VANTAGE - - Contents - Don­ald Stevens

Recol­lec­tions of As­ton-driv­ing Don­ald Camp­bell, and a Cygnet back­lash

I very much en­joyed dis­cov­er­ing Van­tage and read­ing the ar­ti­cle about the ex-don­ald Camp­bell DB2/4 (is­sue 17) to which I was able to add my own recol­lec­tions – as part of the de­sign team on both the K7 hy­droplane and the CN7 land speed record car, I knew Camp­bell a lit­tle and, as the ar­ti­cle men­tioned, once drove that very As­ton.

What I should have men­tioned was that the trans­mis­sion boxes for CN7 were made by David Brown Ltd. I have a vague rec­ol­lec­tion of the name of Jim Iredale as my con­tact there, and I in­clude a pho­to­graph of one of the boxes be­ing in­stalled. Hugh Stand­ing, who de­signed them, is still around, now in his 90s.

I also found the en­closed pic of me on that visit to Don­ald just be­fore he let me drive the As­ton. I was there to ex­plain the de­sign to him and Leo Villa, although the pub­lic­ity shot does not look as if I am! My beard had been grown at the re­quest of Don­ald ‘be­cause I looked too young for the job I was do­ing’!

My in­volve­ment started when, at the age of 19, I an­swered an ad­ver­tise­ment in our lo­cal news­pa­per for a de­sign draughts­man to join a newly formed com­pany in my home town of Hay­wards Heath, Sus­sex. Some­how I be­came the first em­ployee of Nor­ris Brothers Ltd. Ken and Lew Nor­ris were re­spec­tively aero­nau­ti­cal and me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neers. Lew had been in­volved with Don­ald Camp­bell’s mod­i­fi­ca­tions to Sir Mal­colm’s K4 boat and Don­ald asked them to de­sign a new craft for him, which be­came K7.

When Ken and Lew had com­pleted the ba­sic de­sign, I pro­duced many of the de­tailed draw­ings and was given the task of de­sign­ing the cock­pit, steer­ing and re­tractable spray-guards for the en­gine air in­takes. Af­ter National Ser­vice, I re­joined the com­pany to work on the Land Speed Record car, putting to­gether the spec­i­fi­ca­tion and work­ing on wind tun­nel mod­els to de­fine the shape, which had to have neu­tral lift char­ac­ter­is­tics (Dun­lop hav­ing spec­i­fied no down­force!). My de­tailed de­sign work was lim­ited to the cock­pit and air-brakes, be­cause I was made project co-or­di­na­tor re­spon­si­ble for se­lec­tion and tech­ni­cal li­ai­son with man­u­fac­tur­ers, and tech­ni­cal sup­port for Don­ald when vis­it­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers.

It was an ‘ed­u­ca­tional’ pe­riod for me, hav­ing come from a very fi­nan­cially re­stricted back­ground. I found my­self be­ing en­ter­tained in restau­rants such as Rules, stay­ing in five-star ho­tels, and en­joy­ing the plea­sures that he en­joyed, all at no ex­pense to me.

Don­ald was a com­plex char­ac­ter, very charm­ing, es­pe­cially to at­trac­tive women and to any­one in­flu­en­tial, but, as one di­rec­tor of a ma­jor sup­plier said, ‘He is the most charm­ing bas­tard that I ever met!’

When the con­struc­tion was near­ing com­ple­tion, I be­came ‘per­sona non grata’ be­cause I told Leo Villa that he did not know what he was up to when he in­sisted on in­stalling, and tak­ing out, the en­gine three times, ‘just so that he could be as­sured of how to do it’, fin­ish­ing at 4am the next morn­ing! In the event he never had to, but I was deleted from the Utah team!

There is a sad ad­den­dum to this. When we moved to Ten­ter­den two-and-a-half years ago we met the daugh­ter of Jack Wat­son, fore­man of the DB team that made the trans­mis­sion boxes. She told me that, when Don­ald crashed the car at Utah, he was lis­ten­ing to the news and had a mas­sive heart at­tack, think­ing that one of the boxes had seized and it was his fault. He was im­mo­bilised for the rest of his life.

If any read­ers would like to read more about all of this, I still have a few copies of my book on the de­sign and con­struc­tion of CN7, signed of course, with a DVD of the record run. The price is £40 (pa­per­back) or £45 hard­back (only two left), in­clud­ing P&P, avail­able from me at 2 Bea­con Walk, Ten­ter­den, Kent TN30 6SF.

Above and left In­stalling a DB trans­mis­sion box in CN7. Don­ald Stevens (on right) talks through the de­sign of the box with a pipe-smok­ing Don­ald Camp­bell and Leo Villa

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