Seen running around the grounds of the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu this evening, under its own power, was this 350HP Sunbeam, ‘Blue Bird’, former holder of the world land speed record and the first car to officially exceed 150mph.
One of several cars that Sir Malcolm Campbell named ‘Blue Bird’, the 350HP Sunbeam took the land speed record in 1924, with a speed of 146.16 mph, and pushed it further to 150.87mph, in 1925.
The car has not been seen in public moving under its own power since 1962, when a gearbox failure rendered it un-driveable.
Subsequently a static exhibit inside the National Motor Museum, the internal components of the engine had become sticky through lack of use. In 1993, a decision was taken to clean the engine and get the car running again, but that project ended in disaster. After flushing the oily deposits, the 18.3 litre V12 engine was successfully started, but the engineers celebrations were short-lived as the engine failed within a minute, sending a connecting rod through the side of the cylinder block.
Since 2007, over 2000 man hours have been spent on dismantling, cleaning, re-conditioning, repairing and re-building the engine. The hole in the crankcase was successfully stitched together, new (slightly modified) connecting rods and pistons were manufactured and installed, 342 seized studs were manually drilled out and re-tapped, new carburetor jets were fabricated and the correct engine timing was worked out.
Following that work, the engine was re-started successfully in January and at a special event for the Friends of the Motor Museum this evening, after the Museum had closed for the day, the 350HP Sunbeam was seen moving under its own power again. Just one lap of a short circuit around the grounds and buildings of the National Motor Museum.
But not at its former speeds. Although the Museum has plans to build a replacement gearbox, the Sunbeam is currently fitted with a gearbox which was not designed to take 350HP. Sir Malcolm Campbell’s land-speed record car thus has to be driven very gently at the moment, at 15mph rather than 150mph. But at least ‘Blue Bird’ can be driven again…
Engine and gearbox permitting, the National Motor Museum hope to run the car at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and at Brooklands later this year.