9 times in 11 years he broke the Record
SHORTLY AFTER DAWN on the morning of September 3, 1935, when Sir Malcolm Campbell accelerated away in his car Bluebird to assault the Land Speed Record, he could look back on a career of record-breaking that has never been equaled. In a little less than an hour he would complete two runs across the dramatically featureless Bonneville Salt Flats at an average of more than 300 mph, the first person to achieve this velocity on land, and it would mark the ninth time he had broken the LSR. A remarkable man. And all the more remarkable because he had a son who carried on the tradition.
The car Campbell drove that morning was more notable for its brute effectiveness than its finesse. With a wheelbase of 164 in. and more than 28 ft long, it weighed more than 11.000 lb. It was powered by a 36.5-liter supercharged V -12 Rolls-Royce aircraft engine producing 2300 bhp and driving through a giant 3-speed transmission. The final drive was taken through two sets of bevel gears without differentials, and to minimize wheelspin the rear of the car was weighted with lead.
The cockpit of Bluebird was open, reminiscent of the racing aircraft of the day, with the driver offset to the right ahead of a tall tailfin. The bodywork was full-width but the wheels were left exposed; there were duals at the rear and the air intake at the front was designed to be closed off through the measured mile to improve the streamlining.
The car was originally built in 1926 but had been extensively. modified on several occasions. Its 1935 configuration was the design of Reid Railton and was built in England by Thompson and Taylor.
Malcolm Campbell was born in 1885, the son of a wealthy British diamond merchant. As a young man he raced bicycles, then motorcycles, built two airplanes (one of which actually flew a short distance before crashing) and was racing cars from the age of 23. By all accounts he was a difficult, autocratic person little loved for his personality but commanding respect for his accomplishments and his willingness to spend vast sums in his continuing obession with the LSR.
His first record car was a 350-bhp V -12 Sunbeam originally built for Kenelm Lee Guinness. In September 1924 Campbell captured the Land Speed Record for the first time, setting a mark of 146.16 mph at Pendine Sands in South Wales.
When the car next appeared, July 1925, the body had been modified for better streamlining and it had also been painted a light blue and named Bluebird, as had most of Campbell's cars since 1912 when he saw the Maeterlinck play in London. On this occasion he was timed at more than 150 mph, the first person to reach this speed in a land vehicle.
From that time on, Campbell seemed to regard the LSR as his own private property, unable to rest until he got it back whenever it was temporarily usurped and breaking his ~own record when there were no other challengers. In 1931, after breaking the record for the fifth time by going 246.09 mph, he was knighted by King George in recognition of his accomplishments.
After having great difficulty raising the record to 276.82 mph on the never-quite-smooth-enough sands at Daytona Beach, Florida, in March 1935, Campbell visited the vast white salt flats near Bonneville, Utah. His examination convinced him that this was the place where he could go 300 mph.
Thus it was that Campbell accelerated away that morning in September, shifted into 2nd at 100 mph, into 3rd at 200, concentrating hard on the black stripe that marked the center of the 12-mile-Iong track he was using.
Everything went well until, approaching' the measured mile, Campbell closed the nose slot for maximum speed. Immediately, the cockpit filled with fumes and oil covered the windscreen. This caused him to lose concentration momentarily and the car wavered from the track. He caught it, regained the black stripe, then a front tire exploded. .
He fought the car to a stop with the front tire burning from the heat. While the car was being prepared for the return run official records must be timed in opposite directions-within an hour of each other-he learned his speed for the mile had been 304.311 mph.
He did not close the nose slot this time and the car was slower 296.947 mph-but the average for the two runs was 301.129 and the prize was his.
Having achieved this goal he turned his attention to the Water Speed Record. With marine Bluebirds he broke the WSR three times, ultimately leaving it at 141.7 mph in 1939.
Although nearing 60 he served in the military in World War II and after the war had a jet engine mounted in his prewar boat, but this was not a happy combination. Plans for a new assault on the LSR were made, then abandoned and he died in 1949 at age 64 at his home in Surrey, England.
After his death his son Donald continued the tradition. In 1964, driving another Bluebird, this one powered by a Proteus jet but driven through the wheels rather than by jet thrust as in the coaster cars of Craig Breedlove and others, he set an LSR for this type of vehicle at more than 400 mph. Donald also pursued the Water Speed Record and in 1967 died when his jet-powered Bluebird crashed after going more than 300 mph at Coniston Water in England.
Tragically, thus ended the dynasty of speed started by his father 40 years earlier.
. 1924 Sunbeam Bluebird 146 mph