IT’S a sound that has not been heard in more than half a century.
The engine that powered a record-breaking vehicle driven by speed king Sir Malcolm Campbell has remained silent since the Sunbeam 350hp took part in a festival in 1962.
Now the iconic car has been given a major overhaul by engineers at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.
And today the engine will be fired up for the first time in 52 years, creating a moment of motoring magic.
Power The distinctive 22ft vehicle was the brainchild of Sunbeam’s chief engineer, Louis Coatalen, and was built at the company’s works in Wolverhampton just after the First World War.
It was powered by a modified 17.6 litre V12 hybrid Manitou and Arab aero engine, the type used on naval seaplanes.
The car captured three world land speed records, the first achieved by Kenelm Guinness at Brooklands in 1922 with a speed of 133.75mph.
Sir Malcolm acquired the vehicle and called it Bluebird, the name that will always be associated with the Campbell dynasty. In 1924 he achieved 146.16mph at Pendine Sands in South Wales and smashed his own record the following year.
Later drivers included the bandleader Billy Cotton, who took part in the Southport Speed Trials in 1936.
In 1958 the car was bought by Lord Montagu and displayed in what was then the Montagu Motor Museum. It made occasional guest appearances at UK venues and also accompanied Lord Montagu on a lecture tour of South Africa in 1960.
Its distinctive “howl” was last heard at the British Automobile Racing Club Festival of Motoring at Goodwood in 1962.
Lord Montagu took the vehicle on a three-lap demonstration run and Donald Campbell, Sir Malcolm’s son, did a lap of honour. In 1972 the car was moved into the newly-created National Motor Museum, where it has been on display ever since.
Seven years ago the workshop team began to rebuild the engine and repair the damage done during a failed start-up attempt in 1994.
Staff relied heavily on volunteers – and on generous donations by specialist suppliers – during the 2,000 hours it took to complete the task.
Chief engineer Doug Hill said: “The project has been a long-running labour of love for the whole team, who have dedicated hours of their own time to get the job done. There’s huge satisfaction in seeing it finally completed.”
The vehicle will be displayed in Paris next month before returning to Beaulieu to take part in a new exhibition about record-breakers.