Donald Campbell

23/3/1921 - 4/1/1967

Record updated 23-Mar-20

British car and power boat driver who broke many speed records on land and water. Son of Sir Malcolm Campbell, Donald was killed when his boat Bluebird K7 flipped and disintegrated at a speed in excess of 300 mph on Coniston Water in 1967.

Donald Campbell
British car and motorboat driver who broke many speed records. Campbell was born in Horley, Surrey, as the son of Sir Malcolm Campbell. Following his father's career, he strove to set speed records on land and water. Campbell began speed record attempts using his father's old boat Bluebird K4, but after a 156 mph (250 km/h) crash destroyed the K4 in 1951 he developed a new boat. The Bluebird K7 was a jet-propelled hydroplane type with a Metropolitan-Vickers Beryl jet engine producing 4000 lbf (18 kN) of thrust. Campbell set seven world water-speed records between 1955 and 1964. The first was at Ullswater on July 23, 1955, where he set a record of 203 mph (325 km/h). The series of increases peaked in December 31, 1964 at Dumbleyung Lake, Western Australia when he reached 276.33 mph. On land, following a heavy crash at Bonneville with the Bluebird CN7 car in 1960, on July 17, 1964, at Lake Eyre, Australia he set a record of 403.10 mph for jet propelled four-wheeled vehicles (Class A). He became the first person to set both water and land records in the same year. But his land record was short-lived, because rule changes meant that Craig Breedlove's Spirit of America soon set new records. Three years later, on January 4, 1967, Campbell was killed when the re-engined Bluebird K7 flipped and disintegrated at a speed in excess of 300 mph on Coniston Water in England. The cause of the crash has been variously attributed to Campbell not waiting to refuel after doing a first run of 297 mph, and hence the boat being lighter; the waves caused by his wash; and, most likely, a cut-out of the jet engine. The wreckage of his craft and the body of Campbell were not recovered until May 28, 2001 when diver Bill Smith was inspired to look for the wreck after hearing the Marillion song "Out Of This World" (from the album Afraid of Sunlight), which was written about Campbell and the Bluebird. The body of Campbell was recovered soon after and was laid to rest in Coniston cemetery. Between them, Donald and his father had set eleven speed records on water and ten on land.