MOTORING SP RTSMEN
( X E 147 SERIES). 11.-SIR NALCOLM CAMPBELL.
IN one season of motor racing a man can experience a great deal. He can be the recipient of all sorts of strange deals from Fortune, enough indeed to provide him with food for thought, and matter for recollection and reminiscence to last for a long time to come.
What, then, of Sir Malcolm Campbell, who, save for the four-years interlude of the War, has strenuously engaged himself in pursuit of the sport since 1910? Surely no man alive can equal such a remarkable record ; surely few who might have done as much would be still hard at the game after more than twenty years.
When we called, at Sir IVIalcolm’s London office we found no jaded veteran contentedly reclining on a whole heap of well-earned laurels, but a man keen and alert and anxious to gain still further triumphs. In looks and manner Sir Malcolm is essentially a man of action, conveying the impression at once that when he sets out to do a thing he will not be easily deflected from his purpose.
Insatiable. In our he was not so much
In our interview, he was not so much inclined to be reminiscent as to discuss his plans for the immediate future, and the possibility of Norman Smith bettering his own achievement at Daytona With the “Blue Bird” in 1931. “Smith has got a magnificent car,” he said, ” and it is five years younger than mine. He ought to do something really good.”
” If someone would put up the necessary money I’d like to build a new one to challenge it, but for the present I have got the ‘ Blue Bird’ prepared. I wish he’d hurry and, get things over, because the sand, at Daytona is unsafe :After the end of March, as the heat softens it.” He mentioned, ,a figure which had been attained in trials substantially above his official speed, so that with the further alterations which have been carried out, the eight-year old car should, still put up a good, fight. Miller, he told us, is reported to be building a challenger in
America, so there may be another triangular scrap this year.
The attention which has been focussed on Campbell’s attacks on the World’s land-speed, records has rather diverted. appreciation of his equally successful career on road, and track. In the first 200 Mile Race at Brooklands in 1921 he was in the Talbot Darracq team which took the first three places, Segrave being first and Lee Guiness second. In 1927 he won it in, a Bugatti after a great d,u.el with Vernon Balls, and repeated, his success the next year on, the famous Delage on which Benoist won the British Grand Prix, this time at a speed of 78.3 m.p.h. At Boulogne in 1926 he put up a lap of 70 m.p.h. in practice, but later his engine blew up. Next year, again in. a Bugatti, he won at a speed Of 67 m.p.h. in pouring rain, his hands being badly cut by the rubbing of the steering wheel. In 1928, in the Boillot Cup, his brakes failed and the car crashed, but the next day, on the Delage, after a terrific duel with Ganthier on a Bugatti, won at a speed of 72 m.p.h.
With ” Bug ” and Delage.
The same year he drove his Bugatti in, the R.A.C. T.T. and was much fancied, but he and Lord Howe were troubled with leaky petrol tanks. In Campbell’s case the spirit poured out on to the redhot exhaust pipe at the first stop, and the car was burnt to a cinder. Next year he put up the record lap at Phoenix Park, and was in the winning team with Caracciola and Lord Howe. He also won the Gold Star race on. the Delage, which was later sold, to Lord, Howe. The latter repeated, the performance in 1931.
We ventured, a question or two about his early days at racing, a subject which is always intriguing, especially to those whose introduction to the sport is comparatively recent. ” My first real racing car,” Campbell said, ” was a 60 h.p. Darracq. I bought and ran this in 1910, and in the previous year it had won the Vanderbilt Cup in America.” The Darracq was the very first of the ” Blue Birds.” It was in 1912 that Campbell had one of his numerous close calls ; he was driving the Darracq at Brooklands, and when coming down, the finishing straight the offside front tyre burst. A moment later the wheel came off, and the rear offside one did likewise ! The racer of 1910 with its great ground clearance was a very different proposition from the low built vehicle of to-day, but the driver somehow managed to straighten up and skate along the edge of the track. After crossing the finishing line the car spun round and slid, sid,eways, but was somehow brought to rest without overturnim,. In those days car racing was not the only pastime which attracted Sir Malcolm, and as might be expected from a man of
his temperament and calibre, the infant science of aviation gained him as an enthusiastic adherent. Campbell, in fact, can claim to be a real pioneer of flying, for in 1909 he designed and built a monoplane. A 16 h.p. V-twin engine was this craft’s power unit, and the whole job of building it occupied six months. Alas for the hopes of its constructor, the aeroplane was not an unqualified success, and save for sundry hops she never really took the air.
The War and the R.F.C.
But later Campbell’s aviation aspirations were to be given full scope. Following the outbreak of the War, when he at once joined up and served in France as a motor-cycle D.R., Sir Malcolm subsequently transferred to the Royal Plying Corps, and served from 1915 to 1919 as a pilot. Much of his war-flying was done as a ferry-pilot–a job full of variety, since one might be called upon to fly a Sopwith ” Pup ” to France on one day’ and return with a war-worn F.E. on the next trip home. “What first turned your attention to
breaking World’s records ? ” we asked Sir Malcolm. He confessed he could not remember ; anyhow, the idea suddenly came to him. The acquisition of the 100 h.p. Grand Prix Peugeot gave him the chance, and at Brooklands he set up records for the kilometre, mile, and five miles. As he was finishing the lap which would have completed the ten mile distance a front tyre burst, and the car took charge. Campbell just managed to keep the car under control after nearly leaving the track, and found that the other tyres were also on the verge of collapse.
About this time the Sunbeam Company had constructed the famous 350 h.p. racer. The engine, it appears, was built by the Sunbeam Company for the R.N.A.S. just before the end of the War, but was never used. Mr. Coatalen saw it lying about, and forthwith proceeded to build it into a racing chassis. Lee Guinness put up some records with it at Brooklands, and then Captain Campbell bought it and took it to Saltburn. He had a good run and carried off the record with a speed of 135 m.p.h. The run was not without incident, for a dog crossed the track on. his second trip, but happily it got out of the way. This performance had a most disappointing sequel, for the record was only timed by hand, and was disallowed by the Central Board. The next year Captain Campbell decided to take the Sunbeam to the International Speed Trials at Fanoe (pronounced Fauoo), an island off the west coast of Denmark. When he reached Fanele he found drivers from all the Continental nations there. Refitting the gearbox, which had not been completed before he left England, took some
time, and then on his first run he had trouble with his shock absorbers. However, by working day and night, everything was fixed in time for the races. The Sunbeam put up an average speed of 138 m.p.h., and in the race next day defeated the foreign drivers by a very large margin. Campbell and his crew were naturally delighted at this result, but were once more defeated by the timing apparatus. A proper electric outfit was used on this occasion, and was as accurate as could be made, but it was not approved by the International Body and the record was declared void.
Most people would have been too disgusted to continue, but Campbell is a man who refuses to admit defeat. Next year he took no chances, but brought along with him the R.A.C. timing apparatus, officials and all. The car was properly prepared this time and his hopes were high. Unfortunately, the weather had been very stormy and the beach was littered with debris of all kinds. He appealed to the authorities to have this cleared away, and also pointed out the danger of letting the crowd of spectators so close to the course. The rubbish was cleared from the sands, but they were still very uneven. Nothing more could be done, so Campbell set off for the start. The car was in excellent form, and was roaring down towards the measured mile, when suddenly as it was about to cross the finishing strip, the two back tyres came off together, and after a sickening wrench got clear of the wheels, and careered down the course in front of the car. Mercifully, they kept clear of car and the crowd alike, and Campbell, by.; most amazing skill, managed to keep the car from slewing round and turning over. The cause of the accident was at once apparent. The car was fitted with beaded-edge tyres, which, of course, are only held on by air pressure forcing the beads into the rim. These were changed to!wired-edge, and Campbell had another shot. Once again the same thing happened, only this time it was a front tyre. This came off halfway down the measured mile, made straight for the crowd, killed a. boy and demolished the timing hut. Meanwhile Campbell was fighting for his
own life and that of hundreds of others, for if the car had got out of control it would have gone into the spectators with appalling results. Once again he averted disaster by a narrow margin.
” The authorities were completely to blame for the whole thing,” said Sir Malcolm ; “it wasn’t for want of my telling them.”
After these two failures he was more than ever determined to set up the record, and as soon as possible went down to Pendine. Here under the most adverse weather conditions he was successful, and covered the mile at an average speed of 146 m.p.h.
The exploits of the Sunbeam had drawn attention to the kudos attached to the World Speed Record. Sir Malcolm felt that he had reached the highest speed of which the car was capable, and set about designing another which would do 180 m.p.h., which he calculated would be sufficient for some years to come. This car was the now-famous Blue Bird, and the fact that she attained in 1931 a speed 60 m.p.h. in excess of this shows how well she was designed in the first place. Of the more recent history which the ” Blue Bird” and its great driver have built up there is no need to recount,
since it is still fresh in everyone’s memory. And now that the car has undergone yet another rejuvenation, we may expect a further chapter to be added in the near future.
Sir IVIalcolm’s knowledge of high-speed beach racing is unequalled, and we took the opportunity of getting some information about Daytona and the other tracks on which he has driven. The American beach, he told us, is only 60 yards wide, and can only be driven on where the tide has flowed, so that at neap tides (and the same applies at Pendine) a strip inshore is unfit for use. The weather is also an important factor. In fine and clear weather the beach is covered with ripple marks, and the only time it is really level is after a heavy off-shore wind. Unfortunately, such winds do not die down quickly on the unsheltered coast, so that the would-be record-breaker has to contend with a force which tends to drive him off his 60 yards of beach into the sea. A wind up or down the beach may be effective in flattening the sand, but more speed is lost in running against it than is gained when running before it. Apart from natural hazards, at Daytona one also has to contend with the local clam diggers, who make holes in the beach
which following tides do not always fill up.
The start and finish are marked by banners, but as the whole course is eight miles in length, its edge is bordered by flags. During his last attempt in 1931 Sir Malcolm could only see 200 yards ahead owing to the mist, and was forced to rely entirely on the flags “240 m.p.h. is 350 ft. per sec.,” said Sir Malcolm ; “if you hit a bump half a second later you’re in the sea, and it’s not like Brooklands, where you know the bad spots by heart. But I’m a fatalist—if it’s going to happen you can’t help it.”
Sir Malcolm does not think there are any limitations of speed. “When I started for records on the Sunbeam,” he said, “tyres were the limiting factor. Now through the researches of the clever people at Port Dunlop we have tyres which will stand 300 , m.p.h., and I have no doubt that if somebody builds a car capable of 320, the tyre manufacturers will follow suit. The Blue Bird was much more controllable at 240 last year than at 214 two years before. Given a suitable car, man will always be able to control it.” Campbell’s plans for 1932 will come as a surprise to most people. “I have been standing out for Buy British,’ and I cannot reconcile this with driving foreign cars,” he told us. He is therefore selling his former racing cars and has bought the two four-litre Sunbeams raced by Kaye Don at Brooklands. Curious how cars change hands I The Tiger is the car with which Segrave did 153 at Southport, beating Campbell’s own record of 150 on the 350 h.p. Sunbeam at Pendine. The sister car was made for the first 500 mile race. They are being fitted with strengthened frames, new axles and brakes, and ought to be ready for the British Empire Trophy in April, and will
also run in Grand Prix races on the Continent. He has no plans for taking part in sports car races. ” I never did care for races in which your windscreen has to be this size and your seat cushion that, none of which measurements ever suit you.” Like Lord Howe and most other drivers with whom we have discussed the matter, he is tremendously keen on a race in Richmond Park. An enormous body of potential spectators are close at hand, and if a company offered to make up the
roads in return for being allowed to run the race, the authorities might well grant permission. Some day someone will do something about it.
Sir Malcolm is interested in nearly all forms of sport besides motor racing, especially motor boat cruising and boxing, but his achievements in the world of speed are so outstanding that we have only space to sum up on that one subject. No other man has held so many world’s records, no other man has had such setbacks, and come through with success.