Blue Bird history saved from skip. Enthusiast salvages hundreds of pre-war engineering drawings and blueprints. Words and photography James Elliott. Archive image Alamy.
Hundreds of potentially historically important blueprints, letters and machine drawings have been rescued from a Surrey skip. Many refer to Blue Bird, including plans for the wheels: the twin-rear set-up and the dates indicate that the plans refer to the 1935 Campbell-Railton Blue Bird, Sir Malcolm’s final LSR challenger. With bodywork by Gurney Nutting, Blue Bird was powered by a 36-litre Rolls-Royce V12 and set a new benchmark when it achieved 276.82mph at Daytona Beach in Florida in March 1935. It later topped 300mph (just) at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Many of the illustrations and drawings are for smaller items from washers to water pumps and Dunlop tyres, but there are also larger-scale – 6ft by 3ft – side elevations and plan views showing Blue Bird in full, including the engine. These two look like period copies of the actual blueprints. There are drawings of the suspension and steering boxes, plus plenty more of items that have yet to be identified.
The 400-plus documents do not solely concern Blue Bird, however, although they are predominantly stamped by Thomson & Taylor, the legendary Brooklands workshop where Reid Railton was technical director. Some refer to marine applications including elements of a hydroplane, but it is unclear whether this could be the famous K7 speedboat. There are also letters to Railton from various suppliers, including Vosper and Napier aero components.
The documents have been saved by ardent Veteran and Edwardian enthusiast David Harrison, whom many will recall campaigning the 7.5-litre Vanderbilt Cup 1907 Renault ‘Agatha’ and one of the four Maserati Tipo 26s. Harrison, of the famous Leicester foundry family, is desperate to know more about them: primarily where they came from, whether these are the only surviving copies, and how they came to be in a skip in the town of Leatherhead.
At his Northamptonshire home he told Octane: ‘A chap I know is a bit of a Steptoe and was rummaging in a skip and found them. I can only imagine that someone bought an old plan chest as furniture and these were inside it. They were of no interest to the new owner and they threw them away.’
Harrison finds that incredible. ‘Even if they had no idea what they were, surely noone would just throw away all these delicate papers – dated from before the war! – without looking into what they might be. When I heard that they had been discovered I just had to salvage them and keep them together. I have no idea whether these are likely to be the only copies and, with so many of them referring to Blue Bird, they clearly have a place in motoring history and an interesting story to tell.’
Harrison would love to hear from anyone who can shed more light on that story, though, as he says: ‘As an engineer, I find them beautiful works of art regardless of the subject matter.’
Readers can contact David Harrison by [email protected]
‘I CAN ONLY IMAGINE SOMEONE BOUGHT A PLAN CHEST AS FURNITURE AND THESE WERE INSIDE IT’