Bluebird and the Campbells (Part 1)

Malcolm Campbell was already starting to make a name for himself in competition, by winning three consecutive London to Land’s End motorcycle trials between 1906 and 1908, before he began racing cars at Brooklands in 1910.
Malcolm Campbell
Inspired by the play “L’Oiseau bleu” at the Haymarket Theatre in which two children seek the “blue bird of happiness”, Campbell stopped at the local ironmonger’s on the way home from the theatre. He woke up the shop-keeper and bought all the blue paint in the store, then stayed up until the small hours painting his Darracq racing car before driving “Blue Bird” - still drying - down to Brooklands circuit for a race.

After the Great War, Campbell married for a second time and had a son, Donald, a year later followed by a daughter, Jean, two years after that. By 1923 he had bought an aero-engined Sunbeam 350HP - that he also painted blue and named “Blue Bird” - in which he made a number of attempts at land speed records.

Having posted what would have been world record times of 137.72 mph and 138.08 mph in the summers of 1923 and 1924 - with neither being officially recognised due to the type of timing equipment used - Campbell then took his Sunbeam to Pendine Sands in South Wales. There, on 25 September 1924, he set his first officially sanctioned world record of 146.16 mph.
Sunbeam 350HP Pendine 1922
A year later he set his second record of 150.87 mph becoming the first person to drive at over 150 mph. His third world speed record set at Pendine was in a purpose built Napier-Campbell, powered by the Napier Lion 502HP aero engine, achieving a speed of 174.88 mph averaged across the required two runs.
Blue Bird 1927
Between 1928 and 1935, Campbell set five further world land speed records at Daytona Beach in the USA in ever more powerful cars fitted with Napier and then Rolls-Royce supercharged aero engines.

By now dubbed Sir Malcolm Campbell, in his last attempt in September 1935, he became the first person to exceed 300 mph with a record speed of 301.129 mph in his Campbell-Railton Blue Bird at Bonneville Salt Flats.
300mph Blue Bird
For most people, nine world speed records would be enough but Sir Malcolm had other ideas. He commissioned a hydroplane powerboat to be built that would take the Rolls-Royce engine from his 300 mph Blue Bird car and set about the world water speed record.

In the Blue Bird K3 boat in September 1937, Sir Malcolm broke the water speed record on Lake Maggiore with a speed of 126.33 mph and then 129.56 mph the following day.
Blue Bird K3

He set another world record of 130.93 mph a year later on Lake Hallwyl but he wasn’t satisfied with such a small increase and so decided that a new boat was required. Blue Bird K4 had the same power plant but crucially the hull design was a three point hydroplane which, when up to speed, planed on two outboard keels at the front and one central keel at the rear.

As well as the advantage of increased stability, the area of the hull in contact with the water was much smaller than with the mono-hull of the K3 and so the drag was massively reduced. On 19 August 1939 on Coniston Water in the English Lake District, Sir Malcolm set what was to be his last world speed record of 141.74 mph.

Read more about Bluebird and the Campbells in Part 2

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