The Golden Arrow Project
Some people seem to be born with a total disregard for their own safety. This is particularly apparent in those addicted to adrenaline! During the 1920s and 1930s there was no shortage of such people in Britain. The world land speed record was a target for some of the most extreme personalities.
As bigger and more powerful cars were developed the public became enthralled with the battle between a small group of drivers who pushed these cars to their limits, sometimes with fatal results.
One member of this group was an Englishman, born in America, called Major Henry O'Neill de Hane Segrave. His exploits were every bit as extreme as his name. Having already cheated death, being shot twice in the trenches of WW1, he continued to push his luck by taking up motor racing and having a crack at speed records, in competition with another well-known risk taker of the era, Sir Malcolm Campbell. These two daredevils leapfrogged each other's achievements regularly, powering their cars at venues as far apart as Southport beach and Florida's Daytona Beach.
Campbell achieved the world record in 1928 when he powered his car Bluebird up to 206 mph, but this was broken a couple of months later by American driver Ray Keech who went one mile per hour faster in a car called the Triplex Special.
The challenge was taken up by designer Captain JS Irving who married a 900 brake horsepower 24 litre 12 cylinder aeroengine built by Napier with a highly streamlined aluminium body, the work of coachbuilders Thrup and Mabberly. Initially called the Irving – Napier Special, it was promptly renamed the Golden Arrow, because of its arrow shaped front and distinctive golden colour.
The aerodynamic shape of this car, so well tested in wind tunnels, made it superbly efficient at cutting through the air, and it was designed with reverse lift; in other words at speed the air created a downforce to keep the car pressed firmly to the ground.
To help the driver keep it in a straight line, a telescopic sight was fixed to the front, so that Segrave could keep it aimed at the finishing post.
The Golden Arrow was wheeled out for it's run at Daytona Beach on 11 March, 1929. It achieved an average speed over a measured mile of 231.44 mph, setting a new world record.
Segrave was awarded a knighthood for his achievement, and then he looked for new fields to conquer. His next environment was to be the water, upon which he was determined to break new speed records. Sadly, in June of 1930 an attempt at the record on Lake Windermere ended with his death, when his boat, the Miss England 11, hit a piece of floating debris during a high speed run.
Malcolm Campbell went on to die of natural causes, one of the very few speed record breakers of the era to do so, since the majority died in accidents! His son Donald Malcolm Campbell followed in his father's footsteps but sadly he died too during an attempt on the water speed record in the Lake District on 4 January, 1967.