Donald Malcolm Campbell, CBE (23 March 1921 – 4 January 1967) was a British car and motorboat racer who broke eight world speed records in the 1950s and 60s. He remains the only person to set both land and water speed records in the same year (1964).
Donald Campbell was born in Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, the son of Sir Malcolm Campbell, holder of 13 world speed records in the 1920s and 30s in the famous Bluebird cars and boats, and his second wife, Dorothy Evelyn née Whittall. He attended Uppingham School. At the outbreak of World War II he volunteered for the Royal Air Force, but was unable to serve because of a childhood illness. He joined Briggs Motor Bodies Ltd in West Thurrock, where he became a maintenance engineer. Following his father's death in 1948 and aided by Malcolm's chief engineer, Leo Villa, the younger Campbell strove to set speed records on land and water. He married three times: to Daphne Harvey in 1945, producing daughter Georgina (Gina) Campbell in 1946; to Dorothy McKegg in 1952; and to Tonia Bern in 1958, which lasted until his death in 1967.
Water speed records
Campbell began his speed record attempts using his father's old boat Bluebird K4, but after a structural failure at 170 mph (270 km/h) on Coniston Water, Lancashire in 1951 he developed a new boat. Designed by Ken and Lew Norris, the Bluebird K7 was an all-metal jet-propelled 3-point hydroplane with a Metropolitan-Vickers Beryl jet engine producing 3500 lbf (16 kN) of thrust.
Campbell set seven world water speed records in K7 between 1955 and 1964. The first was at Ullswater on 23 July 1955, where he set a record of 202.15 mph (324 km/h). The series of speed increases—216 mph (348 km/h) later in 1955, 225 mph (362 km/h) in 1956, 239 mph (385 km/h) in 1957, 248 mph (399 km/h) in 1958, 260 mph (420 km/h) in 1959—peaked on 31 December 1964 at Dumbleyung Lake, Western Australia when he reached 276.33 mph (444.71 km/h); he remains the world's most prolific breaker of water speed records.
Land speed record attempt
Bluebird CN7 in July 1964 at Lake EyreIn 1956, Campbell began planning a car to break the land speed record, which then stood at 394 mph (630 km/h). The Norris brothers designed Bluebird-Proteus CN7 with 500 mph (800 km/h) in mind. The CN7 was completed by the spring of 1960, and was powered by a Bristol-Siddeley Proteus free-turbine engine of 4,450 shp (3,320 kW). Following low-speed tests conducted at the Goodwood circuit in Sussex, England, the CN7 was taken to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA, scene of his father's last LSR triumph in 1935. The attempt was unsuccessful and CN7 was written off following a high-speed crash in September at Bonneville. Campbell was not seriously hurt, suffering a fracture to his lower skull, and was by 1961 on the road to recovery and planning the rebuild of CN7.
The rebuilt car was completed, with minor modifications, in 1962 and, by the end of the year, was shipped to Australia for a new attempt at Lake Eyre in 1963. The Lake Eyre location was chosen as it offered 450 square miles (1,170 km2) of dried salt lake, where rain had not fallen in the previous 20 years, and the surface of the 20-mile (32 km) track was as hard as concrete. As Campbell arrived in late March, with a view to a May attempt, the first light rain fell. Campbell and Bluebird were running by early May but once again more rain fell, and low-speed test runs could not progress into the higher speed ranges. By late May, the rain became torrential, and the lake was flooded. Campbell had to move the CN7 off the lake in the middle of the night to save the car from being submerged by the rising flood waters. The 1963 attempt was over. Campbell and his team returned to Lake Eyre in 1964, but the surface never returned to the promise it had held in 1962 and Campbell had to battle with CN7 to reach record speeds (over 400 mph (640 km/h)). After more light rain in June, the lake finally began to dry enough for an attempt to be made. On 17 July 1964, Campbell set a record of 403.10 mph (648.73 km/h) for a four-wheeled vehicle (Class A). Campbell was disappointed with the record as the vehicle had been designed for much higher speeds. CN7 covered the final third of the measured mile at an average of 429 mph (690 km/h), peaking as it left the measured distance at over 440 mph (710 km/h).
In 1969, after Cambell's fatal accident, his widow, Tonia Bern-Campbell negotiated a deal with Lynn Garrison, President of Craig Breedlove and Associates, that would see Craig Breedlove run Bluebird on Bonnyville's Salt Flats. This concept was cancelled when the parallel Spirit of America supersonic car project failed to find support.
Dual record holder
Campbell now reverted to Bluebird K7 for a further attempt on the water speed record. After more delays, he finally achieved his seventh WSR at Lake Dumbleyung near Perth, Western Australia, on the final day of 1964, at a speed of 276.33 mph (444.71 km/h).
He had become the first, and so far only, person to set both land and water speed records in the same year. Campbell's land record was short-lived, because rule changes meant that Craig Breedlove's Spirit of America , a pure jet car, would begin setting records later in 1964 and 1965. Campbell's 429 mph (690 km/h) speed on his final Lake Eyre run, however remained the highest speed achieved by a wheel-driven car until 2001; Bluebird CN7 is now on display at the National Motor Museum in Hampshire, England, her potential only part realised.
Final record attempt
In 1966, Campbell decided to once more try for a water speed record. This time the target was 300 mph (480 km/h). Bluebird K7 was fitted with a lighter and more powerful Bristol Orpheus engine, taken from a Folland Gnat jet aircraft, which developed 4,500 pounds-force (20,000 N) of thrust. The modified boat was taken back to Coniston in the first week of November 1966. The trials did not go well. The weather was appalling, and K7 suffered an engine failure when her air intakes collapsed and debris was drawn into the engine. Eventually, by the end of November, some high-speed runs were made, but well below Campbell's existing record. Problems with Bluebird's fuel system meant that the engine could not reach full rpm, and so would not develop maximum power. Eventually, by the end of December, the fuel starvation problem was fixed, and Campbell awaited better weather to mount an attempt.
On 4 January 1967, Campbell was killed when Bluebird K7 flipped and disintegrated at a speed in excess of 300 mph (480 km/h )
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