The Bluebird-Proteus CN7 was a technologically advanced wheel-driven land speed record-breaking car, driven by Donald Campbell, built in 1960 and rebuilt in
1962 following a near fatal crash on the Bonneville
Salt Flats at Utah,
USA, now the venue for an annual land
speed record breakers event.
The Bluebird-Proteus CN7
on display at the National Motor Museum looking into the jet intake
In 1956, Campbell began planning a car to break the land speed record, which then stood at 394 mph (630 km/h). The Norris brothers, who had designed Campbell's highly successful Bluebird K7 hydroplane designed Bluebird-Proteus CN7 with 500 mph (800 km/h) in mind. The car weighed in at 4 tons and was built with an advanced aluminum honeycomb sandwich of immense strength, with fully independent suspension. The car had 4 wheel drive, through 52 inch Dunlop wheels / tyres, air brakes as well as all round inboard disc brakes. The
CN7 (Campbell-Norris 7) was built by Motor Panels in Coventry, and was completed by the spring of 1960, and was powered by a Bristol-Siddeley
Proteus free-turbine (turboshaft) engine of 4,450 shp (3,320 kW).
shape of the car was stunning, a derivative of the Railton Mobil Special
built by John Cobb, which ran to near 400 mph without a tail fin. Adding a
tail fin completed the artistry of the design, and cured instability,
which designer Ken Norris admitted to during meetings at his favourite
aerodrome in the south of England. The vehicle though had several inbuilt
design flaws, which is hardly surprising at this point in the history of
land speed record discovery. The main problem being the centrifugal and
gyroscopic forces generated by those iconic wheels, and the casing
weakness of the Dunlop tires.
car though was very fast. Capable of much greater speeds and 500 mph was
said to have been within reach power wise, not attainable due to the huge
wheel and tire problems. This was demonstrated by the Summers Brothers in
Goldenrod, who used very small diameter wheels in a long low design to
wrest the record away from Donald in not many weeks after Bluebird took
the record. And that is the nature of the beast. land speed record
breaking as a sport in a fast moving technological battleground. If you
are not using every ounce of technical
advantage, you are in fact going backwards.
The Bristol-Siddeley Proteus was the Bristol Aeroplane Company's first successful gas-turbine engine design, a turboprop that delivered over 4,000 hp (3,000 kW). The Proteus was a two spool, reverse flow gas turbine. Because the turbine stages of the inner spool drove no compressor stages, but only the propeller, this engine is sometimes classified as a free turbine. The engine, a Proteus 705, was specially modified to have a drive shaft at each end of the engine, to separate fixed ratio gearboxes on each axle.
The fact that the Norris brothers were able to implement a design change
to the donor engine, speaks volumes about their vision and lateral
Villa, Bluebird-Proteus CN7 and Donald Campbell at a press release,
Campbell demonstrated his Bluebird CN7 Land Speed Record car at Goodwood Circuit in July 1960, at its initial public launch and again in July 1962. The laps of Goodwood were effectively at 'tick-over' speed, because the car had only 4 degrees of steering lock, with a maximum of 100 mph on the straight on one lap.
Following the low-speed tests conducted at Goodwood, the CN7 was taken to the
Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA, scene of his father's last LSR triumph in 1935. The attempt, which was heavily sponsored by BP, Dunlop as well as many other British motor component companies, was unsuccessful and CN7 was written off following a high-speed crash on the 16th of September. Campbell suffered a fracture to his lower skull, a broken ear drum as well as cuts and bruises. He convalesced in California until November 1960. Meanwhile plans had been put in motion to rebuild CN7 for a further attempt.
Arriving at Bonneville in early September in an attempt to usurp any American record, enigmatic
Englishman, Donald Campbell, returned to where his father, Sir Malcolm Campbell, had set a
new outright Land Speed Record of 484.620kph (301.129mph) in 1935 to become the first man to break through the 483kph
As a fourteen-year-old boy Donald had witnessed his father’s triumph. Twenty-five years later and with
six World Water Speed Records under his belt, Campbell was challenging for the record
his father had held nine times. In keeping with family tradition Donald also named his record breaking hydroplane and his Land
But if the American gang had been imposing, it was Campbell’s entourage that made the hard to impress
Americans jaws drop. With nearly a hundred personnel, forty tons of equipment and a
convoy of support vehicles, it would have been hard not to gasp at the sheer size of Campbell’s undertaking.
And then there was Bluebird herself. Designed by Ken and Lewis Norris, (who had also been responsible for Campbell’s World
Record breaking hydroplane) Bluebird CN7 had been built by Motor Panels, a subsidiary of Sir Alfred Owen’s Rubery-Owen group,
with the support of approximately 80 British companies and at a cost of close to one million pounds sterling. The massive car
was powered by a Bristol-Siddeley Proteus gas-turbine engine producing 3,057kw (4,1000hp) at 11,000rpm that powered all four
wheels through two David Brown fixed ratio gearboxes. Bluebird was to be a shining example of British technology and
engineering at its best, and no expense had been spared in this pursuit.
traveled with a huge support group, as emphasized by this picture taken at
Lake Eyre, Australia
Unimpressed by the Englishman’s seemingly limitless resources.
Thompson played on Campbell’s superstitious nature by telling
him how poor the condition of the salt was in an attempt to psyche him out. Arfons too, was critical of the fact that
Campbell had not driven Bluebird before coming to Bonneville and
dryly referred to it as, “on the job training”.
Campbell initially made some gentle runs to get accustomed to the monstrous blue car, building up slowly from 200kph (124mph)
to 386kph (240mph) before asking for the steering ratio to be lowered after the runs.
Despite still being unhappy with the steering, Campbell went back out to make his fifth run. Bluebird managed to accelerate
to 483kph (300mph) within three miles, putting a smile of relief on Campbell’s face. CN7’s designer, Ken Norris, promptly
reminded him that the minimum required was two miles if they
were to achieve a new record. Campbell then made what would be a fateful decision to do some
acceleration tests. Norris was clearly unhappy about this and Dunlop tyres Don Badger also reminded Campbell that the test tyres fitted to CN7 were only
good for 483kph (300mph).
On the return run Campbell accelerated the massively powerful car much harder and had reached almost 580kph (360mph), when, in
circumstances almost identical to Athol Graham’s accident, Bluebird strayed progressively off course before spinning
sideways and rolling over. The massive 4,354kg (9,600lb) car
suddenly leapt into the air for what seemed like an eternity before crashing back down onto the salt as it continued to roll
over, shedding wheels and bodywork until finally sliding on its belly to a halt.
Although sustaining a fractured skull, contusion of the brain, a burst inner ear and various lacerations, Campbell had somehow
survived the world’s fastest automobile accident. But the car was a total write-off except for the Proteus gas-turbine engine
and some minor ancillary components.
Bonneville Salt Flats and Cobb’s record had not been conquered.
But this was to be just a prelude to a new chapter, as Campbell and a rebuilt Bluebird would challenge for the record again in
Australia, while Arfons, Ostich and Thompson would try their hand once more at Bonneville. For as different as these men
were, they all shared the same dream and possessed the same kind of superhuman courage and
determination that is needed to try and become the fastest man on land.
Extracted from a
superb article by Geoff Dawes
His confidence was severely shaken, he was suffering mild panic attacks, and for some time he doubted whether he would ever return to record breaking. As part of his recuperation he learned to fly light aircraft and this boost to his confidence was an important factor in his
recovery. By 1961 he was on the road to recovery and planning the rebuild of
The Bluebird-Proteus CN7
from behind showing jet exhausts
Lake Eyre, 1963
The rebuilt car was completed, with modifications including differential locks and a large vertical stabilising fin, in 1962. After initial trials at
Goodwood and further modifications to the very strong fiber-glass cockpit canopy, CN7 was shipped this time to
Australia for a new attempt at Lake Eyre in 1963. The Lake Eyre location was chosen as it offered 450 square miles (1,170 km2) of dried salt lake, where rain had not fallen in the previous 20 years, and the surface of the 20 miles (32 km) long track was as hard as concrete. As Campbell arrived in late March, with a view to a May attempt, the first light rain fell. Campbell and Bluebird were running by early May but once again more rain fell, and low-speed test runs could not progress into the higher speed ranges. By late May, the rain became torrential, and the lake was flooded. Campbell had to move the CN7 off the lake in the middle of the night to save the car from being submerged by the rising flood waters. The 1963 attempt was over. Campbell received very bad press following the failure to set a new record, but the weather conditions had made an attempt out of the question. BP pulled out as a sponsor at the end of the year.
Lake Eyre, 1964
Campbell and his team returned to Lake Eyre in 1964, with sponsorship from Australian oil company Ampol, but the salt surface never returned to the promise it had held in 1962 and Campbell had to battle with CN7 to reach record speeds (over 400 mph/640 km/h). After more light rain in June, the lake finally began to dry enough for an
attempt to be made. On July 17, 1964, Campbell set a record of
403.10 mph (648.73 km/h) for a four-wheeled vehicle (Class A). Campbell was disappointed with the record speed as the vehicle had been designed for 500 mph (800 km/h) CN7 covered the final third of the measured mile at an average of 429 mph (690 km/h), peaking as it left the measured mile at over 440 mph (710 km/h). Had the salt surface been hard and dry, and the full 15 mile length originally envisaged, there can be no doubt that CN7 would have set a record well in excess of 450 mph (720 km/h) and perhaps close to her design maximum of 500 mph (800 km/h), a speed that no other wheel driven car has approached. Campbell commissioned the author John Pearson to chronicle this attempt, with the resultant critically acclaimed book Bluebird and the Dead Lake, published by Collins in 1965.
of the large diameter wheels that caused so many issues with balance and tire
After the record
To celebrate the record, Campbell drove CN7 through the streets of the South Australian capital, Adelaide, to a presentation at city hall before a crowd of in excess of 200,000 people. CN7 was then displayed widely in Australia and the UK after her return in November 1964.
In June 1966, CN7 was demonstrated at RAF Debden in Essex, with a stand in driver, Peter Bolton. He crashed the car during a medium speed run, causing damage to her bodywork and front suspension. The car was patched up and Campbell ran her at a much lower speed than he intended. Campbell continued with his plans for the rocket-powered car Bluebird CMN-8 with a view to raising the LSR towards Mach 1. In January 1967, he was killed in his water-speed record jet hydroplane Bluebird K7.
CN7 was eventually restored in 1969, but has never run again in anger. In 1969, Campbell's widow, Tonia Bern-Campbell negotiated a deal with Lynn Garrison, President of
Craig Breedlove and Associates, that would see Craig Breedlove run Bluebird on
Bonneville's Salt Flats. This concept was cancelled when the parallel Spirit of America supersonic car project failed to find
It became a permanent exhibit at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu, England in 1972, and is still on display there.
The Final Water Speed Record attempt and Donald Campbell's death
Campbell's last words on his final water speed run were:
“ Pitching a bit down here...Probably from my own wash...Straightening up now on track...Rather closer to Peel Island...Tramping like mad...and er... Full power...Tramping like hell here... I can't see much... and the water's very bad indeed...I can't get over the top... I'm getting a lot of bloody row in here... I can't see anything... I've got the bows out... I'm
Restoration and future running
There are no plans to refurbish the CN7 or run it again. The K7 is under
restoration, but has already proved itself unstable, from where it would
be lethal to attempt another record in it. Both of these
historic vehicles have long ago been overtaken by technology.
MOTOR MUSEUM, BEAULIEU - 50th ANNIVERSARY BLUEBIRD CN7
On 17 July 1964, despite mechanical problems and unpredictable weather, Donald Campbell and his team persevered to set a new British Land Speed Record of 403.10mph in Bluebird CN7, at Lake Eyre in Southern Australia.
Fifty years on, this iconic vehicle is an integral element of a new display, For Britain & For The Hell Of It at the National Motor Museum, telling the story of British Land Speed Record achievement.
What better way to mark the 50th anniversary than to spend an evening in the company of both the iconic Bluebird CN7, and Donald Campbell’s widow,
Tonia Bern-Campbell. The evening will include a first public screening of the digitally re-mastered film ‘How Long a Mile…’, on Donald Campbell’s world record breaking year of 1964 when he took both the land and water speed records – a unique double that has never been
The screening will be followed by an exclusive dinner in the National Motor Museum and a talk by Tonia Bern-Campbell, recalling that magical time. There will also be an opportunity to explore the Museum including the new For Britain & For The Hell Of It display.
This evening is a must for any Campbell or Bluebird enthusiast. Tickets for the evening are now available, to book your individual tickets or a table, contact Leith’s at Beaulieu on 01590 614605 or email: