Speed has always held a certain allure for mankind.
Despite the fact that most of us normally pootle around at somewhat less than supersonic speeds there have continually been courageous and slightly crazy souls striving to push the boundaries, and many of these heroes have been British.
Since the first land speed attempt in 1898 there have been 39 separate land speed records set and 24 of these have been held by Brits.
With this wealth of national achievement, Beaulieu Motor Museum has picked a fitting year to launch its new land speed record display – For Britain And For the Hell Of It. This year marks the 85th anniversary of Henry Segrave’s 231mph record in the Golden Arrow and the 50th Anniversary of Donald Campbell’s 403mph run in the iconic Bluebird CN7. Both feature in the display.
‘The land speed cars are fabulous. They are bizarre- looking and really iconic,’ says Doug Hill, museum manager and chief engineer at Beaulieu.
‘People might not understand the immense challenge that it is to go really quickly, but with our new display we have included a visual presentation which helps visitors get an idea of the challenges facing the builders and the drivers of land speed cars.’
New displays are the lifeblood of Beaulieu, providing fresh ways to explore automotive history.
Doug adds: ‘The museum is continually evolving and changing so you will always have a different experience here.
‘We have just finished a James Bond exhibition featuring 50 vehicles for 50 years of Bond which was a massive draw. There’s also the Top Gear exhibition which is very popular.’
In his role as chief engineer, Doug welcomes new exhibits and the challenges they bring.
‘I have always been interested in anything mechanical. When I was a child I was always the one who took bikes to bits and tried to put them back together though I wasn’t so good at it back then.
‘I did a four-year apprenticeship in the Beaulieu workshop when I started here, but I would say that I am still learning today with new exhibitions and cars.
‘It’s absolutely fascinating learning the techniques they used in the past. It’s a voyage of discovery.’
Doug started life at Beaulieu as a trainee and now with his staff of three engineers and one trainee he helps maintain more than 250 vehicles at the museum.
‘Working at Beaulieu allows me to combine my passion with work.
‘I’ve got a 1939 Morgan, it was sold new to my uncle and it’s been in my family ever since. I used to help my father maintain his cars and I helped him with the Morgan when he took ownership of it in 1968.
‘I also own a 1969 Jaguar and a 1969 Mustang. Of course, the Mustang is the most fun to drive. It’s an iconic car which people recognise instantly but the Morgan is still my favourite because of the family connection. It’s never going to be for sale. I will pass it on to my children.’
Doug recognises the importance of having touchstones to the past and thinks that nostalgia is a big part of Beaulieu’s popularity.
‘This is my 41st year at Beaulieu. Cars that were modern when I started here are now museum pieces! How many Ford Sierras do you see on the road now?’
‘There’s a huge amount of nostalgia here. It’s important for people to have real and tactile links to their recent past. They see vehicles they remember and it will take them back instantly .’
For Doug the nation’s motoring heritage is also important for its future.
‘For Britain And For The Hell Of It covers the story of Britain rising to the challenge of becoming the fastest nation in the world.
‘Britain’s always had a strong relationship with the motor vehicle. Either side of the Second World War we were leaders in the field of aviation technology and were creating the biggest and fastest boats, planes and trains. But then we started to rest on our laurels and let Asia and Europe overtake us.
‘There’s still hope for Britain though. At the moment there’s a British team called Bloodhound SSC trying to break the land speed record with Wing Commander Andy Green who holds the current land speed record and was the first person to go supersonic.
‘We’re a very innovative nation and places like Beaulieu are important to inspire the next generation.’
Land speed history
December 18, 1898 Gaston de Chasseloup-Laubat sets the first ever Land Speed Record of 39 mph and then tops it with a 57 mph run.
June 24, 1914 Lydston Hornsted becomes the first British Land speed Record holder topping 124 mph.
September 25, 1924 Nine time Land Speed Record holder Malcolm Campbell sets his first record of 146 mph on home soil at Pendine Sands in South Wales in the Sunbeam 350HP.
July 17, 1964 Donald Campbell, steps into his father’s shoes and tops 400mph in the Bluebird CN7.
August 5, 1963 the first jet powered land speed car, the Spirit of America reaches 407 mph driven by American Craig Breedlove.
October 15, 1997 the Brits top the tables again setting the world’s current land speed record with a supersonic 763 mph in Thrust SSC, driven by Andy Green.
2014 currently in development the Bloodhound SSC is set to become the world’s first land speed record attempt to top 1000 mph with Andy Green once again be sitting behind the wheel.
WHERE: Beaulieu National Motor Museum,Brockenhurst,Hampshire,United Kingdom,SO42 7ZN
WHEN: Open 10.00am–5.00pm everyday from September 30 to May 24
and 10.00am–6.00pm from May 25 to September 29.
CALL: 01590 612345
ADMISSION: Adults £20, children £9.95, family ticket £52.50.