CN7: The Inside Story of Donald Campbell’s Last Land Speed Record Car

Published on
November 13, 2018
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Donald Stevens
Other Publication Information
Soft Cover, Square Bound, 8” x 10”, 160 pages
Product / Stock #
Veloce Classic Reprint Series
Company: Veloce Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Veloce Publishing - Website: Visit Site

This is a reprint of the original edition first published in 2010 in Veloce’s Classic Reprint Series. The author’s biography is available on the Veloce website above and is as follows: “Donald Stevens was born in the East End of London, but grew up in Haywards Heath, the Sussex market town to which he was evacuated in 1939. In his early teenage years he became fascinated by aeroplanes and other machines, and on leaving school began training as a mechanical engineer. At 19, he joined the newly-formed design consultancy Norris Brothers Ltd as its first employee and became a member of the design team for Donald Campbell’s Bluebird hydroplane (K7). Following National Service in the RAF, Donald became project coordinator for the design and construction of the Bluebird car. This is his first book.” I was unable to locate if Donald Stevens has written any subsequent books, but you can see Donald on discussing this book.

The Bluebird (Campbell-Norris) CN7 was the first gas turbine ground vehicle designed to set the land speed record. It accomplished just that on July 17, 1964, on Lake Eyre, Australia, setting the FIA world record for the flying mile at 403.1 mph. When the design initiated in 1956, the land speed record stood at 394 mph, set by John Cobb in the Railton Mobil Special in 1947. Of course, this land speed record was broken by Bob Summer’s Goldenrod vehicle in November 1965 at Bonneville where it achieved 409.3 mph. The CN7 featured a Bristol-Siddeley Proteus engine (of Bristol Brittania fame) that drove both front and rear axles. The CN7 was retired in 1972 and placed on display at the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, where it remains.

The Bluebird CN7 is a key vehicle in racing history being the first to break the 400 mph barrier. Although originally designed to target 450 mph under ideal conditions, it never got the chance to go for the record under ideal conditions whether it was due to surface or weather issues. Another element was with different gearing it could target 500 mph, but again did not get the chance. Donald Stevens aptly describes the personalities involved in this revolutionary design to break the world land speed record. Previously unpublished photographs, diagrams, drawings, graphs, and technical documents are included that supplement Donald’s quite readable storyline. I counted 86 black and white photographs along with 19 color photos. There were 13 black and white drawings and 25 color drawings. The Table of Contents focuses on the following sections:

  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword
  • An Appreciation
  • Introduction [Page 11]
  • My Early Background
  • My Other Engineering Experience
  • Design of the Campbell-Norris 7 (CN7) [Page 36]
    • Analysis of Project 18D
  • Construction [Page 48]
  • Goodwood Trials [Page 55]
  • Utah Runs and Crash [Page 100]
  • Rebuild and Australia [Page 115]
  • Unlucky Friday the 13th
  • What Could Have Been [Page 121]
  • What Happened to the Design Team
    • Donald Stevens
  • Hugh Standing
  • Fred Wooding
  • Jerzy Ortowski
  • Henry Thwaites
  • Alan Lucas
  • Gordon Dale-Smith
  • Appendices
    • Appendix 1 – CN7 Weight Analysis
    • Appendix 2 – List of 50 Companies Associated with CN7
    • Appendix 3 – Copy of CIBA Booklet
    • Appendix 4 – Copy of Dunlop Booklet
    • Appendix 5 – The Land Speed Record Since Its Inception
  • Index

One design element that I found quite interesting was that the CN7 was designed to have a heads-up display to deal with the issue of driving the vehicle in the blinding white sands of Bonneville and still be able to see the instrumentation. Smiths Industries developed a heads-up display that was installed, only to have the driver, Donald Campbell, have it removed because the display generated green images and he considered green to be unlucky.

There are several model kits available of the CN7, but be prepared to hand over some serious cash. Fernando Pinto makes a resin kit in 1/24 of the 1964 record run. Speedline Models makes a 1/20 scale kit. This is a great reference for anyone interested in really fast cars and will provide plenty of detail when you build your kit. My thanks to Veloce Publishing and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.

Highly recommended!


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