This is the Sixth in a series of small bitesize bits of info on interesting cars found at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in the gorgeous New Forest National Park. All photos were taken by me and my potato unless otherwise referenced. Now we have that out of the way, sit back and relax children it’s story time.
Continuing on from the Sunbeam 350HP from last time, we have another land speed record car, the Irving Napier Golden Arrow. Designed by J.S Irving formerly of the Sunbeam company (A name that carries great weight in the early Land Speed Record days).
Malcolm Campbell raised the record to 206.956mph in February 1928 in his Bluebird III, only to have American Ray Keech in the Triplex Special exceed this by a tiny 0.5mph a month later! Sir Henry Segrave, a british national (though born in Maryland) was determined to retake the record for Britain.
Officially born as the Irving-Napier Special, but nicknamed the Golden Arrow (presumably because of how it looked), was designed and built for the sole purpose of claiming back British pride. The engine for the project was a 23.9 Litre W12 (as in three rows of four cylinders) Napier Lion aero engine that was used Supermarine Schneider Trophy racing seaplanes. With an output of 925bhp at 3,300rpm and small frontal area, Irving envisaged that the Golden Arrow would be capable of 240mph. The Cooling system is particularly interesting on the Golden arrow, the two large pontoons that run down either side of te car between the wheels replaced traditional radiators, these were in effect, ice chests through which the coolant would run. The setup allowed for a more streamlined shape by removing the need for a radiator to be placed in the airflow.
As with other similar projects, many of the leading industrial British companies contributed to the construction (something we still see today with Bloodhound SSC). Major sponsors were Portland Cement, with further backing from BP, C.C. Wakefield and Sir William Rootes. Industrial contributors included Vickers, Gloster, Hardy Spicer and Clayton Dewandre. The streamlined aluminium body work was built by the fabulously British sounding coach builders Thrupp & Maberley whilst the tyres were designed by Dunlop for the purpose of hitting 240mph, the car was then assembled in the works of KLG Spark Plugs at Putney Vale in West London. Golden Arrow was shipped over the Atlantic to Daytona (Land Speed Record cars had become too fast for the British home of speed, Pendine Sands) in February 1929 where Segrave made two 180mph test runs. In order to achieve the greatest speed possible Segrave waited two weeks for a suitable period of good weather. He was able to make his attempt on 11 March 1929. Huge crowds assembled on Daytona Beach to watch as the 23.9 litre car made its two timed runs through the measured mile; 15.55 seconds on the first run, 15.57 on the second. The speed of 231.446mph obliterated the previous record by 24mph.
The following day a brave attempt to re-take the record for the USA ended in tragedy when the Triplex Special (the previous record holder), this time driven by Lee Bible, crashed, claiming the lives of Lee Bible and a nearby cameraman. Segrave returned to Britain to receive a hero’s welcome and was awarded a knighthood for his exploits.
It is believed by some that Segrave was shaken by Bible’s death, in contradiction to this he took up water speed record chasing. Using Lord Wakefield’s new boat Miss England II, he went about setting records on water. Segrave sadly lost his life on 13 June 1930, having succeeded in setting a water speed record of 98.76mph. He was killed when the boat hit a floating object on Lake Windermere. Following its record breaking run and return to Britain, Golden Arrow was placed in storage. It has been displayed at Beaulieu since 1958 making it one of their longest tenants, especially when you consider The National Motor Museum was founded in Lord Montagu’s Living room in the Beaulieu Palace House in 1952.