I’d like to start a campaign but don’t know how. Little more than two years from now, on March 29, 2017, we will reach the 90th anniversary of what I have always considered to be the most significant Land Speed Record of all, at least until Andy Green broke the sound barrier in 1997. Seventy years earlier Sir Henry Segrave aimed his allegedly 1000 horsepower, twin engined Sunbeam along Daytona Beach and became the first person to travel across the surface of the planet at 200mph.
Why was 200mph such a landmark? I think for anyone alive today, at least in the UK, US and other countries where miles per hour exist, it has always been the focal point of extreme automotive high performance. Whether it was sports cars cracking 200mph on the Mulsanne Straight in the 1960s, or an entire field of NASCAR competitors lapping at over 200mph in the 1990s, or the first road car with a documented top speed of over 200mph, it is the maximum land-bound speed most of us can understand. Even before I drove at that speed for the first time, I could understand 200mph in a car. I cannot and will not ever be able to understand 300,400 or any greater number of miles per hour. It is the highest round number that, in terms of car speed, we can all understand.
It’s why the Sunbeam is our most important wheel-driven Land Speed Record car, even more so than the Bluebirds of Malcolm and Donald Campbell which were the first to set Land Speed Records at over 300mph and 400mph, even though Donald was never actually the fastest man on earth.
‘If there is enough money to keep a Vulcan in the air, surely enough could be found to get the Sunbeam running again?’
So back to the campaign. I’d like to see the Sunbeam run again. Scratch that – I’d cuddle a skunk if I thought there was a chance to see it run again. There is nowhere I wouldn’t go, nothing even approximately legal I wouldn’t do to see it run again. It wouldn’t need to do 200mph or even 100mph. I’d just like to hear those 22-litre V12 Matabele engines fire up and the car move briskly under its own power once more.
What I cannot do is begin to estimate how much it would cost or where the money would come from. What I do know is that you can create brand new fiendishly complicated Auto Unions from scratch sufficiently affordably for Audi to have ordered a considerable number, so I’m guessing the relatively simple Sunbeam powered by a pair of aircraft engines might not be too extortionate? Or maybe I am being spectacularly naïve.
The thing is Goodwood has changed our expectations of how we can indulge our passion for old cars. Before the Festival of Speed we were used to seeing the world’s most famous cars either as static exhibits or not at all. Goodwood changed all that. Most years we see Parry Thomas’s Babs run up the hill and John Cobb’s Napier Railton too, both aero-engined record breaking cars from a similar era to the Sunbeam and I’m afraid I’m bored of seeing it sitting on a plinth in Beaulieu. If there is enough money to keep a Vulcan in the air, surely enough could be found to get the Sunbeam running again? Just imagine the crowds if on March 29th 2017 it was allowed to run down Daytona Beach once more, or if it did a demonstration lap or two at the Revival (chicane removed). I’m getting carried away. But if anyone is in a position to get this idea off the ground, please don’t hang around because the anniversary won’t wait. Besides if the Sunbeam did run in 2017, that would give two clear years to get the Golden Arrow going for its 2019 anniversary…