This is the eighth instalment in a series of
small bitesize pieces on interesting cars found at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in the gorgeous New Forest National Park. Now we have that out of the way, sit back and relax, it’s story time.
Today we look at the enormous turbine powered techfest that is the 1960 Bluebird CN7. The driver of CN7, Donald Campbell, caught the speed bug when he purchased water speed record holding craft Bluebird K4 from his deceased father, Sir Malcolm Campbell’s estate in 1948 (Malcolm’s will dictated all his possessions were to be sold, including his record breaking water craft). Donald Campbell had never attempted to break any speed records during his father’s life, but as is the case with more than a few speed records of the past the Brit was spurred on by the threat of an American taking the record from Great Britain. Donald, like his father, quickly branched out into setting records on land.
Campbell started to plan for a Land Speed Record car in 1956, when the record stood at 394.196mph, he envisaged a sleek jet powered, but crucially still wheel driven machine that could speed all the way to 500mph. Campbell employed the knowledge of Ken Norris to design the CN7 (Campbell Norris 7) after a partnership forged in designing water craft for Campbell’s water speed record efforts. Norris drew up a design far before its time, with a chassis constructed from aluminium honeycomb sandwich panels, Fully independent suspension, inboard disc brakes all round and most impressively a Bristol-Siddeley Proteus 705 Turboshaft jet engine producing 4,450 shaft horsepower to all four wheels. That power was funnelled through 52 inch wheels and tyres produced by Dunlop.
The car was assembled by Motor Panels in Coventry, and completed in spring of 1960. Campbell deciding to unveil the car and perform a low speed test at Goodwood that July, Campbell trundled around the course, hampered by the CN7's four degrees of steering lock, he did however breach 100mph on the main straight.
Wasting no time, Campbell shipped the car to Bonneville almost straight away where his father had his last triumph in the world of land speed records. Whilst performing test runs during September 1960 Campbell crashed suffering a fracture to his lower skull and a broken eardrum. The accident deterred Campbell and he suffered panic attacks. To aid his rehabilitation Campbell took up flying as a confidence booster and was well on the way to being back in the seat. Campbell had the car rebuilt in hopes of making another attempt in the future.
By 1962 the rebuilt car was completed, with modifications including differential locks and a large vertical stabilising fin. After more trials at Goodwood in 1962 and further modifications to the very strong fibreglass cockpit canopy, CN7 was shipped to Australia for a renewed attempt at Lake Eyre in 1963. Lake Eyre was selected as it offered 450 square miles of dried salt lake, where there had been no rainfall in the previous 20 years, and had 20 miles of rock solid flat track to run along. Campbell arrived towards the end of March, (with a view to a May attempt) when light rain began to fall. Campbell began low speed runs in early May but yet again more rain fell, as a result low-speed test runs were all that the surface would allow. By late May, the rain became torrential, and the lake began to flood. Campbell and his team had to move the CN7 off the lake in the middle of the night to save the car from being damaged by the rising flood waters. It was conceded that there would be no more attempts that year as the track would not dry out and Campbell was forced to go home. Campbell received extremely poor press for his lack of a record attempt, but he was being rightly cautious as he had already crashed the CN7 before. To compound the bad press and weather BP pulled out as a sponsor.
Bluebird returned to Lake Eyre in 1964 with a new sponsor in the form of Australian oil company Ampol, looking to finally break a land speed record after Craig Breedlove recorded a speed of 407.477mph in late 1963 in the Spirit of America. It’s reported that the salt flats never really returned to same concrete like consistency it had when Campbell first arrived in 1963, Despite this Campbell continued to make runs after yet more rain. On July 17, 1964, Campbell set a record of 403.10 mph for a four-wheeled vehicle (Spirit of America had three wheels). Campbell was disappointed with the speed that was recorded as the vehicle had been designed for 500 mph, CN7 covered the final third of the measured mile at an average of 429 mph, peaking as it left the measured mile at over 440 mph. One can only speculate that had the salt surface been hard and dry, as in early 1963, and the full 15 mile length originally planned for the run, there can be little doubt that CN7 would have set a record well in excess of 450 mph and perhaps close to her design maximum of 500 mph, a speed that no other wheel driven car has approached and that would have taken the absolute land speed record.
Following his success as the fastest man on four wheels (and driven wheels) Campbell celebrated by driving CN7 around the street of Adelaide before a presentation at the city hall where 200,000 people showed up to see Campbell and his magnificent speed machine.
Campbell was killed in an accident three years later whilst attempting to set a new water speed record. It’s difficult to guess what Campbell could have done in CN7 had he survived and continued to develop the car or how that would have affected later attempts by Richard Noble in Thrust 2, but rest assured the story doesn’t end there, Donald Campbell’s nephew, Don Wales has continued the family heritage setting records in steam and electric powered cars, it is his ambition to reach 400mph in an electric car which is still underway.
Leon Humphrey is a 24 year old Mechanical Engineer from South East England whose educational background focused around Motorsport, he currently works in the Oil & Gas industry and spends his days dreaming about Porsches and Alfa Romeos.