I wonder if you or any of your readers are aware that there exists in New Zealand a most interesting relic closely connected with the last, Sir Malcolm Campbell’s land speed redo attempts in the late 1920s?
I refer to the FBM (Foster-Brown-Mains), 3-speed epicyclic gearbox built by Beard and, Fitch Ltd. in 1926 for Campbell’s 450 b.h.p. Napier Lion engined “Bluebird”.
The gearbox was used in “Bluebird” on both occasions that Campbell took the record in the latter part of the, twenties: the 174.883 m.p.h on Pendine sands on February 4th, 1927 and the 206.956 m.p.h. at Daytona beach on February 19th, 1948. It appears to have also been in the car when Campbell made his unsuccessful attempt on Segrave’s 231.446 at Verneuk Pan, South Africa, in May 1929.
When “Bluebird” was rebuilt in 1930 by the late Reid Railton with a 1,450-h.p. supercharged Napier Lion engine, the FBM gearbox was removed and a unit built by the KLG factory put in its place. I presume that the KLG gearbox is still in the car as apparently only a new clutch was fitted when “Bluebird” received the Rolls-Royce “R” engine in 1933.
The story behind the survival of the FBM gearbox and its arrival in New Zealand is shrouded in obscurity. We do know that in 1937 a New Zealander by the name of George Stewart was visiting England and apparently happened upon the gearbox in a scrap yard, although I feel it is possible that the gearbox was still lying around the Brooklands premises of Thomson and Taylor and it was there that Stewart saw it. In any case Stewart apparently bought the gearbox, and then had it shipped back to New Zealand.
The gearbox was subsequently offered to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which was not very enthusiastic about accepting it. Then a Senior Lecturer on the staff of the University of Auckland School of Engineering, Mr. W. Jebson, who knew Mr. Stewart, arranged for the gearbox to be acquired by the Engineering School for display, where it was for nearly thirty years.
In the later 1960s Mr. Francis N. Kirton, a Senior Technical Officer at the University, had the job of arranging for the disposal of a certain amount of obsolete equipment of technical interest to the then recently formed Museum of Transport and Technology. This material included many aviation items, propellers, old aero engines, and even a complete Gnome rotary engine, as well as a Bettis & Morc.om steam engine and a Tangye gas-engine. On the 11th of August 1969, the “Bluebird” gearbox was officially donated to the Museum of Transport and Technology by the University of Auckland School of Engineering.
It is, however, still not on public display, and languishes in a dark corner of a huge storage building that the Museum uses in suburban Auckland, instead of finding an honoured place in the Museum’s recently-constructed quarter-million-dollar Hall of Transport.
I do hope that this tale proves to be of interest to your readers and I wonder if there is anyone who can shed some light on the whereabouts of the gearbox after it was removed from “Bluebird” and before it went to New Zealand.
Paraparaumu, NZ. GRANT H. TAYLOR
With reference to the letters in Motor Sport, about the Liddell Straker Squire. In the 1924 programme of the Holme Moss Hill Climb, it gives the registration number of Miss Mitchell’s car as CM 4404, in your article the number of Mr. Liddell’s car is given as MD 7901. So that means two racing Straker Squires. What happened to the Mitchell car?
Scarborough E. J. MUNROE