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Original Issue

Race Against Time and Tide in the Outback

The skeletons of a cow and a horse last week gazed mockingly from their derelict conveyance across white salt wastes where willy-willies of dust danced in strange, high columns and nonexistent lagoons shimmered deliciously wet and blue. They provided a ghoulish touch of humor in this weird and lonely place, a fly-infested, dry salt lake called Eyre in the Australian outback. It was there last week that Britain's Donald Campbell began to extend the Bluebird, a costly, high-wheeled, finned monster of a car, in the final stages of a new assault upon the absolute land-speed record.

Time was short, problems acute. There would be 10 days at most for serious runs, it was believed, before floodwaters would force evacuation—precious little time for a project that had cost some 80 British firms $5.5 million. Meanwhile, the 20-mile-long speed strip Campbell had hoped for dwindled to 14 miles, and at week's end only 9 miles of it had been flattened to test-specifications by workmen towing heavy girders across the salt crust. It was cruelly unfortunate that Campbell, having abandoned the vastly more accessible Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah as unable to provide a long enough run, should now be so restricted.

Nevertheless, he was not without hope. Since the frightening crash that scrubbed Campbell's Bonneville attempt in 1960, the four-ton Bluebird has been meticulously rebuilt and a lofty tail fin added for stability. Its aircraft gas turbine engine produces no less than 4,250 horsepower; designers speak of a 500-mph-speed potential, with 450 mph a realistic working goal. After a probing run at 210 mph and another at 240 on the bobtailed Lake Eyre course, Campbell said the Bluebird "behaved magnificently."

One might wonder why all the fuss and exertion, since Britain already holds the record of 394.196 mph, set by the late John Cobb at Bonneville in 1947. Apparently the British want a little insurance; they were jolted in 1960 when America's Mickey Thompson reached 406.6 mph at Bonneville in a car literally built in his backyard, partly from junk. Mickey was denied the record when his marvelous monster broke down on the required return run. If successful, Donald Campbell would be the fastest human being on land and sea. His water-speed record is 260.35 mph.