Proteus-Bluebird Campbell-Norris 7 (CN7)

 

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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.

After Campbell’s record attempt on Lake Mead in 1955, Bluebird K7 was washed down and polished and put on display by the swimming pool at the Sahara hotel. He was entertained by Charles Russell – the Governor of Nevada and presented with a very large gold cup. Over dinner one evening, it was put to Campbell that he should go for the unique double of breaking the land and water speed record in one calendar year. Donald gave this some thought as they returned back to England on the Queen Mary.

He discussed the idea with the Norris Brothers in early 1956, and work began on designing a new car. It was to be powered by a Bristol Siddeley ‘Proteus’ aircraft engine, used in the Bristol Britannia airliner. Power was distributed to all four wheels by two David Brown single-split gearboxes with differentials, with no clutches or gears necessary. Air for the turbine was drawn in through the car’s nose and ducted round the driver, the cockpit was positioned forward of the front wheels, and its wheelbase was identical to that of John Cobb’s ‘Railton’. The car’s symmetry was spoiled by its huge wheels, developed by Dunlop. It was constructed by the efforts of around eighty British companies, and estimated to have cost around £1 million and another £1 million to mount the operation.

The Proteus Bluebird was unique in many ways, not least in being the first car designed for a world land speed record attempt to use a gas turbine engine.

The unit chosen by the Bluebirds designers (the Norris Brothers) was a Bristol Siddeley Proteus 755, known to engineers at the time as a free turbine, but these days referred to as a "turbo-prop".

The Proteus drove all four wheels of "Bluebird", and at full throttle delivered 4,250 horse power.

There was no clutch and a fixed gear ratio, providing two-pedal control. Like all turbines, the Proteus turned over much faster than a piston engine, delivering maximum power at 11,000 rpm.

The Bluebird was 30 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 4 feet 9 inches high without its removable fin (with the fin in place this stretched to 7 ft 8 high). It weighed a relatively modest 9,600 lb when ready to run, and has a front track of 5 feet 6 3/4 inches and a rear track of 5 feet 6 inches.

Naturally enough the Bluebird used aviation turbine kerosene, and it was fortunate that BP was helping sponsor the car, given it consumed fuel at the rate of about one-and-a-half miles per gallon at full speed.

On Donald Campbell's record attempt at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, in 1960, the Bluebird accelerated from a standstill to nearly 400 mph over one-and-a-half miles in 24 seconds.

Most surprising was that less than 80 per cent of full power was then being used. This Bluebird was then severely damaged after a huge crash later in the same month.

The car was completely rebuilt, thanks to the generosity of Sir Alfred Owen, with the only noticeable changes being a different shaped cockpit cover and the addition of a tail fin for extra stability.

The first trials of the rebuilt Bluebird CN7 took place at Lake Eyre in Australia in May 1963, with the world land speed record being set at 403.10 mph at Lake Eyre on 17th July, 1964 after months of torrential rain and flooding.

The Proteus engine used in "Bluebird" was of the same type used to propel the fastest warships in the world, the Royal Navy's "Brave" class fast patrol boats. Like all gas turbines of this type it delivered high power for its bulk and weight, being 8 feet 01 inches long and 40 inches in diameter, and weighing about 3000 lb.

It required no cooling system, and no clutch because it used the equivalent of a fluid torque converter. The output shaft was coupled permanently and directly to bevel gears in both the front and rear axles. The engine turbine provided no engine braking on the over-run at low speeds, but at 400 mph approximately 500 hp was available for braking when the throttle was closed.

There was, however, two rather more ingenious braking systems fitted to the Bluebird. Power-air flaps opened out from the rear of the vehicle, and power operated Girling disc brakes were fitted to all four wheels; remarkably for the time these discs were able to run at a maximum temperature of 2,200 degrees F.-almost white hot.

The Bluebird's complex cockpit instrumentation was reflected onto the windscreen and focused onto the horizon ahead so that Campbell could see the course and his instrument readings simultaneously.

Bluebird CN7 arrived on the Bonneville Salt Flats in August 1960, with eighty or ninety personnel, several auxiliary vehicles and masses of spare parts, which left the American’s gasping. Campbell in return was shocked to see several American back yard specials.

There was Athol Graham’s ‘City Of Salt Lake’, Art Arfon’s ‘Green Monster’, Mickey Thompson’s ‘Challenger 1’ and Dr Nathan Ostich’s ‘Flying Caduceus’ the first pure-jet engined car, which was currently against the regulations at that time. .

On August 1st 1960, Athol Graham’s car was travelling at well over 300mph , when it yawed off course, the tail flew off and it spiralled into the air before it landed upside down and rolled over several times. Graham had not worn a seat belt, and although the rollover bar withstood the impact, the firewall intruded into the cockpit and broke his spine. He was pronounced dead by the time he arrived at the nearest hospital 110 miles away.

Ostich’s car developed severe vibrations around the 300mph mark, and he withdrew back to Los Angeles for a rethink. Mickey Thompson got several runs in, including one at 354.33mph. Arfon’s appearance on the salt flats was rather brief. On one run he achieved 249.57mph before a wheel bearing seized on the return run. He realised his car was not in the same league as the others, and withdrew from the race. However, Arfons did succeed later in the 1960’s in a different ‘Green Monster’.

This left Campbell. He made several gentle runs and worked up his speeds gradually. On his fifth run he accelerated much harder from the start line to a speed around 360mph, when a cross wind blew the car off track. CN7 left the black marker line, and spun sideways. It rolled, leapt into the air, hit the ground and bounced six or seven times, before losing its two right wheels and shedding bits of metalwork. It eventually stopped, and when Leo arrived in the safety car, he found that the engine was till running, testament of the car’s strength and construction. He removed the cockpit canopy and Campbell was found to have suffered a fractured skull, a fractured eardrum and diverse cuts and bruises.

Campbell was hospitalised for several weeks whilst he recovered. On regaining consciousness, he asked how the car was and how soon it could be repaired. On hearing this, Sir Alfred Owen and other British organisations undertook to rebuilding her.

There are several theories to why the car crashed. Some people thought that Donald was being reckless and accelerated too fast, some blame the cross winds and others blame the oxygen supply he was breathing through his oxygen mask. This could have made him lose consciousness as some fighter pilots have experienced. To solve this problem, on future runs he was given a whiff of carbon dioxide before setting off.

Once he had recovered sufficiently, he thought carefully about the next choice of venue. Donald ruled out Bonneville as he felt the course was not long enough and the salt had deteriorated. British Petroleum, his major sponsor, sent out an expedition party to Australia to examine a vast dried lake bed called Lake Eyre, which is approximately 450 miles inland from Adelaide in Southern Australia.

The reports were encouraging, the salt was very hard and flat, but marred by many salt islands which would have to be ground down somehow. The chance of rain was felt to be rather slim, as none had fallen for years, but it was so remote that the nearest sheep and cattle station was thirty miles away at Muloorina and a road would need to be laid to transport supplies in.

The South Australian government were keen to allow Campbell to run CN7 on these salt flats, and agreed to build a 400 yard wide causeway to the lake itself, and they graded sixty five miles of road from the railhead at Marree to Muloorina. The looked less graceful and had the addition of a huge tailfin fitted for stability reasons.

Just as the team was preparing to transport CN7 to the salt flats in 1962, a report came through to Donald from British Petroleum representatives saying that heavy rain had fallen onto the lake, and the trip was postponed. The rain fell so heavy that it did not drain for months, and a whole year passed before Campbell and his entourage of men and equipment moved to the outback again in the Spring of 1963.

Heavy rain fell again, and flooded the course. The new course had also been ruined and boxes of equipment were thrown across the salt flats; the desert was useless for high speed runs.

Public opinion was highly critical, Bluebird had been around for too long and a record breaker is only successful for a limited number of failures. The press were scornful of failure and unaware of the conditions Campbell experienced. Sponsors were on the edge and highly critical. In America, a new contender, Craig Breedlove, had driven a pure jet car across the Bonneville Salt Flats and set an unofficial Land Speed Record of 407mph in 1963 in his three wheeled ‘The Spirit Of America’.

Campbell returned to Muloorina in April 1964 to try again. British Petroleum had withdrawn their support and finance and sponsors were highly critical of the way that Campbell was managing this project.

Corrosion had affected the metal panels and also affected the car’s electronics. On May 1st, the rain fell again laying four inches of water across the track. A new stretch of track was located, but it was not ideal being a few miles short. However, on May 5th tests recommenced.

Donald experienced vibrations in the car as he drove CN7 over 300mph. People were critical and thought that Campbell’s accident in 1960 had left permanent side effects. However, Ken Norris studied the footage and the car’s black box. He located the problem; he had found that wet salt was being sprayed onto the wheels and drying, affecting the wheels balance. On 28th May, CN7 achieved 352mph on 70 per cent power.

A further month passed and severe winds halted trials. Campbell did trial runs when conditions were less than perfect, and the team disbanded at the end of May whilst conditions on the lake improved.

In late June or early July 1964, the team returned for another attempt. Donald was aware that Craig Breedlove was preparing to run again at Bonneville, and was eager to prove CN7’s worth. Yet again the rain fell and the mood in the camp was sour, the team were restless and on edge, whilst they waited for ideal conditions. Nothing seemed simple for Donald Campbell, and on the 14th July, he achieved 320mph on a rather bumpy track. Things looked better on the 16th but winds were blowing and no runs were made that day.

On the Friday 17th July 1964, in less than ideal conditions Campbell achieved one run of 403.10mph. While the tyres were changed, Campbell was found staring at the open cockpit window. Afterwards, he said he saw his father’s reflection who told him ’Now you know what it felt like in 1935, but don’t worry old boy, it’ll be all right’. With this, Campbell returned on the same track, which now had grooves in it from his previous run, and amazingly achieved 403.10mph. He’d done it at last, Campbell had officially broken the wheel driven Land Speed Record. Campbell knew that given the right conditions, CN7 could achieve higher speeds.

In 1966, Donald agreed to do a demonstration run at Debdon in CN7. He allowed his co-driver have a go in case he was ill on the day. Peter Bolton drove her on a test run and crashed the car through a hedge at the end of the runway, struck a ditch and bounced across a main road before stopping near a field. It was repaired cosmetically overnight, and Donald drove it the next day at slow speeds. It if was to attempt aanother record, the estimate to repair the damage was £50.000 and Campbell was at an all time low.

In 1971, Craig Breedlove, who had already achieved 600mph on land, approached Tonia Bern-Campbell, Donald’s widow, with intentions of modifying CN7 and going for the wheel Land Speed Record. His plan was to modify the car by moving the cockpit into the car’s tail to improve the aerodynamics; this was referred as ‘Bluebird America’. Interest and sponsors were not forthcoming and the project remained stillborn. Richard Noble even mentioned running the car when things looked bleak during his Thrust 2 project, but his thoughts were never taken seriously.

Country of Manufacture Great Britain
Engine  
Manufacturer Bristol-Siddeley Proteus 705 gas turbine aircraft engine (modified to give drive shaft at each end)
Compressor 12 axial-flow stages, 1 centrifugal stage, 8 combustion chambers 2 two stage turbines
Max. Power 4,000bhp at 11,000-11,800 power turbine rpm and 11,800 compressor rpm, plus 1,000lb approx. exhaust thrust at standstill diminishing with speed
Transmission  
Clutch none
Gearbox  
Ratios  
Axles spiral bevel at front and rear
Type of drive final drive 3.6 to 1
Chassis “Aeroweb” sandwich 2 skins 0.048in thick light alloy spaced 3/4in apart by resin bonded 1/4in mesh honeycomb of 0.002in thick light alloy
Suspension independent by ball-jointed transverse wishbones
Shock Absorbers Girling oleo-pneumatic suspension struts with rubber rebound buffers
Steering Gear Burman recirculating ball quick-thread mechanism as centre section of 3-piece track rod, operated by bevel gear and chains from steering wheel
Brakes Girling disc brakes, inboard mounted, with duplicated operation from compressed air reservoirs. Discs 16 3/8in external dia. and 10 3/8in internal dia. Air brakes to rear
Wheels Dunlop split-rim disc wheels
Tyres Dunlop 7.8in section 52in external dia.
Dimensions  
Wheelbase 13ft 6in
Track front 5ft 6in
Track rear 5ft 6in
Length 30ft
Weight 72-80cwt
Fuel Tank Capacity 25 gallons
Bodywork  
Manufacturer Motor Panels Ltd.
Material aluminium
Date Location Driver Driver Country Vehicle Power Speed over
1 Km
Speed over
1 Mile
Comments
                 

 

BLUEBIRD CAR MAKES APPEARANCE

Goodwood, Sussex
LS Pan as the record-breaking speed car "Bluebird", famously driven by Donald Campbell, moves off down the track followed by Land Rover. MS Pan, Bluebird line up with three past record-breaking fast cars, "Golden Arrow", "Sunbeam" and a vintage car. CU "Sunbeam" - car which was first to reach 200 miles per hour. MS Bluebird. MS Golden Arrow. MS Vintage car. CU Crossed Union Jack and Stars and Stripes on bonnet of Bluebird. LS Line of the four cars on track.
Note: Date on original paperwork reads: 22/07/1960.

'BLUEBIRD' ON SHOW AT GOODWOOD

Goodwood, East Sussex
VS. At Goodwood circuit Donald Campbell shows his "Bluebird" to the press. His wife Tonia and mechanic Leo Villa also there. Jack Brabham looking at the car with Campbell. Various shots of the car, and crowd examining it (Lav.)
Note: There are many shots of the car throughout, good quality. 1960

BLUEBIRD GETS MOVING

Item title reads - Bluebird gets moving.
Goodwood, Sussex.
Various shots of last minute preparations being made to 'Bluebird' car. M/S Donald Campbell and his wife Tonia, they walk towards the car. Various shots of adjustments being made. C/U of the air brakes closing, pan from one brake to the other. C/U of the exhaust outlet showing blistered paint around the edges. Pan with Campbell walking along 'Bluebird' to the front, he gets into the cockpit. M/S of the Land Rover with engine on it that will start the car. M/S car being checked, C/U of the starting panel. M/S Campbell seated in the cockpit wearing his crash helmet. M/S as the exhaust outlets at the back of the car belch smoke as the engine is started. M/S mechanics walking away. C/U racing driver Jack Brabham standing with Tonia. Various shots as the car sets off and gathers speed.
25/07/1960

BLUEBIRD NEARLY TOTAL LOSS AFTER 300 MPH CRASH

Location: Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, United States of America / USA
Story of Donald Campbell crashing his Bluebird car ay 3000 MPH in Utah, USA.
CU. Lorry passes camera carrying Bluebird. Travel shot along Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Various close shots of damaged Bluebird after the 300 mph crash. CU. Donald Campbell climbs into cockpit and adjusts his helmet. Various CUs. MS. LS. Campbell seated in car adjusting safety straps and last minute preparations prior to the run. LS. Bluebird moves off, car at speed along Salt Flats. (Mute F.G.) 1960

BLUEBIRD ON SHOW

Titles read: "GOODWOOD - BLUEBIRD ON SHOW".
West Sussex.
Various shots of vintage and veteran cars on the track at Goodwood. They serve as a contrast to Donald Campbell's Bluebird which we see being given the once-over by a team of mechanics.
Donald Campbell makes a speech before a microphone about the next record attempt which they hope will be made in Australia early next year on Lake Eyre. He says they will be leaving this country with the car and associated equipment towards the end of this year.
Bluebird is wheeled out onto the track. Campbell's wife Tonia hands him his mascot, a small teddy bear called 'Whoppit'. Photographers snap away. Donald takes the Bluebird for a slow spin around the track to show her off to the crowds.
Campbell and his wife lean on Bluebird and chat while posing for photographers. 19/07/1962

BLUEBIRD SOON READY

Full title reads: "Coventry. Blue Bird Soon Ready".
Coventry, Midlands.
GV Mechanics working on Bluebird car. SV Pan, the engine. SV Nose of Bluebird with the Union Jack and the flag of Australia on it. CU The two flags. SV Mechanic lifts the reinforced canopy. SV The instrument panel in the cockpit. CU Switches and gauges.
GV as Donald Campbell and Bill Johnson (Motorcycle speed record holder) walk round Bluebird and mount some steps. SV as Johnson gets into the cockpit of Bluebird, Campbell leans over watching. CU Campbell. CU Johnson looking at instrument in cockpit.
CU Switches of the tape recorder and cameras fitted in Bluebird zoom in to CU of plaque reading "Bluebird CN7 Project". LV The tail fin of Bluebird with camera housing on it. CU The camera housing.
CU as Johnson gets out of the cockpit. SV as the canopy is lowered over the cockpit.
CU From inside the cockpit as canopy is pushed right up. CU Speedometer gauge projected onto windscreen.
CU Johnson speaking with Campbell. GV Mechanics working on Bluebird. 19/11/1962

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