Pendine Sands is a 7 mile long beach on the shores of Carmarthen Bay on the south coast of Wales. It stretches from Gilman Point in the west to Laugharne Sands in the east. The village of Pendine is situated near the western end of Pendine Sands.
In the early 1900s the sands were used as a venue for car and motor cycle races. From 1922 the annual Welsh TT motor cycle event was held at Pendine Sands. The firm flat surface of the beach created a race track that was both straighter and smoother than many major roads at the time. Motor Cycle magazine described the sands as “The finest natural speedway imaginable”.
In the 1920s it became clear that roads and race tracks were no longer adequate venues for attempts on the world land speed record. As record breaking speeds approached 150 mph (240 km/h), the requirements for acceleration to top speed before the measured mile and safe braking distance afterwards meant that a smooth, flat, straight surface of at least 5 miles in length was needed. The first person to use Pendine Sands for a world land speed record attempt was Malcolm Campbell. On September 25, 1924 he set a world land speed record of 146.16 mph (235.22 km/h) on Pendine Sands in his car Bluebird.
Four other record breaking runs were made on Pendine Sands between 1924 and 1927; two more by Campbell, and two by Welshman J.G. Parry-Thomas in his car Babs. The 150 mph barrier was decisively broken, and Campbell raised the record to 174.22 mph (280.38 km/h) in February 1927.
On March 3, 1927 Parry-Thomas attempted to beat Campbell’s record. On his final run at circa 170 mph (280 km/h) the exposed drive chain broke and partially decapitated him, Babs went out of control and rolled over. Parry-Thomas was the first driver to be killed during a world land speed record attempt. This was the final world land speed record attempt made at Pendine Sands.
Parry-Thomas’ car Babs was buried in the sand dunes near the village of Pendine. In 1969 Owen Wyn Owen, an engineering lecturer from Bangor Technical College, sought and received permission to excavate Babs. Over the next 15 years he restored the car, which is now housed in the Museum of Speed in Pendine village.
In 1933 Amy Johnson and her husband, Jim Mollinson, took off from Pendine Sands in a De Havilland Dragon Rapide to fly non-stop to the United States.
During the Second World War the Ministry of Defence acquired Pendine Sands and used it as a firing range. The beach is still owned by the Ministry of Defence; prominent signs warn of the dangers of unexploded munitions, and public access is sometimes restricted.
In June 2002 Don Wales, grandson of Malcolm Campbell and nephew of Donald Campbell, set the United Kingdom electric land speed record at Pendine Sands in Bluebird Electric 2, achieving a speed of 137 mph (220 km/h).
Today Pendine Sands is sometimes used as a stage in rally car events, although spectator access is limited for safety reasons. It is also a popular venue for kite buggying and homebuilt hovercraft.
On 9 July 2004 all vehicles were banned from using Pendine due to safety concerns. Part of the beach is closed off because of MOD land and there are many warnings about bombs on the beach. Prior to that, Top Gear filmed parts of the first episode of their fifth season there.