Posts Tagged ‘Elfin Catalina Ford’

(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…




Brian Bowe settles himself into his Elfin Catalina Ford in the Baskerville paddock, 1966…

There is no such thing as an ugly Elfin, this little car looks a picture in the bucolic surrounds of Tasmania. Garrie Cooper’s first single-seater racing cars were built off the back of his front-engined ‘Streamliner’  sportscars success.

The pace of these Catalinas was demonstrated by Frank Matich and others, they sold well with twenty FJ’s/250 Production/275 and 375 Works Replicas built from 1961 to 1963.

This chassis was raced by Melbourne single-seater, sportscar and touring car ace Brian Sampson and was powered by a Ford Cosworth 1.5 litre pushrod motor.

It was bought by Bowe and ‘was Dad’s first factory racing car having competed in specials before that’ John Bowe said.

‘In fact had I had my first drive of a racer in this car at Symmons Plains in private practice. I was twelve, and just about to start high school!’ ‘In discussions with Dad in the weeks before i’d worked out how many revs in top was 100 mph and did just that- when he realised how fast I was going he stood in the middle of the track and flagged me down. Furious he was! Happy carefree days’.

Indeed, John Bowe, by 1976 was a works Ansett Team Elfin F5000 driver, the Bowes were an Elfin family, not exclusively mind you. JB raced an Elfin 500 FV, 600FF and 700 Ford ANF3 en-route to his F5000 ride- and 792 and GE225 ANF2 cars as well.

Lindsay Ross identifies Arthur Hilliard’s Riley Pathfinder racer and towcar at the rear right of the shot by the paddock fence. The blue sporty is Bob Wright’s Tasma Peugeot.

A quickie article about the Bowe Catalina became a feature thanks to Ed Holly posting online some of the late, great Australian motor racing historian, Graham Howard’s photo archive. Specifically shots of the prototype Elfin Formula Junior taken at the time of its birth at the Edwardstown factory and subsequent public launch at Warwick Farm on 17 September 1961.

As a result we can examine these important Elfins in far more detail than I had originally planned, including a contemporary track test by Bruce Polain and owner/driver impressions from Ed.

Bruce Polain testing the Elfin FJ Ford at Warwick Farm in September 1961 (G Howard)

Bruce Polain wrote an article about his experiences that day in ‘Australian Motor Sports’- here are the salient bits of it, lets get Bruce’s contemporary impressions of the car before exploring the design in detail.

‘Taking it quietly over The Causeway, the little Elfin accelerated hard in third gear on the run to Polo Corner. Braking firmly, the speed fell away rapidly and I was conscious of considerable suspension movement as we ran over the bumpy entrance to the corner- a reminder that this was the flooded section of the track during the ‘first ever’ Warwick Farm.’

‘Nevertheless the poor surface failed to affect the comfortable ride and with a slight amount of understeer I swung the car into Polo. The handling characteristics were such that it gave understeer into a corner and a small amount of oversteer on the way out. This is quite a popular setup as through a corner it allows a fast entry to begin with, then as the steering is brought back to a neutral position, the oversteering tendency may be checked by applying more power to the rear wheels.’

‘…I enjoyed the delights of driving this beautifully constructed, fast and most forgiving racing car. The semi-reclining seat was more than comfortable and gave excellent lateral support, which is so important for ease of control in corners. At speed, steering was delightfully light and precise- you could eat your lunch with one hand. The lusty 1100cc Cosworth Ford engine was a  wonderful propellent, easy to fire on the starter button, docile low down, yet bags of power when the accelerator was pressed.’

John Hartnett at Rob Roy Hillclimb in outer Melbourne’s Christmas Hills, Elfin Streamliner Coventry Climax chassis ’13’ (R Hartnett)

Cooper first commenced design of the FJ in 1960, as stated above, off the back of success of the Streamliner series of sports cars built from 1959 to 1963- twenty-three in all.

During this period the name out front of 1 Conmurra Avenue, Edwardstown, an Adelaide suburb, changed from ‘Cooper Motor Bodies’ to ‘Elfin Sports Cars’ which was indicative of the evolution of the then forty year old Cooper family business away from coach-building to the sexier but perhaps more challenging world of production racing cars.

Whilst nominally a Formula Junior design the twenty cars built had a range of engines fitted in capacities from 1 litre to 1.5 litres- Ford 105E, 116E, Peugeot, Coventry Climax FWA, Vincent HRD and Hillman Imp. They very quickly proved themselves capable of going wheel to wheel with the best cars from the UK- then THE hotbed of FJ development of course.

Lotus 18 like upright and rear suspension clear in this shot, as is the split-case VeeWee 36HP gearbox (G Howard)

The chassis of the car was a multi-tubular spaceframe of 16 and 18 gauge mild-steel tubing in varying diameters from five-eighths of an inch to an inch. It was strengthened by fitment of a stressed floorpan made of 19 and 20 gauge aluminium alloy.

Rear suspension was clearly inspired by the Lotus 18. It was fully independent with fixed length driveshafts which formed the suspension upper members. The lower wishbones incorporated adjustments for camber, toe and roll-centre height. ‘Driving and braking torques are controlled by long trailing arms (radius rods in more modern parlance) two per side.’ The uprights or ‘pillars’ are Cooper’s design of cast magnesium.

(G Howard)

Front suspension was period typical using unequal length upper and lower wishbones, note the Armstrong shock absorber, adjustable roll bar, unsighted is the Alford and Alder Triumph front upright. Steering was by way of a lightweight rack and pinion, the wheel wood-rimmed with a diameter of 13.5 inches. The brakes were Lockheed 2LS front and rear, the drums alloy bi-metal with radial finning.

(G Howard)

The engine was the Ford 105E which would become ubiquitous in the class. Cooper built the engine in Adelaide.

GC and his team designed and printed a very detailed brochure about the cars, no doubt with the racing car show in mind- giveaways are important at these events.

Its interesting to see how the two Ford Cosworth 105E engines offered were described.

The ‘Poverty Pack’ 250 Production Model FJ was a budget racing car fitted with pressed-steel wheels, cast iron rather than alloy bi-metal brake drums, non-adjustable shocks and non-close ratio gearbox.

It was offered with a Ford Cosworth 1000cc Formula Junior Mk3 ’85 Engine’ producing over 85bhp @ 7250rpm. ‘Every engine is dynamometer tested to at least this output before leaving the factory.’

The engine was fully balanced including crankshaft, flywheel and clutch, connecting rods and pistons.

Carburation was by two 40 DCOE Weber carbs on Cosworth manifolds- they were enclosed within the bodywork and fed by cold air from a duct on the lefthand side of the cockpit. The distributor was modified, the crankshaft pulley was ‘special’ for the water pump drive- visually the whole package was set off by a Cosworth light alloy rocker cover so the ‘psyching’ started in the paddock.

The ‘ducks guts’ 275 Works Replica Model offered the Cosworth Mk4 1100cc engine giving a minimum of 95bhp with ‘the average output of these engines 97-100bhp’.

The trick Mk4 differed from its smaller brother in that it had a bigger bore, special stronger connecting rods, special steel main bearing caps, bigger valves and different combustion chambers. ‘Replaceable valve guides are fitted as standard. Like the Mk3 these engines have a competition clutch, tachometer take-off, oil cooler union and special anti-surge sump.’

When the Ford Cosworth 1500cc engine was later fitted in the Works Replica model it was designated ‘375WR’.

(G Howard)

Gearbox was a split- case VW 36 horsepower which was modified in Adelaide and fitted with close ratios with ‘top gear running on a special roller bearing.’ A lightweight bell-housing mated the gearbox and engine, the final drive ratio was 4.42:1. The gear lever was mounted to the left of the driver. Note the different lower wishbone inner end alternative pickup points.

(G Howard)

When completed the little car (prototype car #4 ) was a handsome little beastie complete with full bodywork from nose to aft of the gearbox.

Success came quickly, its interesting looking at these photographs of the car being prepared for and shown at one of the track days to get the message out there. The motorsport shows the boys from Adelaide attended on the east coast would have been a significant exercise and cost at the time.

I don’t think Cooper’s commercial success in the toughest of markets in the toughest of industries- manufacturing has ever been truly recognised. I  have mostly run and owned small businesses all of my adult life and know full well how hard it is to churn a dollar- Elfins survived and thrived for several decades under Garrie’s stewardship and then that of Don Elliott with Tony Edmondson at the coalface. I’ll stop the Elfin history there which is not to discount what followed, but from a production racing car perspective, that was it.

(G Howard)

The bodywork for the first three cars was made of aluminium by craftsman John Webb who was a constant throughout the whole of Elfin’s ‘glory days’- right up to the construction of the body of Vern Schuppan’s MR8C Chev Can-Am bodied F5000 machine.

On the fourth and subsequent cars the fibreglass bodywork was by Ron Tonkin- this comprised the nose, tail sections and cockpit surround. The side panels were of aluminium and ‘semi-stressed’.

Very pretty wheels were of magnesium alloy, 13 inches in diameter ‘with wide rims, (4.5 inches at the front and 5.5 inches wide at the rear) were finished in black anodite before machining. The wheels and uprights were Elfin’s design and cast by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation at Fishermans Bend in Melbourne.

‘Unsprung weight is further reduced by incorporating the wheel bearings directly in the front wheels.’

(G Howard)


(Ed Holly)

The photograph below is a very well known one to some of us of a certain age who bought or were given for Christmas 1973 (!) a copy of Bryan Hanrahan’s ‘Motor Racing The Australian Way’- this photo introduced the Elfin chapter. A decade or so later it was published in the ‘Elfin Bible’ Barry Catford and John Blanden’s ‘Australia’s Elfin Sports and Racing Cars’.

(G Howard)

Clustered around the Elfin are Tom Stevens and Norman Gilbert from BP- almost from the start Elfin supporters and sponsors, Cliff Cooper, Garrie Cooper and Murray Lewis ‘with the prototype Elfin FJ ready to leave for an interstate race meeting and motor show’.

The car was first shown at the Melbourne Racing Car Show in August 1961 and then raced for the first time at Warwick Farm that September in the hands of Arnold Glass, then an elite level competitor racing a BRM P48.

Barry Catford wrote that Arnold was in Adelaide to contest events at Mallala’s opening meeting on 18 August 1961 and had plenty of time on his hands to visit the team at Conmurra Road having fatally (for the car) boofed the BRM in practice. The story of that car is told here;

Glass offered to drive the car on its race debut, something Cooper and BP’s Tom Stevens were keen to support.

The team of Garrie and Cliff Cooper, Tom and John Lewis took the car to Melbourne and then on to Sydney for its debut. Garrie drove the car initially and whilst it handled well the softly sprung machine bottomed over The Causeway and Northern and Western crossings (of the horse racing track underneath).

Modifications were made that night but several laps early in the day indicated the cars balance was lost- further changes were made, the cars poise had been regained in official practice when GC again drove.

Glass had no chance to officially practice but sweet talked the officials to allow him to run during one of the other racing car sessions- he was within three-tenths of Leo Geoghegan’s well developed Lotus 18 Ford FJ. The weary crew retired at 3 am on race morning having replaced the gearbox and clutch- which was slipping towards the end of the Glass lappery. All the hard work was rewarded with a second to Leo- not bad for the cars first race.

Keith Rilstone’s Catalina Ford ‘6317’ on its first day out at Mallala in very late 1963, factory records have it’s completion that November (G Patullo)

The prototype car, chassis ’61P1′ was sold to Adelaide businessmen and racers Andy Brown and Granton Harrison who had much success with it. Queenslander Roy Morris did well with his Coventry Climax FWA engined car- as did John McDonald’s 1350cc engined car- neither FJ legal of course.

One of the most commercially astute moves Cooper ever made was the appointment of up and coming- well ok!, he had well and truly arrived by then, Frank Matich as the works driver of three cars which were located at his Punchbowl, Sydney Total Service Station. An 1100cc chassis ‘625’, a 1500cc chassis ‘627’ and a Clubman fitted with another Cosworth engine of 1340cc. In addition Matich was appointed as Elfin’s NSW agent.

An interesting aspect is that in the process of deciding who to give the factory cars to, Matich tested the cars, as did Peter Willamson and David McKay with FM the quicker of the three. Perhaps Cooper’s gut feel as to the driver he wanted was validated by this process. The choices are interesting in that Williason was at the start of his career whereas David McKay was in the twlight’ish of his.

Mel McEwin #16 Elfin Catalina 1500 passes Andy Brown in the Elfin FJ Ford prototype during the ‘GT Harrison Trophy’, support race at the 1963 ATCC meeting. Keith Rilstone won the race in the truly wild Eldred Norman built Zephyr Spl s/c- McEwin was 3rd and Garrie Cooper 4th in another Elfin Cat 1500- I wonder if it was seeing the cars up close at this meeting that made up Keith’s mind to get with the strength and buy one! (B Smith)

Whilst Matich was new to single-seaters, his outright pace in various sportscars- Austin Healey, C and D Type Jags, Lotus 15 and 19 Climax was clear. For Frank the deal was a beauty as he had the opportunity to show his prowess in a new field. Catford wrote that FM’s only open-wheeler experience to that point was a few warm-up laps in Leo Geoghegan’s Lotus 20B Ford when it first arrived in Australia early in 1962.

Critically, Matich put Elfins front and centre to racers in Australia’s biggest market- New South Wales, with subsequent sales reflecting the success of Matich and others.

Cooper got a longer term benefit as Matich turned to him for his first ‘Big V8’ sportscar, the Elfin 400 Olds aka ‘Traco Olds’ in part based on GC’s design talents which he had experienced first hand in the small-bore machines listed above. Matich in turn proved the pace of the 400, outta the box, in winning the 1966 Australian Tourist Trophy in his third meeting with the car at Longford in March 1966.

The red Elfin was the Junior, the 1500 was green up until Frank decided to let the 1500 go, which went to Charlie Smith and the red car went from 1100 to 1500′ Ed Holly

Frank’s first meeting in the FJ cars was at Warwick Farm on 14 October 1962- Matich was fourth in the Hordern Trophy Gold Star event- in amongst and ahead of some of the 2.5 litre Coventry Climax engine cars, and despite a one minute penalty for a spin! (tough in those days!).

This was indicative of what was to come a fortnight later in the first Australian Formula Junior Championship held at the new Catalina Park circuit at Katoomba in the NSW Blue Mountains, 100 Km to Sydney’s west.

Frank Matich is shown below in the red Elfin FJ Ford alongside Gavin Youl’s Brabham BT2 Ford and Leo Geoghegan in a Lotus 22 Ford. The front row comprised the latest Brabham, Lotus and Elfin FJ’s- Leo’s Lotus was literally just off the plane. On row 2 is Clive Nolan’s 5th placed Lotus 20 Ford.

(B Miller)

Matich won the 30 lap race from Youl and Geoghegan in a weekend of absolute dominance , the win was the first of many Australian titles for Elfin and spawned the ‘Catalina’ name for this series of spaceframe chassis open-wheelers.

Catford notes the presence that weekend of Tony Alcock in the team- well known to Australian enthusiasts as an Elfin long-termer and close confidant of Garrie Cooper before going to the UK and returning to form Birrana Cars with fellow South Australian Malcolm Ramsay. International readers may recall him as one of the poor unfortunates to perish in the plane piloted and crashed by Graham Hill upon return to the UK after a French circuit test of the new Hill GH1 Ford F1 car.

Matich contested eight events hat weekend! in the two Elfins- FJ/Clubman and Lotus 19 winning six of them and placing in the other two.

Development work and evolution of the cars continued throughout their production life including incorporation of Triumph Spitfire disc brakes on the front- with Jack Hunnam fitting alloy racing calipers and discs to all four wheels of his car.

Lyn Archer’s Catalina at the Domain Hillclimb, Hobart in November 1964. Lyn raced the car successfully for a few years, sold it, and bought it back. Upon his death a few years back his family still owns it (R Dalwood)

Other notable drivers of Catalinas were Kevin Bartlett in the McGuire Family Imp engine car, Jack Hunnam, the Victorian Elfin agent won 12 races from 18 starts in his supposedly 165bhp 1500cc pushrod Ford engine disc braked car ‘6312’, before selling it to Tasmanian Lyn Archer. He won the 1966 Tasmanian Racing Car Championship in it and was timed at 150mph on Longford’s Flying Mile in 1965. Greg Cusack was quick in the car owned by Scuderia Veloce, winning the 1964 Australian Formula 2 Championship from David Walker’s Brabham and Hunnam’s Catalina. Other Catalina racers included Barry Lake, Keith Rilstone and Noel Hurd.

Perhaps the most unusual application of a Catalina was chassis ‘6313’ which was acquired by Dunlop UK for tyre testing to assist the Donald Campbell, Bluebird CN7 Proteus attempt on the World Land Speed Record at South Australia’s Lake Eyre in 1963 and 1964.

That effort is in part covered here but a feature on the Elfin Catalina aspects of it is coming soon- all but finished,

‘6313’ Ford on the Lake Eyre salt- steel wheels fitted with Bluebird Dunlops in miniature (F Radman)


This corker of a shot is by Gavin Fry- were it not for the presence of the Elfin Catalina on the trailer (who?) it could be an Australian summer beach scene, but it is an early Calder meeting (when?) (G Fry)

The Elfin Mallala was a very important car in the pantheon of Elfin’s history.

The twenty cars built provided solid cashflow for the Cooper family business, off the back of the solid start the Streamliner provided, the company now had a reputation for making fine single-seaters in addition to sporties.

Importantly Cooper had attracted some of the biggest names in Australia to his marque- Matich and McKay to name two. The Catalina ‘hardware’ also spawned a small run of mid-engined sportscars- the Mallala, of which five were built from late 1962 to early 1964.

Ray Strong, Elfin Mallala Ford, Huntley Hillclimb in December 1968. This design, derived from the Catalina, is one of the prettiest of all Elfins in my book- effective too (B Simpson)

Perhaps the only thing which suffered by virtue of this commercial success, albeit still limited capital base, was Cooper’s own driving career as he had neither the time or the spare cash to build a car for himself!

That would be remedied by the ‘Mono’ Type 100, his ‘radical’ single-seater which followed the conservative Catalina- and in which GC was very quick.

The Mono is a story for another time but is told in part here; and here;

Garrie Cooper in Elfin Mono Mk2D Ford Twin-Cam ‘MD6755’ at Symmons Plains in 1967 (J Lambert)

The Owner/Driver’s Experience…

Ed Holly gives us the Catalina owner/drivers perspective…

‘The works 1500 or WR375 was the first of 2 Elfin “Catalina’s”  that Frank Matich drove.

I bought chassis ‘625’ from Adam Berryman who had quite some success with it before me. As this was the first ever single-seater for me I had no benchmark to compare with, having raced MGA’s for about 7 years previously. It went on to give me success too including the Jack Brabham Trophy put up once a year by the HSRCA for Group M 1st place at their main meeting at Eastern Creek.

For me the transition to single seater was made very easy by this car and looking back there are a couple of reasons for that. Firstly in 2000 you could get very good Japanese Dunlops – a beautiful tyre and the car was shod with 450 front and 550 rear. This gave a very neutral feel to the car with the set-up fettled by Dave Mawer for me at that time.

The power was a great match to the chassis. As the engine only had a standard crank I revved it to 6,800 but the torque was tremendous, no doubt the 12.7 comp ratio had a lot to do with that. The gear-change and box were perfect, it had a VW C/R box and standard H pattern.

Race start would invariably see the car launch through the row in front, usually twin-cam Brabhams as they struggled with the dogleg gear-change from 1st to 2nd, the Elfin was a straight through change and very quick, and the engine torque allowed wheel-spin to be kept to a minimum and the power band came in at least 1500 rpm less meaning you were well on your way whilst they were still waiting for the torque to kick in.

Handling wise the car was viceless, the perfect first single seater – in fact I set a Group M class lap record at Eastern Creek with it at 1:45 and it took me about 5 years in my Group M Brabham BT6 (twin-cam 40 more bhp, 5 not 4 speeds and discs all round) to better that. Mind you the tyres as mentioned above were far inferior by the time the  Brabham arrived and in fact I re-set the lap record on 10 year old Japanese Dunlops – the brand new flown in English ones being about 3 seconds slower that same weekend.’

Matich in ‘625’ gets the jump at the start from Leo Geoghegan and the nose of Frank Gardner at the 1963 Blue Mountains Trophy race at Catalina Park- Catalina/WR375, Lotus 22 Ford and Brabham BT2 Ford- all 1500 pushrods. Matich won from Gardner and Geoghegan (J Ellacott)

‘Years later having driven Elfin, Lotus 20, Brabham BT15, BT6, BT21C and BT21 replica – I guess I was in a position to make a judgement about the Elfin.

In my opinion Garrie got it perfect for the time. Loosely based on the Lotus 18 concept, it is a hugely superior car to the Lotus 20 that succeeded the 18.

I spoke at length with Frank Matich about the design and we both agreed that on paper it didn’t look all that wonderful, BUT, it was – the results Frank achieved with it were sensational, often beating the Climax 2.5 powered Coopers.

I’ve never driven a Elfin with 1100cc- but Frank did and with a Junior 1100 he knocked off Leo Geoghegan in a Lotus 20 1500 at Sandown. To me that shows that the Elfin was just a little ahead of the competition in that wonderful early 1960’s period. And that is my observation too.

Finally the big race- 20 laps at Catalina for the Formula Junior Championship 1962 where the Elfin was up against the brand new Lotus 22 of Leo Geoghegan’s and the just arrived from UK Brabham BT2 works car driven by Gavin Youl – and other FJ’s – the Elfin and Matich beat them all even after running out of fuel on the last corner!’

(S Dalton)

Events like Melbourne’s ‘Motorclassica’ are fantastic shows of classic and racing cars but they are celebrations of the past.

Its amazing to think that in the sixties, whilst the old stuff had its place, a significant part of a competition car show comprised exhibitions of contemporary, and in many cases Australian made racing cars.

Stephen Dalton provided the cover of the magazine for the 1964 ‘Melbourne Racing Car Show’ put together by Melbourne businessman/racers Lex Davison, the Leech Brothers and several others.

The event was held at the Royal Exhibition Building over three days, 13-15 August 1964, and is somewhat poignant in that it’s purpose was to assist Rocky Tresise’ girlfriend Robyn Atherton raise funds in the Miss Mercy Hospital Quest. Many of you are aware that ‘Ecurie Australie’ founder, Lex and his protege, Rocky, died six months later- Lex of a heart attack at the wheel of his Brabham at Sandown, and Rocky a week later at Longford in Lex’ older Cooper.

Stephen notes that cars displayed included MG, Aston Martin, Lotus, Ferrari, Cooper and many others. Elfin were represented by local agent, Jack Hunnam whose new Mono was on display only several days prior to its race debut at Calder.


The following is a nice little human interest story ran in ‘Pix’ magazine about Garrie Cooper and Elfin in 1963- courtesy of the Elfin Sixties Sportscars Facebook page.

I’ve included it as it’s very much ‘on point’- Cooper, Catalina, Clubman and Matich.




(Ed Holly)

Charlie Smith in the ex-Matich Catalina at Mount Panorama in 1963, he drove the car well with success. Don’t know much about this guy, had a drive or two in the Mildren Lotus 23 Ford, intrigued to know more.

(S Dalton)

Andy brown loops his Catalina as fellow South Australian John Marston approaches aboard his- Shell Corner at Calder on 20 January 1963. Andy went on to own one of the most famous Elfins of all a few years later, the ‘F1’ Elfin T100 ‘Mono’ Clisby 1.5 V6.

(Ed Holly)


(Ed Holly)


The photographs above are the balance of the pages of the Elfin Catalina sales brochure produced for use at motor shows not shown earlier in the article.

Credits and References …, Ed Holly Collection, ‘Australias Elfin Sports and Racing Cars’ Barry Catford and John Blanden, Fred Radman, Grant Patullo, John Ellacott, Dick Simpson, James Lambert Collection, Brenton Smith Collection, Brian Miller Collection, Reg Dalwood, Article by Bruce Polain in ‘Australian Motor Sports’

(Ed Holly)

One Man’s Hobby. Or is that Obsession?!…

When Ed Holly and I first communicated about this article he sent thru a few pics of some engines he had built. I thought ‘gees! that’s interesting and amazing!’, so here they are.

Ed advises on how his engine building career commenced.

‘Having had a lathe for many years, when I added a mill to the workshop I wanted to learn how best to use it.

As I didn’t have a restoration project at the time, the lightbulb in the head said build a model engine – I flew models as a kid and loved the diesels back then as you didn’t need to buy a battery to start them!

So I searched the web and selected a BollAero18 and set about making one, a 1.8cc simple diesel. Well it took a while to interpret the plans having no technical background requiring that. I steadily worked through the components and the big day came and blow me down it ran !

That sort of started a bit of an obsession till the next project arrived.

(Ed Holly)


Now 16 model diesels later I have certainly learnt how to use a mill- more than half the engines are to my design and the English ‘AeroModeller’ January issue published plans and a review of one designed for first up builds. I called it the Holly Buddy.

Plans and build for this engine can be found at

For those into specifics – the aim is one or two tenths of a thou taper in the bore and a squeaky tight piston fit at tdc – that’s the ultimate fit for a diesel. The photo’s show an inline twin before and after assembly.’

So…set to it folks, you too can be a race engine builder!

(Ed Holly)


(Ed Holly)

Tailpiece: Elfin 275WR Ford 1100 FJ…

Simply superb cutaway drawing of the Catalina by Peter Wlkinson. Very few Australian racing cars have been so ‘dissected’ in this manner over the years which is a shame.

Mr Wilkinson’s work, I know little about the man, compares very favourably with his peers in England and Europe at the time. Ed kindly sent me this cutaway at high resolution- ‘blow it up’, you can literally see the Elfin’s pixie like face on the wheel caps!

Car specification is as per the text.


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