The "Silver Bullet"


In June 1929 Coatalen’s thoughts again turned to recapturing the world land speed record. Segrave’s original record set in 1927 had only lasted for 11 months, as it was beaten by his arch rival Malcolm Campbell in February 1928. Campbell’s record soon fell to Ray Keech, an American. In March 1929 Segrave was back at Daytona with his very futuristic Irving-Napier Golden Arrow. He easily broke Keech’s record at an amazing 231.446m.p.h. and was subsequently knighted for the achievement.


All of this must have been on Coatalen’s mind when he summoned Sunbeam’s chief designer Hugh Rose to Paris to receive a set of drawings for a new land speed record contender. Kaye Don was engaged to drive the car which would be known as the “Silver Bullet”.


The general arrangement of the Silver Bullet. From The Automobile Engineer, June 1930.


One of the engines, showing the 50 degree V.

The car was powered by two specially designed 12 cylinder, 24litre lightweight engines, each capable of developing 490b.hp. at 2,400r.p.m.

Each V12 engine weighed less than 1,000lbs and had an angle of only 50 degrees for the V to keep the engine as compact as possible.

The front engine drove the water and oil pumps, and the rear engine drove the supercharger.  They were started by compressed air and cooled in a strange way.

The car had an ice tank which would be filled with 5½cwt. of ice on each run. Water was pumped through each engine block and re-circulated via the ice tank and a mixing tank.

Pedal operated brakes were used and everything was housed in a light aluminium body with an overall length of 30feet, a width of just 3feet and a height of only 3feet 8inches.


The car weighed in at about 4½ tons. By mid November the engines and transmission had been fitted into the chassis and tested at the works.

The supercharger and carburettors.

The complete chassis is wheeled around the works.
Another view of the car at the works, before the body was fitted.

Kaye Don and the car at the works.

The car’s first public appearance was at the works during a reception given by Louis Coatalen and Kaye Don on 21st February, 1930.

Those present included
C. B. Kay, the Production Manager, Hugh Rose, the designer, and many of the men who built the car.

A rear view of the car showing the air resistance brake between the tail fins.
The car is shown to the press.
The Silver Bullet and some of the men who built her.
The final ceremony at the works before the car is put into the enormous crate on the far left.

On the 26th February the car left Southampton, bound for New York.


On board the ship were Kaye Don, his sister Mrs. Rita Livesey, Henry Wilding, who was in charge of the car, and a team of 5 mechanics.

The crate is loaded onto the lorry to begin its long journey.

On its arrival at Daytona the car attracted a lot of attention.
Kaye Don and the car on Daytona Beach.
Kaye Don.
At speed on the beach.
The Silver Bullet on fire.

The car arrived at Daytona on March 8th and preparation work quickly got underway. Unfortunately there were too many teething troubles including a fire problem, and after 18 unsuccessful runs and much work on the car, the record attempt was abandoned. The team returned to the UK on 22nd April, but all had not been lost as the car set an American record for the flying 5 miles of 151.623m.p.h. on March 18th.


This was an end to Sunbeam’s land speed record attempts. The “Silver Bullet” was sold to Jack Field, a Southport hotelier and garage owner. He unsuccessfully attempted to solve the car’s problems, and after much effort it was eventually scrapped.

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