Featured: What’s Cool About the Record That Star Wars’ Idris Elba Broke in a Bentley?

What’s Cool About the Record That Star Wars’ Idris Elba Broke in a Bentley?

By Petrolicious Productions
May 8, 2015

Yesterday British actor Idris Elba broke a ninety year old speed record on a British beach in a very modern Bentley GT3…and it got us thinking.

A 90 year old record that was beaten at just 180 mph? That’s awfully slow—until you realize that it was set on a stretch of cold, dark, beach sand in Wales.

The beach is Pendine Sands, a seven mile, ruler-straight beach now owned and operated by the Ministry of Defense* but beloved by speed demons for more than 100 years. This stretch of sand has seen many hot rod and speed attempts, but apparently the Ministry of Defense has also used it as a bombing range for decades. Signage warning of unexploded ordinance is still displayed to this day, which makes the size of Elba’s record a bit more substantial.

The last land-speed record set at Pendine in an automobile and the one Bentley and Elba were attempting to break was originally set by Malcolm Campbell in 1927. Campbell was a classic English gearhead of the 19th century, starting on motorbikes and later moving to cars. Campbell set quite a few land-speed records, most notably in the UK the very one that stood until yesterday at Pendine Sands.

In 1927, the vehicle at Campbell’s disposal was known innocuously as, ‘Blue Bird’, a 500 horsepower V12 beast of a car that topped out at over 200 mph well before modern safety technology existed. In fact, the Napier-Lion engine used in the car was from an aircraft, as car engines at the time didn’t have the requisite horsepower to push that much air around.

However, a small note about that record-breaking day in 1927 makes Elba’s record slightly less impressive (never mind the differences in the cars). According to the book The Land Speed Record, the Blue Bird actually hit 195 mph that day on a single run, but in order for the record to be verified, the speed was calculated on a two run average—something Campbell was unable to do.

In those years, the need for ever greater land speed records made both the Pendine Sands and the Blue Bird obsolete in less than a year. The pursuit led participants to Daytona Beach and finally to the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats, where extreme land speed records are still being attempted.

Today, both Bentley and Elba should be commended. A British driver in a British GT car tackling a 90 year old sand-based speed record…on an ammunition-littered beach in Wales? That’s pretty great—and one for the books.

*The Brits certainly do government titles better than us Yanks, don’t they? 

Image sources: pinimg.com, mirror.co.uk, i2.mirror.co.uk, i1.mirror.co.uk, wikimedia.org, wikimedia.org, photobucket.com

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Chris Hill
Chris Hill(@fb_719927190)
6 years ago

It seems a bit of a shame for the record to have been beaten is what appears to be a fairly ordinary sort of way. Ok, a Continental GT Speed isn’t everyones daily driver, but it is a production car and is hardly on the same level as Campbell’s Blue Bird. In 1927 setting that record was as much about the engineering and innovation in the machine as the guts and skill of the driver, I suspect setting this record was a case of waiting for favourable weather conditions and then simply planting the throttle.

Paul Thompson
Paul Thompson(@valvebounce)
6 years ago

The last person to attempt the record was Godfrey Parry Thomas in 1927. He was in ‘Babs’ a 27-litre Liberty aero-engine special, he died in the process. 90 years later it is possible to go faster sitting in a Connolly leather armchair with air-conditioning. That’s progress for you.

The Vintage Hot Rod Association in the UK were the club that started racing again at Pendine in 2013 with pre-1949 cars. As Matthew says it’s a superb event. A few of my photos here from 2014. They have a standing start, a half mile run up, then a timed flying sixteenth. The current record is 114mph.

I’ll be going again this year!

This puts the record attempts in context behind the VHRA event.

Tosh Brice
Tosh Brice(@tosh-brice)
6 years ago

According to IMDb, Idris is rumoured (the “u” is mine) to be in Star Trek 3, which is in pre-production.

Tosh Brice
Tosh Brice(@tosh-brice)
6 years ago

Well, if you really want to be British about it, then it’s the Ministry of Defence, not Defense!

6 years ago

While Sir Malcolm & Donald’s exploits are certainly worth a good read, Gina’s taking of the World Water Speed Record deserves equal credit & admiration. Her book is one of the best machine-reads ever… Neko.

Jack M
Jack M(@jackm)
6 years ago

I doesn’t look like Idris Elba is in Star Wars, beside that this is a interesting article with great photos.

Willam Giltzow
Willam Giltzow(@billgiltzow)
6 years ago

For the younger generation who look at the four exhaust stacks and read the twelve cylinder description of that Blue Bird, the Napier Lion engine is three rows of four, not two of six as a Ferrari. Thanks Petrolicious, I had not seen most of these photos!

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
6 years ago

I wasn’t aware that Idris Elba was in Star Wars? On the subject of Pendine Sands you might want to have one of the crack team of Petrolicious photographers there in July for this event? http://vhra.co.uk/VHRA/Pendine_Sands.html unfortunately I have a date clash but would love to see this?

Chris Jeffs
Chris Jeffs(@fb_505990819)
6 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Lange

Hmm got me thinking about whether there are any UK Petrolicious meets?

Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange(@365daytonafan)
6 years ago
Reply to  Chris Jeffs

It’s not a Petrolicious event but usually a few UK based Petrolisti at these meets if you are in London https://www.facebook.com/classicsandcake?fref=ts