Page last updated at 12:50 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 13:50 UK

Team aims for world steam car record

The steam car

By Anna Lindsay
BBC News, Hampshire

It is green, sleek and looks a bit like it was built with a cheeky nod to Thunderbirds. But this hulking power machine and its aerodynamic bodywork, full of wires spewing from the chassis, is a British team's chance at smashing a new world record.

How? By letting off some steam.

In August, the team hopes to break the world steam car speed record on a salt lake at Bonneville, Utah - famous for several land speed record attempts.

Famous, in fact, for being the place where British racing legend Sir Malcolm Campbell set his final land speed record of 301.337 mph (484.955 kmph) on 3 September 1935.

Don Wales
Don Wales said he wants to carry on his family's tradition
Just as well then, that the British Steam Car team has enlisted Sir Malcolm's grandson, Don Wales, to test drive their car.

Mr Wales is also the nephew of Donald Campbell, who famously died in 1967 on Coniston Water, Cumbria, trying to break his own water speed record in his jet-propelled boat Bluebird.

"This project sums up all of the things that make us Brits great," Mr Wales said.

"My grandfather and uncle would be, hopefully, very proud and very impressed.

"I love the idea of keeping a family tradition going."

'Slight mishap'

Built inside a modest workshop in Lymington, Hampshire, the team says the car is also an experiment in using "alternative fuels", although they acknowledge steam power is seen as "unadventurous and slow".

The Utah record attempt aims to achieve anything up to 200mph (322km) - breaking the world steam speed record of 128mph (206kmph), set by American Fred Marriot in 1906.

It remains the longest-standing land speed record.

The steam car's turbine
Steam power drives the car's turbine, powering it along
On a dusty and windy runway somewhere on the outskirts of Ministry of Defence land in Hampshire, you could be mistaken for thinking we are in already in Utah.

Here, Don Wales was due to give the steam car its first test drive - except, what has been described as "a slight mishap" has changed all that.

It is all due to a tiny broken valve, which is very small but has had massive implications.

The car we have come to see hurtle down a runway - made from three tonnes of carbon and aluminium, 25.5ft (7.7m) long, with 360 horse power (268kw) - is going nowhere.

"No one has driven it yet," Mr Wales, 47, said.

If I can help a British team get a world record, then I'm happy
Don Wales
"We are dying to get it moving.

"There have been hiccups along the way, but we hope to get it moving next week.

"Everyone has been working so hard. With anything like this, there can be problems."

The car itself is powered by LPG and has 12 boilers that turn 40 litres (8.8 gallons) of water per minute into superheated steam at 400C (752F), at 40 times atmospheric pressure.

This has been the "main engineering challenge", a team spokesman said.

The steam drives the car's turbine, powering it along.

Inside, the car reaches temperatures of more than 1,000C (1,832F).

The steam car
The car will be shipped to the US in July before August's record attempt
Replacing Don Wales for the actual record attempt will be the project's brainchild and main financer, Charles Burnett III.

"It's his project, so he gets to drive it on the day," Mr Wales added.

"I just hope to break the world record during the test run - he can then break it after me.

"If I can help a British team get a world record, then I'm happy."

The total cost of the eight-year project is unknown, but fundraising continues with an open day in Lymington on 13 July and an offer for people and companies to get their name on the car for 1.

British-built steam car unveiled
25 Jun 08 |  Hampshire
Bluebird legacy goes on display
12 Aug 04 |  Cumbria
Divers salvage the Bluebird
08 Mar 01 |  UK News

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Basingstoke Gazette Record attempt steam car unveiled - 33 mins ago
Rye and Battle Observer British team unveil record attempt car - 1 hr ago
Portsmouth Today British-built steam car to be tested at Thorney Island - 3 hrs ago

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