The Campbell Dynasty: A Family Of Record-Breakers.
In 1887 a very young Malcolm Campbell received a speeding fine on his bicycle. He was charged 10 shillings for furious riding. A man that went on to do over 300 miles an hour and break so many barriers was told, “Let that be a lesson to you, Malcolm Campbell, never to go so fast again in the future.”
Malcolm Campbell ignored that lesson entirely, and perhaps here, the Campbell dynasty began.
His obsession with speed wasn’t just in his blood. It was in his genes. Setting nine land speed records. The final, at Bonneville Salt Flats on the 3rd of September 1935, saw him become the first person to drive an automobile over 300 mph. Malcolm set the record at 301.337 in his ‘Blue Bird.’
His desire to break speed records was so strong he turned his attention to the water speed record, and between September 1937 and August 1939, Malcolm Campbell and his ‘Blue Bird’ hydroplane broke the water speed record 4 times. His final record was on Coniston Water in the Lake District where he reached speeds of 141.74 mph.
In a bleak post-war Britain, Malcolm Campbell was an A-lister with worldwide acclaim. Adored by the public and knighted for his amazing achievements.
On this day, the 23rd March 1921, Donald Malcolm Campbell was born. Inheriting his father's speed gene and growing up watching the success and glory of multiple records, it was almost inevitable that Donald would push the boundaries as his father did before him. However, he also had a desire to break free of his father's shadow and gain popularity in his own right.
Donald made his first attempt at the water speed record in 1949, just one year after Malcolm's death. He failed in this attempt piloting his father's Blue Bird, but it didn’t stop his quest to become the fastest man on water. He went away and developed his own Bluebird, returning six years later with a new, jet-powered machine. The Bluebird K7 hydroplane was able to break the record on Coniston water, recording 202.32 mph. Over the next 10 years, he recorded five more water speed records and by May 1959 he set the record at 260.35mph.
The hunger for speed still wasn’t satisfied and Donald decided it was time to focus his efforts on land. In 1956 he had started to plan a car to break the land speed record of 394 mph. He worked with the Norris brothers who had designed the Bluebird K7 hydroplane. The result? Bluebird-Proteus CN7.
The CN7 (Campbell-Norris 7) was constructed by Motor Panels in Coventry and was completed by 1960. Many people helped to create this incredibly engineered car, but one name which stands out today is David Brown. David Brown was a good friend of Donald Campbell and had famously owned Aston Martin. The DB series driven by James Bond, named after him. David Brown also made the gearboxes for the CN7 Bluebird.
Like his father, Donald was a man with both talent and sheer determination. He was relentless in his pursuit for speed and despite many serious setbacks, including a near-fatal crash on his first attempt and later, in 1963, incredibly dramatic events including a tornado and a plane crash, he achieved his goal.
In 1964 Donald Campbell became the first man to pilot a wheel driven car at over 400 mph. Setting the new land speed record at 403.10 mph.
Times were different in the 1960s with so much technology available, celebrity culture changed by the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Donald’s incredible bravery and determination didn’t capture the public’s attention in quite the same way as his fathers had. He needed to do more. So, he decided to return to the water and set a new water speed world record.
Unlike his father, Donald was quite a superstitious man. He hated the colour green, common amongst racing drivers. It’s claimed he hired a man called Evan Green but only after Evan changed his surname to Turquoise!
Famously, he had a mascot called Mr Whoppet. Donald had refused to drive without Mr Whoppet being in the cockpit of Bluebird, both on water and land. He was present for all the records Donald set.
All, except one.
It’s reported that when he broke his final water speed record on New Years Eve in 1964, becoming and remaining, the only man to hold both land and water speed records in the same year, Mr Whoppet was missing from the cockpit. There was a real rush to get on the water and make his two runs, he climbed into K7 without his race suit and didn’t notice he had left Mr Whoppet in the arms of his beloved wife, Tonia. He set the record at 276.33 mph.
To put into context his achievement on water. His water speed record has only been bettered three times since 1964. The last occasion was in 1978 when Ken Warby set a new record of 317.60 mph.
Of course, the story of Donald Campbell has a tragic end. His desire to always push the boundaries to further his father's successes and to be seen as one of the fastest men of all time, lead, ultimately, to his death.
While on track to break the 300 mph water speed record, his Bluebird K7 dramatically flipped. Mr Whoppet was flung from the cockpit and recovered that same day in 1967. K7 and the body of Donald Campbell were not recovered until 28th May 2001. At an inquest, it was suggested he was decapitated. His skull has never been recovered.
Donald was one of the most inspiring and brave trailblazers of our history. The story of his life is full of grit, determination, humour and tragedy. His bravery allowed him to reach incredible success and become the most prolific water speed record breaker of all time.
And, of course, that Campbell gene lives on today. A dynasty of world-record breakers. Donald’s only child, Gina has the thrill of record-breaking in her blood. She broke the women’s world water speed record in 1984 and again in 1990 achieving 166 mph in a piston-engined Bluebird. Her cousin Don Wales bought the Campbell world record dynasty into the future and in 2009 piloting the Bluebird Electric, set the electric World Speed Record at 148 mph.
After reading into the history of Donald, I had a desire to own a moment in time with him. Moved by his relentless quest and pursuit of speed, I decided to purchase one of our NFTs from Collection // 1 and, I am now the very proud owner of the CN7 1964 NFT.
Happy Birthday, Donald. Your achievements will never be forgotten!