Bluebird Landspeed Record Attempt

Pendine Sands, 13th and 14th August 2011


The famous Campbell family have been using the long stretch of flat sands at Pendine beach in West Wales for record attempts since 1924, and the weekend of 13th/14th August 2011 continued this trend as  Don & Joe Wales (Grandson & Great-Grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell respectively) used Pendine to attempt a new land speed record for their Bluebird Electric vehicle.  Their ultimate goal is to break 500MPH in an electric powered land vehicle.

DOC Members Set Up!

Setting Up at Pendine
DOC members set up the event at Pendine Sands

I attended the event as a marshall with the Discovery Owners Club.  It was our job to set up the event, patrol the measured mile to ensure that it was safe (free of pedestrians!), provide radio comms for the Bluebird team and to ferry members of the press and the Bluebird technical team safely to and from the beach.  In the end over 25 members of the Discovery Owners Club volunteered for the event, providing their own time and use of their own vehicles to ensure the event’s success.


Saturday’s Runs

The Engineering team work on the Bluebird

Saturday’s runs were blighted by poor weather conditions, but the Bluebird team made the best of it with a number of exploratory runs that provided useful data for the team and an opportunity for Joe Wales to gain some experience behind the wheel, as it was only the second time the 19 year old had ever piloted the vehicle.  Don Wales was keen to give his son Joe as much time behind the wheel as possible and an opportunity for him to enter the record books for the first time.

I had a pretty quiet day on Saturday as I was posted to the East-end frontier for patrol duties.  We were basically there to provide radio comms to base, to ensure that no members of the public entered the measured mile area from the East side of the beach, and also to serve as a clear ‘end barrier’ for the Bluebird team.  This was important because the East-end is also used extensively by the military for firearms practice.  There were no planned firearms sessions that weekend but you can’t be too careful!

Sunday’s Runs & the Crash

Sunday’s blue sky put everyone in good spirits and we were all hopeful that a new record would be set.  The Bluebird Electric car is theoretically capable of speeds in excess of 500MPH, but the conditions would need to be absolutely perfect in order to achieve those kinds of speeds at Pendine sands.  This weekend the team hoped to break 150MPH, which would still have set a new record for that class of vehicle. The record attempts are measured over an electronically timed mile of flat sands.  The final recorded speed is taken as an average of two runs; once up and and once back.  This is to cancel out any effects associated with wind speed or land incline.  The vehicle must make its return run within 60 minutes otherwise the record attempt is rendered void.  This presents a big challenge to the team as 60 minutes is not enough time to fully recharge the vehicle’s batteries, so it is necessary to regulate use of the batteries on each run in order to optimise the recorded speed.

The day started well with Don and Joe making some exploratory runs of the mile.  I had a busier day on Sunday as I was assigned to press duties, ferrying camera crews back and forth to give interviews.  By 3PM I was exhausted as I hadn’t even stopped for lunch, so I parked up at base for a little bite to eat.  Then, just as I began to chow down on a well deserved bacon roll, an emergency call came over the radio claiming that Bluebird had careered off course towards the sea at over 100MPH and crashed in the wet sand! This was very bad news as, being a very flat beach, the tide comes in very quickly at Pendine.  The condition of the driver (Joe) was also unknown at this point.

Damaged Bluebird
Bluebird breaks a steering arm in a pothole

At this time I happened to be parked right next to the recovery trailer, so I wasted no time in hitching it up and claiming the recovery duties for myself! I sped down the measured mile, recovery trailer in tow, and soon reached the crash site where it was clear that Bluebird had strayed into the bumpy wet sands and crashed into a pothole.  Joe, the driver, was already out of the vehicle and was fortunately unharmed.

Bluebird Recovery & Brian sets a record!!!

Recovering the Bluebird
Me recovering the stricken Bluebird from the wet sands at Pendine beach

The Bluebird team worked quickly to remove the vehicle from the pothole and I had the pleasure of recovering it back to base.  During my recovery I managed to set a record for the weekend’s slowest time through the measured mile at 8MPH!!! But, since there has never been a record set for a Land Rover towing a Bluebird, that makes it an official world record as far as I’m concerned!

Unfortunately the vehicle had suffered quite extensive damage to its steering and suspension components, which meant that the team could make no further runs for the weekend.

The team were disappointed with the crash but were able to take away a lot of useful data from the weekend’s runs.  Joe Wales also gained lots more experience behind the wheel of the Bluebird.  The Bluebird team conceded that the cockpit area could do with some modification to improve visibility, as currently it is difficult for the driver to see where he (or she) is going – especially on Pendine sands where there are few points of reference.  For the Engineers it is always a trade-off between visibility and aerodynamics.

The team will now continue development of the vehicle (which is done with the help of Bristol University students) and return in 2012, which is the year that marks 100 years of the Bluebird.

Joe & Don Wales
Joe & Don Wales with the Bluebird Electric vehicle



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