have weighed heavily on his mind.  But to the press and an increasingly sceptical public, Campbell no longer had what it takes.

To make matters worse, Andrew Mustard, a significant member of the team whom Campbell had contracted to build the track on Lake Eyre, and who was also responsible for the enormous Dunlop tyres fitted to the Bluebird car, became increasingly critical of Campbell’s reluctance to go for the record.  As Bluebirds nominated reserve driver, he began to openly offer to do the job himself.

More controversy erupted when the Confederation of Australian Motorsport officials, whose job it was to verify the record should it be achieved, insisted that Campbell have a medical examination on the grounds he was unfit to drive Bluebird.  A huge argument ensued, putting the whole record attempt in jeopardy until a compromise was reached and Campbell agreed to take the medical.

Weeks dragged past as trouble with the track, and the weather continued, until finally, on July 17th, 1964, on a track surface that was far from ideal, Campbell at last set a new official Land Speed Record of 403.10mph.

Longines timing photograph. The record at last.

Longines timing photograph. The record at last.

It was still, however, in the back of Campbell’s mind to try for “the double”, a feat not even achieved by his father, and plans were laid in Australia for an attempt on his own World Water Speed Record.

Lake Bonney at Barmera in the South Australian Riverland was tried, but poor weather made it unsuitable.  Lake Dumbleyung in Western Australia held promise, but problems again with the weather made it seem as though breaking both records in the same calendar year would elude Campbell.

The team had just about given up, when on the last day of 1964, with only three hours of light remaining, conditions improved sufficiently for Campbell to set a new World Water Speed record of 276.3mph.

This was to be Campbell’s swan song, for now, the world was looking to the heavens for its heroes.  The space race had generated a new breed of men, strapped atop enormous rockets, full of raw, explosive power, yet controlled with incredible precision by computers.  With almost monotonous regularity these men were tossed into space, orbiting the earth at over 26,000mph.

Bluebird K7 on display at Barmera in the South Australian river land.

Bluebird K7 on display at Barmera in the South Australian Riverland.

Donald Campbell became a man trapped between eras, belonging to neither.  Few were interested when he proposed a new rocket-powered car to break the sound barrier.  Science, it was said, not a man’s bravery, would now test the laws of psychics.

Perhaps then, on that cold winters morning at Lake Coniston, there was only one piece of equipment aboard the Bluebird hydroplane that could not have been scientifically perfected – only one component that was truly being tested to its limit and way beyond.  Perhaps it had always been, Donald Campbell himself.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 1997. Colour photographs John Workman (C) 1964.  B/W photo’s courtesy Les Jackson.  Article published in Classic and Sports Car April 1997 and Australian Classic Car June 1997.