Sir Malcolm Campbell's greatest achievement

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“Bluebird” beats her speed by 18mph and raises the World’s land speed record to the colossal figure of 272mph

272 miles per hour! As the BBC announcer calmly broadcast the news that Sir Malcolm Campbell had once again broken the world’s record for the flying mile with a speed of 272.108mph, it required an almost impossible amount of imagination to appreciate fully the nature of his greatest achievement. Probably the fastest land speed ever witnessed by the majority of British motor-racing enthusiasts is the 137mph lap speed of Sir Henry Birkin at Brooklands. Seen at close quarters from the Byfleet Bridge this speed looks terrific, as indeed it is. Now try (we say “try” purposely, for the most elastic imagination will be hopelessly inadequate) to picture “Bluebird” travelling at approximately double the velocity of Sir Henry Birkin’s Bentley’s lap speed.

So fast does the great car go that, if it were possible to race at such a speed on a track circuit, after starting level “Bluebird” would cover two laps to the Bentley’s one. Again supposing cars were being timed over a beach-run like Daytona, with a flying start at their maximum speeds, “Bluebird” could give the Bentley a half-mile start in one mile and the cars would cross the finishing line together.

It was on Wednesday, February 22nd that the record attempt was finally made, after a trying period of waiting for the conditions of the beach to improve. In many ways, however, this delay was a good thing, for it allowed Sir Malcolm’s return to health after a severe bout of influenza to be fully accomplished, and sundry last-minute adjustments of the car to be made. The morning dawned misty and unpromising, but later the visibility improved as the mist lifted, and a decision was made to go out for the record there and then.

Through the length of beach available having been reduced from 11 miles to 9, the speed of the “Bluebird’s” first run was awaited with great interest. 50,000 people were lining the sand hills down the length of the course as the car set off to gather speed. The mist was still heavy enough to make everyone anxious for the welfare of the driver, but with superb judgement Campbell held the car under perfect control, as it hurtled into sight like a projectile. Then came the news “273.566 mph” and a cheer went up from the excited spectators.

On the second run the car seemed to bump a good deal, and at one moment gave a sudden lurch, but with his customary skill Sir Malcolm held the car to its course and recorded the terrific speed of 270.676mph. Quickly the mean average was worked out, and the spectators went wild with excitement when it was announced that “Bluebird” had set a new world’s record for the flying mile with a speed of 272.108mph.

One hardly knows how to start praising all those connected with this marvellous achievement. The driver, Sir Malcolm Campbell, who has broken the land’s speed record no fewer than four times during the last few years at a speed of over 200mph. The designer, Mr Reid Railton, whose genius has enabled the great car to be controllable at hitherto untried speeds. The erectors, Messrs Thomson & Taylor Ltd, and the manufacturers of the component parts. The Rolls-Royce engine, which has repeated the Schneider Trophy and World’s Air Speed record in such a convincing manner, developing 2350hp at 3200rpm and weighing only 11 oz per hp. The manufacturers of the tyres, the Dunlop people, on whose efforts the success of the record and the life of the driver depend to a fundamental degree, having to combine resistance to the cutting effect of small shells with the thinnest possible tread. The accessory suppliers, notably Messrs CC Wakefield & Co Ltd, whose Castrol oil has been used on every occasion when 200mph has been exceeded. The Smith instruments, vital to the necessary co-ordination between driver and car; relieving the driver of excessive fatigue; and Pratt’s, whose Ethyl was used once more, together with KLG plugs. Finally, the mechanics who travelled with the car to Daytona, under the direction of the ever cheerful Villa.

Altogether a marvellous show, of which every Britisher has every reason to be extremely proud.

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