Campbell-Napier Blue Bird 1928 (Blue Bird III)


Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
February 19, 1928 Daytona Beach, USA Sir Malcolm Campbell Great Britain Campbell Napier Blue Bird
Napier W-12 Cylinder
IC   206.95 mph (333.05 km/h)  

The famous "Blue Bird" name originated when Malcolm Campbell, already a successful automobile racer at Brooklands, was inspired by Maeterlinck's play "The Blue Bird of Happiness". He went to his local hardware shop and bought up all the blue paint he could to paint his car. With paint still wet, the car won two races at Brooklands and a legend was born.

Now powered by a Napier 900-hp unit, another Broad Arrow engine, designed for the Schneider Trophy Air Race. The cars body was redesigned with a long, low nose and a detachable tail fin, with surface radiators mounted on either side of the tail. An attempt was made to streamline the wheels by fitting fairings fore and aft and by using light discs to cover the wheel spokes. The sides of the cockpit were raised to protect Campbell from the slipstream. The new body was made and fitted by Mulliners. First trials and and a first record of 206.95 mph at Daytona Beach, Florida on 19th February, 1928.

When Malcolm Campbell lost the record to Segrave's Sunbeam, he embarked on a modification program to help elicit every last ounce of speed from the Bluebird, hoping to take the title back from his main rival.
As things would turn out, this would be the first of many changes made to the Bluebird, the speed gradually increasing with each successive year.
For this, the first of the transformations, Campbell retained the original chassis designed by Joseph Mania, re-fitting it with a new wind-cheating body designed during wind tunnel testing to determine the best shape.
He scrapped the normally-positioned front radiator and substituted two surface-type coolers, set one on either side in the cars tail section.
This modification made it possible to improve the front shape of the car, and at the same time enclose the chassis (excluding the wheels).
Also integral to the design was the incorporation of an extended tail-fin, designed to help the Bluebird hold a straight course.
The old Napier Lion engine was taken out and a racing Lion engine of 23,948cc substituted.
The Lion 12 cylinder beast blessed the "revised" Bluebird with a staggering 900 horse-power, somewhat overshadowing the 500 on offer from the engine it replaced.

The 1927 record was short-lived, as Segrave's Sunbeam 1000 hp achieved both the 180 mph and 200 mph targets a month later. This prompted Campbell to rebuild the car as 'Blue Bird III' for 1928. He persuaded the Air Ministry to allow him a Schneider Trophy-tuned "Sprint" engine, as fitted to the Supermarine S.5 seaplane, of 900 hp (670 kW). Improved aerodynamics were innovatively tested in Vickers' wind-tunnel by R.K. Pierson, their Chief Designer. Blue Birds body shape was substantially changed, with the famous coachbuilders Mulliner producing the bodywork. The results were unorthodox. A vertical tail fin was added for stability, a first for Blue Bird and land speed record cars. Open spats behind the wheels also reduced drag. The biggest change was to the radiators, which were moved to the rear of the car and mounted externally. These surface radiators were made by Fairey Aviation and contained 2,400 ft (730 m) of tube. Removing the nose radiator allowed a low, rounded nose with better streamlining. However, one French newspaper compared its looks to a whale. Following Segrave to Daytona Beach, on 19 February 1928 Campbell took the record at 206.956 mph (333.063 km/h), breaking the 200 mph barrier for his first time. Once again though he only held the record for a couple of months, losing it by a whisker to Ray Keech and the White Triplex.

Country of Manufacture: Great Britain
Engine Manufacturer: Napier sprint Lion VII Schneider Cup aircraft engine
Cylinders 12 - 3 banks of 4
Cubic Capacity 23,948cc
Max. Power 875 bhp at 3,300rpm
Clutch 11 1/4in. dry plates; hand lever to disconnect gearbox when car stationary
Gearbox FBM 3 speed planetary
Ratios .333, .666, 1. Final drive ratio 1.5 to 1
Back axle crown and bevel independently supported
Type of drive Reinecker
Chassis: Vickers underslung beneath rear axle
Suspension: Woodhead self-shock-absorbing springs
Shock Absorbers: Duplex Hartford
Brakes: Alford and Alder, solid steel drums, direct or Dewandre vacuum servo. 18in dia and 1 5/8in wide
Wheels: Rudge-Whitworth wire double-spoke to front, triple-spoke to rear
Tyres: Dunlop size 33 x 5in.
Dimensions: Wheelbase 12ft 1 1/2in., Track front 5ft 5 1/4 in., Track rear 4ft 9 in., Length 18ft, Weight 3 tons approx. dry
Body Manufacturer: Mulliner, material 18-gauge aluminium



Full titles read: "Britain's New Wonder Car - Exclusive pictures of Capt. Malcolm Campbell's all-British 900 h.p. Napier-Campbell Bluebird to defend speed record for Britain against America's best."
Acton, London.
High angle M/S of a long motor car being pulled into position by two men in a garage. M/Ss from ground level pan along the length of the car and show the view from the front.


Full titles read: '"Blue Bird"... The Attraction! - Thousands of holiday-makers throng famous track to see Capt. Campbell's world-beating racing car.'
Brooklands, Weybridge in Surrey.
L/S panning across thousands of spectators sitting on the banks of the Brooklands race track; numerous cars are parked there too. L/S of the track; people mill about either side of it. Several L/Ss show Captain Malcolm Campbell's Blue Bird motor car racing around the track.
High angle M/S of the car being checked over; several men stand around it. The car is seen driving from the track, past crowds of people who run for a glimpse or photograph of it.


Full titles read: '"Good luck go with you - and your sporting owner!" Capt. Malcolm Campbell's Napier-Campbell 900 h.p. "Bluebird", leaves for Daytona Sands, Florida, to defend Britain's speed record.'
Acton, London.
M/S of Malcolm Campbell's motorcar, 'Bluebird' being wheeled out of a garage by several men while a small crowd of people mill about. The man in the driving seat is probably Malcolm Campbell (not seen very clearly). The car is carefully towed off by a van as the onlookers gawp.


Full titles read: "Like "a comet on wheels" - is how America aptly described Capt. Campbell and his Napier-Bluebird... as he made World record for speed... 206.9 miles per hour."
Daytona Beach in Florida, United States of America.
L/S and M/S of Malcolm Campbell's motorcar being wheeled onto Daytona Beach by several men; a crowd of people look on. Campbell (?) is seen in the driver's seat.
Note: this item does not show the car being driven or breaking the world speed record!