Posts Tagged ‘Bluebird Proteus CN7’

(S Dalton Collection)

Bluebird Proteus CN7 and its little brother, Elfin Catalina Ford chassis #6313 during the 1963 unsuccessful attempt to set the Land Speed Record at Lake Eyre, South Australia…

The driver of the Elfin Catalina is Ted Townsend, a Dunlop tyre fitter. The car was built by Garrie Cooper and his artisans at Edwardstown, an Adelaide suburb for Dunlop Tyres to use on the Lake Eyre salt to assist in determining certain characteristics of the tyres fitted to Donald Campbell’s Bluebird during 1963/4.

The Elfin Catalina’s normal use was in Formula Junior or 1.5-litre road racing events. In LSR test application it was fitted with miniature Bluebird tyres and driven over the salt to determine factors such as the coefficient of friction and adhesion using a Tapley meter.

“The Tapley Brake Test Meter is a scientific instrument of very high accuracy, still used today. It consists of a finely balanced pendulum free to respond to any changes in speed or angle, working through a quadrant gear train to rotate a needle round a dial. The vehicle is then driven along a level road at about 20 miles per hour, and the brakes fully applied. When the vehicle has stopped the brake efficiency reading can be taken from the figure shown by the recording needle on the inner brake scale, whilst stopping distance readings are taken from the outer scale figures.”

It’s generally thought the Elfin was running a (relatively) normal pushrod 1500cc Cortina engine with a Cosworth A3 cam and Weber DCOE carburettors for the Bluebird support runs.

And yes, the number of Elfin’s chassis was 6313. Was Donald Campbell aware of this? Certainly that could explain to the deeply superstitious man how on earth torrential rain came to this vast, dry place where rain had not fallen in the previous 20 years.

Dunlop’s Ted Townsend aboard the company Elfin Catalina. Car fitted with 13 inch versions of the 52 inch Bluebird wheels and tyres. Photo at Muloorina Station perhaps (Dunlop)
(S Dalton Collection)

Australian motoring/racing journalist, racer and rally driver Evan Green project managed the successful July 1964 record attempt on behalf of Oz oil company Ampol, who were by then Bluebird’s major sponsor. He wrote a stunning account of his experience that winter on the Lake Eyre salt which was first published in Wheels April 1981 issue.

His account of Andrew Mustard and his teams contribution to the project is interesting and ultimately controversial from Campbell’s perspective.

Andrew was Dunlop’s representative during the 1963 Lake Eyre campaign, he returned in 1964 as a contractor with the very large responsibility for the tyre preparation and maintenance of the circa 22 km long salt track.

Green describes the incredibly harsh conditions under which the team worked “…Mustard…spent weeks with his men on the salt, working in the sort of reflected heat that few people could imagine let alone tolerate…Men frozen at dawn were burned black at midday. Lips were cracked and refused to heal. Faces set in leathery masks, creased by the wrinkles of perpetual squints.”

Evan Green picks up the challenges the track team faced, “The maddest thing is what’s being done to the track,” said Lofty Taylor, the gangling leader of the refuelling team. Lofty worked for Ampol, and I’d known him since the Ampol Trial days. l had enormous respect for his opinion. He was practical, versatile, prepared to move mountains if asked and yet able to detect the faintest whiff of cant at long distance.

He admitted he knew nothing about grading salt but pointed out that neither did anyone else, for the science of building record tracks on salt lakes was in its infancy. And he reckoned he knew as much about it as anyone else.

“They’ve been cutting salt off the top all the time,” he said. “All that grading and cutting is weakening it, and bringing moisture to the top.”

“What would you do, Lofty?” “Leave it alone for a while. Let the crust heal and harden.”

The track squad was ruffled. The problem, they said, was due to the constant interruptions to their work. They couldn’t get the surface right with the car (Bluebird) running every other day and cutting grooves in the salt. So runs were suspended. Andrew Mustard’s team would pursue their theories and have a clear week to try to bring the track up to record standard. Donald took some of the crew to Adelaide, for a few days break and all seemed calm. In fact, a major storm was brewing.

Massive 52 inch wheels and Dunlop tyres, the weight was huge, note the neat hydraulic lift to allow their fitment (unattributed)
(F Radman Collection)
Andrew Mustard aboard the Elfin on the salt- note Catalina’s rear drum brakes (Catalina Park)

“Mustard had brought an Elfin racing car to the lake. It was fitted with tyres that had scaled-down versions of the tread being used on Bluebird. He drove it to test such things as tread temperature and the coefficient of friction of the salt surface at different times of the day.

He usually drove the little single-seater down the strip before Campbell made a test run. On one occasion, he was driving the Elfin up the strip when Campbell was driving the Bluebird down the strip and the world’s highest speed head-on collision was avoided by a whisker, with a sheepish Mustard – spotting the rooster tail of white salt spray bearing down on him – spinning off the track.”

“One day during the lull, Ken Norris (Bluebird’s designer) and I went to the lake to see how the track work was progressing. To our astonishment, we found the CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motor Sport) timekeepers and stewards assembled at their record posts,” wrote Green.

“Andrew’s going for his records,” one of them said, and, seeing our bewilderment, gave us that ‘don’t tell me you don’t know about it look’. It seemed there had been an application made for attempts on various Australian class records for categories suiting the Elfin. Neither Ken nor I knew anything of it. Nor, it seemed, did Campbell, and when he returned that night there was an eruption. The track squad was sacked and Lofty Taylor given the job of preparing the strip.”

“What do you suggest?” I asked Lofty. “We should all go away for a couple of weeks and let the salt alone.”

Enjoy Greens full story of this remarkable endeavour of human achievement, via the link at the end of the article, but lets come back to Mustard and the Elfin, he wasn’t finished with it yet!

When the 1964 Bluebird record attempts were completed, Mustard, of North Brighton in Adelaide bought the Elfin from Dunlop.

It was in poor condition as a result of its work on the Lake Eyre salt, with the magnesium based uprights quite corroded. It was repaired over the end of 1963-64 and a single Norman supercharger fitted.

The car was then raced at Mallala race and for 1500cc record attempts in 1964 using the access road alongside the main hangars at Edinburgh Airfield (Weapons Research Establishment) at Salisbury, South Australia. The northern gates of the airfield were opened by the Australian Federal Police to give extra stopping distance. By then the specifications of the Norman supercharged Elfin included;

• a single air-cooled Norman supercharger driven by v-belts developing around 14psi. The v-belts were short lived, burning out in around thirty seconds,

• four exhaust stubs, with the middle two siamesed,

• twin Amal carburettors,

• a heavily modified head by Alexander Rowe (a Speedway legend and co-founder of the Ramsay-Rowe Special midget) running around 5:1 compression and a solid copper head gasket/decompression plate. The head had been worked within an inch of it’s life and shone like a mirror. The head gasket on the other hand was a weak spot, lasting only twenty seconds before failing. As runs had to be performed back-to-back within an hour, the team became very good at removing the head, annealing the copper gasket with an oxy torch and buttoning it all up again inside thirty minutes.

The Norman supercharged Elfin, operated by Mustard and Michael McInerney set the following Australian national records during it’s Salisbury runs on October 11, 1964:

• the flying start kilometre record (16.21s, 138mph),

• the flying start mile record (26.32s, 137mph), and

• the standing start mile record (34.03s, 106mph).

This was not 6313’s only association with Norman superchargers. The Elfin was later modified to have:

• dual air-cooled Norman superchargers (identical to the single Norman used earlier), mounted over the gearbox. The superchargers were run in parallel, with a chain drive. The chain drive was driven by a sprocket on the crank, running up to a slave shaft that ran across to the back of the gearbox to drive the first supercharger, then down to drive the second. The boost pressure in this configuration had risen to 29psi,

• two 2″ SU carburettors (with four fuel bowls) jetted for methanol by Peter Dodd (another Australian Speedway legend and owner of Auto Carburettor Services),

• a straight cut first gear in a VW gearbox. The clutch struggled to keep up with the torque being put out by the Norman blown Elfin, and was replaced with a 9” grinding disk, splined in the centre and fitted with brass buttons, it was either all in, or all out!

In twin Norman supercharged guise the racer was driven by McInerney to pursue the standing ¼ mile, standing 400m and flying kilometre records in October 1965. Sadly, the twin-Norman blown Elfin no longer holds those records, as the ¼ mile and flying kilometre (together with a few more records) were set at this time by Alex Smith in a Valano Special.

The day after the 1965 speed record trials (Labour Day October 1965), McInerney raced the twin-Norman supercharged Elfin at Mallala in Formule Libre as there was insufficient time to revert the engine back to Formula II specifications. The photo above shows McInerney at Mallala.

The car was used for training South Australian Police Force driving instructors in advanced handling techniques, and was regularly used at Mallala and other venues (closed meetings for the Austin 7 club, etc).

It was sold by Mustard to racer/rally driver Dean Rainsford in 1966, by then without the Norman supercharger it ran a mildly tuned Cortina engine. In the ensuing 26 years it passed through nine more owners before Rainsford re-acquired it in 1993. After many years of fossicking he found the original 1965 Mustard/McInerney supercharged engine but sadly without it’s Norman supercharger.

The Elfin is retained by Rainsford and is often on display in his Adelaide office. The car made a rare public appearance at Melbourne’s 2014 Motorclassica to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of Campbell’s land and water speed records set in Australia. The car was amongst other Campbell memorabilia.

Evan Green: ‘How Donald Campbell Broke The World LSR on Lake Eyre’…



Article by Evan Green originally published in Wheels magazine April 1981, Andrew Mustard thread on The Nostalgia Forum particularly the contributions of Stephen Dalton, Fred Radman, Theotherharv and Mark Dibben. Stephen Dalton, Fred Radman and Catalina Park Photo Collections, Dunlop

Tailpiece: Elfin Catalina Ford ‘6313’, Motorclassica 2014…



(C Moran Collection)

Yes, ok, I probably am a tad obsessed with Bluebird and Donald Campbell, and his very large support team’s world land speed, 403.10mph record run at Lake Eyre, South Australia on July 17, 1964.

The problem is that every now and again one of my countrymen pop up another batch of photos on social media, in this case Colin ‘Sporty’ Moran’s collection. What makes the photographs a bit different are the wheels-off suspension stuff – which are pretty rare.

Donald Campbell in the centre, any takers for the other pair? (C Moran)

I rather like rock-star F1 designer Adrian Newey’s perspective on Bluebird’s place in the ‘racing car’ pantheon published in Racecar Engineering in 2012:

“I think in terms of one of the biggest advances made, although it was not strictly speaking a racing car, was Bluebird. Arguably for its time it was the most advanced vehicle.” The Bluebird Proteus CN7 was the Ken and Lewis Norris designed car that Donald Campbell used to set a record of 403.1mph in July, 1964, the last outright land speed record car that was wheel driven.

It was a revolutionary car that featured an advanced aluminium honeycomb chassis, featured fully independent suspension and four-wheel drive. It also had a head-up display for Campbell. “It was the first car to properly recognise, and use, ground effects. The installation of the jet turbines is a nightmare, and it was constructed using a monocoque working with a lot of lightweight structures. It was built in a way that you build an aircraft, but at the time motor racing teams weren’t doing that.”

The car featured a Bristol-Siddeley Proteus 705 gas turbine engine which developed over 4,000bhp. It was a two-spool, reverse flow gas turbine engine specially modified to have a drive shaft at each end of the engine, to separate fixed ratio (David Brown made) gearboxes on each axle. It was designed to do 500mph, but surface conditions, brought about by adverse weather in 1963 and 1964, meant that its fastest recorded time was nearly 100mph short of its hypothetical capability.

(C Moran)

Look at the size of those uprights! Suspension by way of upper and lower wishbones front and rear and oleo-pneumatic struts, huge (420mm) Girling disc brakes are inboard and out of sight. Those mega Dunlop split-rim disc wheels are 52 inches (130cm) in diameter to give you a sense of size perspective.

Love the high-tech axle stands, lovely sense of backyard mechanic about them little jiggers!

(C Moran)

Another rare reveal.

The man re-loading the braking parachute (wonder what speed Campbell could pop that?) is Ken Reakes. That gorgeous, high stabilising fin was added after Campbell’s massive 360mph Daytona shunt in September 1960. He fractured his lower skull, suffered a contusion of the brain, broke an ear drum, had cuts and abrasions and most critically, his confidence was shattered big-time. The car was rebuilt by 1962, as was his mental health, a process aided by gaining his pilot’s licence.

We get a nice glimpse of the Motor Panels, Coventry, chassis honeycomb inside that inspection/access panel, note also the exhaust ducts for the Proteus gas-turbine engine. Motor Panels was a subsidiary of Sir Alfred Owen’s Rubery Owen Holdings Group, which also included the BRM F1 manufacturing facility and team.

It could only be…(C Moran)

That is a timing beam, and a blue line, so we are lined up for a practice run.


(C Moran)

The utter desolation of ‘Camp Campbell’ on the vast Lake Eyre salt, 700km north of Adelaide – a most inhospitable and inaccessible place, to say the least.

(C Moran)

Likely lads at Muloorina Station, a 4000 square km sheep and cattle farm on the edge of Lake Eyre; two chaps, Colin Moran and Ken Wain, these lads are/were from the Maffra/Sale area in Gippsland, Victoria.

Campbell’s entourage of about 500 technical, support and media people were accommodated there in 1963 and 1964.


Colin Moran


(C Moran)

Only 4064kg to push around, too easy. The nose erection is the cockpit canopy, which of course pivots to the rear.


(J Frith)

‘All set, everything ship shape!’…

I’ve already written a couple of articles about Donald Campbell’s achievements against the odds of the weather gods at Lake Eyre, South Australia during the winters of 1963 and 1964.

He had a torrid time from the media, his sponsors- many of whom he lost during that first year, the public and some in the Australian Parliament.

Click below for a brilliant article, the best written, about Campbell’s ultimately successful record attempt by the late Evan Green, a superb Australian motoring and motor-racing journalist, very talented rally and race driver and the man appointed by Campbell’s major sponsor in 1964, Ampol, to manage the program from Muloorina Station and Lake Eyre- so it is very much a first-hand participants account.

It provides useful context for this small random selection of cartoons and photographs.

The first cartoon is by John E Frith, one of Australia’s great cartoonists who worked early in his career for the Sydney Morning Herald and later for the Melbourne Herald (as here I suspect) and is dated 26 April 1963.

It shows DC about to close the cockpit of Bluebird, with a dutiful salute being provided. ‘SS Bluebird’ is an amalgam of plane, ship and car carrying the colours of both Britain and Australia, the watching kangaroo and aboriginal are amusing, the latter totally politically incorrect these days!

Bluebird Proteus CN7 Lake Eyre 1964 (J Carter)


Jeff Carter’s photo was taken during the 1964 attempt.

His caption reads ‘Donald Campbell’s attempt on the world speed record in a vehicle driven through the wheels (not jet propelled) dragged on for almost two years during the winters of 1963 and 1964.

Fluctuating dampness of the dry saltpan that is Lake Eyre was a major problem, making it difficult to maintain a perfectly smooth, dry, hard surface for the many necessary practice runs and the final attempt.

Sponsors grew impatient with the endless delays and withdrew support. New sponsors had to be found.

Campbell’s unpredictable temperament was a factor in splitting the large group of sponsors, technicians, caterers, time-keepers etc- some 60 or more people in two camps.

Eventually in the late winter of 1964, the 4,500 horsepower jet-engined Bluebird attained a new Land Speed Record of 403.1miles per hour (an average) of its top speeds on two consecutive runs, north and south.

Craig Breedlove, driving a jet-propelled vehicle on a salt lake in the USA achieved a considerably higher speed in 1964. His vehicle was not driven through the wheels. In this photo, technicians, time keepers, photographers and photographers play football beteen practice runs’. (look carefully, you can see the ball)

(J Carter)

Jeff Carter was the official photographer for the attempt, representing the international photo agency ‘Black Star’.

‘When nothing much was happening in the Campbell/Bluebird camp, I and other members of the press would adjourn to Marree, (above) where nothing much was happening either!’


Of course everything did eventually get to a stage where Campbell drove the car in conditions which were still sub-optimal as related in Even Green’s article- but good enough to have a crack and placate those who had been more than patient with him for an inordinate amount of time. 17 July 1964.

The good citizens of Adelaide, a good proportion of the cities total population turned out to see the Bluebird parade on King William Street, and so they should.

It was a remarkable achievement.




John Frith, Jeff Carter, Article by Evan Green in ‘Wheels’ magazine, National Archive of Australia, LAT

Tailpiece: Ground Control to Major Donald…

(J Frith)

John Frith has captured the adventure of the times with this cartoon dated 16 May 1963, the Apollo space program is in full swing- the space-race is underway. The astronaut returns to earth in sunny conditions but below him are dark clouds which have caused flooding on Lake Eyre, stranding Campbell and Bluebird with DC atop the troubled vehicle…


At 8.10am on 17 July 1964 Donald Campbell aboard Bluebird CN7 Proteus set the World Land Speed Record on South Australia’s Lake Eyre salt pans…

I wrote about this achievement a while back, in fact it was my first longer article, click here to read it;

One of the wonderful things about the internet is the constant appearance of material on every topic, in this case a nice batch of photos popped onto it by ‘The Adelaide Advertiser’, here they are, too good not to share.

To celebrate Campbell’s achievement the people of Adelaide turned out in droves- about 200,000 flooded the streets of the small city on 25 July to see and hear Bluebird drive up King William Street to the Adelaide Town Hall. Mind you, ‘Beatle-Mania’ hit Adelaide five weeks before when 300,000 fans of the worlds greatest supergroup flooded into the capital.

Campbell also set the World Water Speed Record in 1964, achieving 276.3 mph at Lake Dumbleyung near Perth in Bluebird K7.

Photo Credits…

Adelaide Advertiser

Etcetera: Adelaide Excitement…



bluebird rain

Campbell, Bluebird and team depart from the salt of Lake Eyre in May 1963 on the causeway from saltpan to road and on to Muloorina Station, rain soon covered the Lake to a depth of 3 inches…surreal shot (Pinterest unattributed)

50 Years Ago Today, 17 July 1964 , Donald Campbell Broke the World Land Speed Record, in Bluebird Proteus CN7, at Lake Eyre , South Australia achieving a speed of 403.10 MPH…

Donald Campbell was to achieve a unique double, the only man to ever break Land and Water Speed Records in the same year, when at Lake Dumbleyung outside Perth he set a record of 276.33 MPH in Bluebird K7 on December 31 1964.

His fathers son…

father & son

Sir Malcolm & Donald Campbell, Daytona Beach , January 1933. Bluebird Campbell Railton

Donald was the son of Sir Malcolm Campbell, a Grand Prix winner and Brooklands racer who turned his hand to record breaking achieving 146.16 mph at Pendine Sands , Wales , 1924 in a Sunbeam V12 .He broke 9 LSR records in all, his final at Bonneville, Utah, on 3 Sept 1935 at an average of 301.337 mph, the first person to exceed 300mph.

He set 4 Water Speed Records , the final in 1939 on Coniston Water in Bluebird K4 . He was Knighted in 1931 and died after a series of strokes in 1948 aged 63.

daytona 1933

Malcolm Campbell, Bluebird , Daytona Beach , Florida. 272.46MPH , February 1933 (Pinterest)

Water Speed Records & The Norris Brothers…


Donald Campbell, Leo Villa (right) in Bluebird K4 ,Coniston Water, Lakes District, Lancashire, August 1949 (Pinterest)

Like many sons of famous fathers Donald set out to both emulate and surpass the achievements of his father.

At the outbreak of World War 2 he volunteered  for the RAF but was unable to serve as a result of childhood rheumatic fever. He became a maintenance engineer and subsequently a Shareholder/Director of a small engineering company named Kine Engineering, the business producing machine tools..

His record breaking efforts commenced after his father died, having purchased the boat ‘Bluebird K4’ from Sir Malcolms Estate. It was gradually coaxed to 170MPH and had circuit racing success.Lew Norris was a mechanical engineer and the workshop manager at Kine Engineering who provided advice on the development of K4.

In early 1953 Campbell began developing his own advanced all metal jet powered Bluebird K7 hydroplane. He approached Ken & Lew Norris to design and build the boat , the brothers collaborating with Australian aerodynamicist Tom Fink.

Norris Bros Ltd became a very successful design consultancy working and manufacturing in diverse fields, amongst their designs was the automatic tensioning device for seatbelts.

Campbell set 7 WSR’s in K7 between July 1955 and December 1964, the first at 202.33MPH, the last at  276.33 He was awarded a CBE for his water speed record breaking in January 1957.

k7 66

Bluebird K7 Coniston Water 1966

From the Waters of Lake Coniston to the Salt of Bonneville, Utah…LSR & Bluebird CN7…


Bluebird CN7 : Air for the turbine was drawn in thru the cars nose, ducted around the driver , the cockpit positioned forward of the front wheels. Wheelbase identical to John Cobb’s Railton (Pinterest)

After Campbells record attempt at Lake Mead in Nevada in 1955 it was put to him that he should ‘go for the double’, to achieve a Land & Water Speed record in the same year .

Campbell had no credentials on land, but undeterred approached the Norris Brothers to build a car capable of 500 mph. The task was enormous with Campbell then in his late ’30’s being described as a ‘financier , impresario, sportsman, adventurer, as well as courageous enough to take on the elements’.

Campbell was a patriot and wanted the car to be the best of British ,it took over 80 companies, in excess of one million pounds to build the car and an equivalent amount to run the operation…enormous sums by the standard of the day.

Having put in place the funding and  corporate support to deliver the project technically Norris Brothers designed a car capable of 500mph. the design concept was simple ; a jet engine, run drive shafts out of each end to the front and rear axles, and build a steel frame to house the engine, driver, and wheels. The driver sat forward of the front wheels, air was  ingested through a front intake and ducted around the driver into the turbines and then the engine.

The technical specifications of the CN7 are outlined below, but in essence the car was of advanced aluminium monocoque construction  ,had 4 driven wheels, was 30 feet long, weighed 9600 pounds and was powered by a Bristol Siddeley free turbine , or what would  be described today as a ‘turbo prop’ engine, developing 4450 shaft horse power or 4000 BHP at 11-11800RPM.

The aerodynamics were similar to John Cobbs Mobil Railton Special which almost achieved 400MPH using petrol engines.

Bonneville 1960…

bonneville sept

Campbell testing CN7 at Bonneville , September 1960, days before the accident

Bluebird was completed in Spring 1960 and after testing at Goodwood circuit was shipped to Bonneville , Utah, the scene of Malcolms last LSR triumph in September 1935.

Initial testing went well but on his sixth run Campbell crashed at 360 mph , writing off the car and hospitalising himself with a fractured skull, burst eardrum and extensive cuts and abrasions.

Campbells confidence was badly shaken, he suffered mild panic attacks and for some time doubted he could go back to record breaking. He learnt to fly light aircraft as part of his convalescence but by 1961 he was feeling better and planning the rebuild of CN7.


Bluebird was rooted, destroyed in Campbells near fatal accident, the cars structural integrity saving him. Campbell did not have a background in motor racing, unlike his father, the challenge of driving and controlling the immense car without that is almost beyond comprehension…bravery in the extreme, and self belief despite the self-doubt it is said Campbell also had

CN7 Rebuilt…


Some of the team at Lake Eyre…scale of the operation in this remote location clear…

Sir Alfred Owen of BRM Trust, and later the owner of BRM outright, fame stepped forward and offered to rebuild the car, various of his Rubery Holdings Group companies having constructed the car initially.

Campbell thought that Bonneville was too short, the salt having a total length of 11 miles and after researching various alternatives identified Lake Eyre, 700 Km north of Adelaide as a more appropriate location.It had 450 square miles of dried salt lake and rain had not fallen for over 20 years.The surface of the 20 mile long ‘track’ was rock hard, which allowed a very long ‘run in’ to the measured mile and importantly plenty of space to stop the massive car, not easy despite the sophisticted braking system, their being little or no ‘engine braking’ from such engines.


Sussing the Lake Eyre salt in 1962 (National Geographic)



By Summer 1962 CN7 was rebuilt , 9 months later than planned , it was the same car albeit with the important addition of a stabilising fin and reinforced fibreglass cockpit cover , it was shipped to Australia in late 1962.


Unloading Bluebird at Lake Eyre 1963 (John Kennedy)

Lake Eyre, South Australia…1963 and Craig Breedlove , Bonneville ’63…


The task of getting Bluebird to Lake Eyre, and then onto the surface was immense. 100Km of road were constructed by the government and then a 400 metre long causeway from road onto the lake Surface far enough in to clear the soft outside of the Lake. 1963 (John Kennedy)

The Australian and South Australian Governments saw the attempt as a means by which to promote both the country and the state.

Lake Eyre is remote, to say the least, the South Australian Government creating a gravel road 100 Km long from Marree to Muloorina Station and from there to the shore of the Lake. Then the difficult bit started…the crust of salt lakes is hardest in the middle, underlying the crust is water saturated blue mud. It was necessary to build a causeway 400 metres long  to allow transport vehicles to access the salt from the road itself .

The initial runway selected was abandoned after trucks grading it sank through the surface, another being chosen and graded after government equipment returned having worked on public, impassable roads which had not seen water for years…


Shortly after Easter, in addition to Bluebird there were 5 Fordson tractors, 2 Commer 5 ton trucks, a Humber Super Snipe car an Elfin Catalina single seater for tyre adhesion tests, several Commer vans for refuelling etc, multiple Land Rovers, and other assorted cars belonging to reporters and photographers.

There were around 80 men at Lake Eyre either in houses or caravans, then a mechanised unit of the army and police arrived swelling numbers to 150-200 depending on the day, making food and other supplies difficult when roads were impassable. It was a military operation, supported by the Australian Army to provide the logistical support to move around 200 people into the remote location to support the record attempt.


A new course was marked out , several test strips being prepared so that Ted Townsend, the Dunlop technician, could work out their relative effectiveness. This was done by driving the Elfin Catalina, a small single seater powered by a Ford Cosworth 1.5 litre engine, and doing deceleration runs using a recording ‘Tapley ‘ meter. The object was to find a course with a high coefficient of friction to aid the momentum of the car, to aid the cars grip of the surface. The tyres used on the Elfin were the same Dunlops fitted to Bluebird, albeit scaled down from 52 inches…


Dunlop Engineer Ted Townsend at the wheel of the Elfin ‘Catalina’ Ford used for surface testing, the car mounted with 13 inch scale replicas of Bluebirds 52 inch tyres. Car was used with testing equipment to find salt with the optimum coefficient of friction (Pinterest)

The task of making the strips was huge as Ken Norris wanted a tolerance of o.25 inches variation in height of the salt surface over 100 feet.


Bluebird Lake Eyre test run 1963 (John Kennedy)

Campbell arrived in late March, low speed attempts at around 240MPH being carried out, this also allowed the team to do their ‘turn around drill’, the return record timing run  needing to be made within an hour of the first.

Then the rain came…By May 1963 Lake Eyre was flooded to a depth of 3 inches, the first rain in years and the attempt was abandoned. Campbell had to move the car off the lake in the middle of the night to avoid it being submerged. He was criticised at the time for this but the good citizens of Great Britain did not understand the ‘on ground’ realities of Outback Australia howver large the entourage.

Meanwhile, at Bonneville Craig Breedlove had driven his pure thrust jet car, the ‘Spirit of America’ to 407.45 mph in July 1963 . The ‘car’ didn’t comply with FIA regulations about the ‘cars’ having a ‘minimum of 4 driven wheels’, but in the eyes of the world he was the fastest ‘man on wheels’, it was not the first time the regulators lagged behind the technology being deployed.

Campbell was bitterly diappointed but had to push on knowing Bluebird was capable of going much faster if circumstances smiled upon him.


Campbell hands has mascot, ‘Mr Whoppit’ , who rode in the car together with several other items, he was highly superstitious, to wife Tonya, Lake Eyre 1964

Lake Eyre 1964…

loads up

Campbell returned to Australia in Spring 1964 but the course could not be used after yet more rain.

BP pulled out as his main sponsor, Australian Oil Company Ampol stepping in. Campbell was still being criticised heavily in the press in the UK because of his administration of the project, in many ways unfairly, he hardly had control over the weather.

The course was never fully dry, but under pressure, Campbell was forced to make the best of it. In July he put in some speeds which approached the record. On 17 July, taking advantage of a break in the weather , he made 2 courageous attempts on a shortened, damp course, posting 403.10 mph.

CN7 covered the final third of the measured mile at an average of 429 mph peaking at 440 as it left the measured distance …the car would have gone faster then 450MPH had he been able to make the long run into the ‘measured mile’, he had gone to Lake Eyre for in the first place…

But it was the record all the same.


Civic Reception at Adelaide Town Hall…


Civic Reception in Adelaide, King William Street had not seen anything quite like it! 200,000 people turned up, an enormous percentage of the local population at the time (Pinterest)

Campbell drove CN7 through the streets of South Australia’s capital with a crowd of more than 200,000 in attendance. CN7 then toured the country and throughout the UK after its return in November 1964. Bluebird was eventually restored in 1969, having been damaged in a demonstation run by a stand-in driver at Goodwood,but  has never run again.

The Double…

lake d

Campbell achieved his seventh WSR at Lake Dunbleyung near Perth Western Australia on 31 December 1964 at an average speed of 276.33 mph, just getting his second record within the same year as he had planned.

k7 1967

Short But Sweet..

Campbell’s LSR was short as the FIA admitted jet powered cars from October 1964.

Campbell’s 429mph on Lake Eyre remained the highest speed achieved by a wheel driven car until 2001. CN7 is now on display at the National Motor Museum in Hampshire, England.

Bluebird Rocket Car and another WSR attempt…

Norris Bros were requested by Campbell to undertake design studies to achieve Mach1.1 , using a rocket car to do so.

To increase publicity for the program to get the necessary community and business support Campbell sought to break the WSR again, this program commenced in Spring 1964.K7 was fitted with a lighter & more powerful Bristol Orpheus engine from a Folland Gnat aircraft developing about 4500 pounds of thrust.

The modified boat was taken to Coniston Water in November 1966, the boat failing when the engine ingested debris from collapsed air intakes.

Some runs at 250 mph were made but the boat had fuel feed problems limiting maximum engine power, this problem was fixed by the engineers, better weather was then required.

4 January 1967…

The weather at dawn that cold, gloomy day was was ok.

Campbell set of for his first run at 8.45 am, he went past the first marker at 285MPH, 7.525 seconds later leaving the measured mile at over 310 MPH. Instead of refuelling and waiting for the wash to subside, he made his return run, this was something he had done before.

His second run was faster , at a peak speed of 328MPH the boat was bouncing its starboard sponson with increasing ferocity, the most intense bounce dropping speed from 328 to 296MPH. Engine ‘flame out’ (failure) occurred , perhaps caused by fuel starvation, damage to a structural element , disturbance of the airstream or all 3 factors. Shorn of nose thrust, and resultant nose down momentum K7 glided before completely leaving the water. It somersaulted before plunging back into Coniston 230 metres short of the measured mile. K7 cartwheeled across the water before coming to rest.

The impact broke the craft in half, forward of the intakes where Campbell was sitting, killing him instantly. K7 then sank. The wreck of was found by Navy divers on 5 January, but Campbell’s body was not.


Coniston Water 4 January 1967


The wreckage of K7 was recovered between October 2000  and May 2001, Campbells body was recovered on 28 May 2001, he was  interred at Coniston Cemetery on 12 Sptember that year. None of this was without controversy the family split on the issue, Campbell himself having allegedly said in 1964 ‘skipper and boat stay together’.

As of 2008 K7 is being restored by ‘The Bluebird Project to full aerospace standards of working condition in North Shields, Tyne & Wear using as much of the original craft as possible.


Adrian Newey , doyen of Formula 1 designers in the last 20 years had this to say about Bluebird CN7 in the January 2013 issue of ‘Racecar Engineering’ magazine… ‘Motorsport as an industry is a user of technologies developed in other industries, aerospace in particular… terms of the biggest advances made, although not strictly speaking a racing car , Bluebird was the most advanced car of its time. …It was the first car to properly recognise and use ground effects. The installation of a jet engine is a nightmare, and it was constructed using a monocoque (chassis) working with a lot of lightweight structures. It was built in the way you build an aircraft , but at the time motor racing teams werent doing that..’

Campbell was a remarkable, extraordinarily driven man. He started his World Record Breaking late, after his fathers death, Sir Malcoms Estate passed to his grandsons partially to avoid Donald pursuing the path Sir Malcolm followed , the Estate having some of the old Bluebirds. But Donald did it anyway.

He sought the advice of his fathers mechanic, Leo Villa, and evolved K4, selling his share in his engineering business, and losing his second marriage in the process to fund the Norris Bros initial work on K7.

Other than the family background in record breaking he had no expereince of his own until his fathers death of controlling and racing boats or cars.

His family name was a huge start but the ability to create a team to fund, design, build, develop, and then compete is extraordinary. He was a ‘Racer’ to his core.

He was a deeply passionate, patriotic Brit with all of the best ‘derring do’ associated with adventurers of a past age, an inspiration to all around him and an iconic figure to a generation.


Donald Campbell CBE, with Bluebird CN7, Lake Eyre 1964. an amazingly brave adventurer from a bygone age.

YouTube Footage of the Lake Eyre Record…

Specifications…Bluebird Proteus CN7

cutaway watts

Designer/Builders Norris Brothers

Engine : Bristol Siddeley Proteus 705 gas turbine. Compressor , 12 axial flow stages, 8 combustion chambers , 2 two stage turbines

4000 BHP @ 11-11800 rpm

Transmission : 2 David Brown single split gearboxes with differentials, no clutch. Spiral bevel drives front & rear

Chassis : ‘Aeroweb’ sandwich, 0.48 inch thick light alloy spaced 3/4 inch apart by resin bonded 1/4 inch mesh honeycomb of 0.002 inch thick light alloy . Body built by Motor Panels Ltd

Suspension :Independent by ball jointed wishbones. Girdling oleo pneumatic suspension struts with rubber rebound buffers

Steering : Burman recirculating ball

Brakes : Girling disc , inboard mounted, 16 3/4 inch external & 10 3/8 inch internal diameters

Wheels : Dunlop split rim disc wheels

Tyres : Dunlop 7.8 inch section , 52 inch external diameter

Dimensions :Length 13 ft 6 inches, Track F & R 5 ft 6

Weight 9600 pounds

Fuel Capacity 25 gallons of aviation turbine kerosene


CN7 instruments were complex , their images being reflected onto the windscreen where Campbell could read them ‘heads up display’




References & Photo Credits…

Land Speed Racing History, Greg Strapling

Australian Broadcasting Commission

The Bluebird Project

Cutaway drawing, Laurie Watts


John Kennedy, National Geograghic, Ted Townsend

Pinterest, various photos unattributed