Since 1924 the Campbell family have used the Pendine sand in Carmarthenshire, Wales as the home for their Bluebird record attempts. During the weekend of the 13th and 14th August 2011, Don Wales — grandson of the celebrated Malcolm Campbell and nephew of Donald Campbell — and his son Joseph returned to the iconic seven mile stretch of beach in an attempt to add another entry to the history books.
Organising a Land Speed Record attempt is an epic logistical feat before a wheel has even turned. The team has faced countless hurdles in their quest for speed: delayed component parts, cancelled runs, tight budgets, limited testing and too few hours in a day. Not to mentioned the inherently short window of time between low tides at Pendine and the unpredictability of the weather.
Saturday 13th August wasn’t just the 2011 Bluebird Electric’s first time on Pendine, it was only the second time Joe Wales had got behind the wheel of the vehicle. Weather conditions on the day hampered the exploratory runs but provided plenty of valuable experience for the young driver.
A blue sky on Sunday put the Bluebird team in good spirits and Don was keen to give Joe the opportunity to enter the record books himself. Sadly, the return leg of a fast outward run was brought to a premature end. Limited visibility within the cockpit of Bluebird and an alarming slide towards the sea at speeds in excess of 100mph caused the car to bounce severely on the uneven surface and hit a soft pothole of sand. The resulting impact damaged the bodyshell, steering components and disconnected a bottom wishbone. Only Joe’s natural talent for car control on soft sand and quick reactions meant the damage on impact was as minimal as it was and that Jo was unharmed.
“When you can’t see the ground in front of you for 60 metres or 70 metres you’re in trouble before you’ve seen it,” said Don Wales after the accident. Unfortunately, incoming tides meant the car could not be repaired on site in time to run again.
Bluebird Electric is the culmination of months of tireless effort from the engineers at Bluebird Automotive with valuable assistance from The University of Bristol, Swansea Metropolitan University and Tirius Ltd. Bluebird is powered by 300 Nickel-cadmium vented cell batteries, channelled into two brushless permanent magnetic motors, each producing 200kW of peak power and a total of 1100Nm peak torque.
But Bluebird would not have even been able to attempt a record at Pendine if it weren’t for the support from the Discovery Owner’s Club and a team of volunteers who cleared the beach of debris before Bluebird could run. More than 50 enthusiasts gave up their weekend to ensure the beach — also used for live testing by the Ministry of Defence — was safe.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances of the weekend, Don Wales remains optimistic that Bluebird Electric will return to Pendine for another shot at record breaking.
“We’ll take the car back to Pembroke Docks and see what need to be fixed and where we go from here. We’re a small team with a lot of volunteer help and severely struggling with finance. Hopefully we can secure sponsorship to ensure the project still has life in it. But the important thing is that Joe is well.”
The will be a number of opportunities to see Bluebird after the Pendine Speed trials. The public can get up close with the vehicle at this year’s Ecovelocity Low Carbon Motor Festival from the 8th – 11thSeptember at Battersea Power Station and on Regent Street as part of the RAC Future Car Challenge on Saturday 5th November.
To show your support for the Bluebird team and get behind it for a potential return to Pendine, visit www.bluebirdspeedrecords.com.