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Stockbroker who won fame as the fastest man on land

Posted in Cars, Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Sunday, 31 January 2016

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This edited article about Sir Malcom Campbell originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 759 published on 31st July 1976.

Sir Malcom Campbell, picture, image, illustration

Sir Malcom Campbell in his second Bluebird, 1933 by Graham Coton

The wind was screaming around Sir Malcolm Campbell’s ears like a demon as he shot over the Salt Lake Flats at Utah, U.S.A. on 4th September, 1935, in his record-breaking car, Bluebird.

Blessedly, the car was steady and there seemed to be no drag on the flats. Would Sir Malcolm break yet another land speed record?

This attempt was the culminating point of a career that had started when, as a 21-year-old stockbroker, Campbell had become a keen motor-cyclist and had won his first race in the same year. That had been 1906.

From then on, with the exception of service in the First World War in the Royal Flying Corps, Campbell had devoted himself to racing with such spectacular results that he had gained a knighthood in 1931 for raising the speed record to 245.7 mph. Later he had clocked 276 mph.

Now he had come to Utah to risk his life again for a new record.

Towards the end of the run, he was going at such a speed that he was forced to shoot six miles beyond the measured mile before he could halt.

A few seconds earlier one of his front tyres had burst and the car had swerved violently.

Miraculously, Campbell got it under control again and had the tyres changed for the second run.

After that, there came the anxious time of waiting while the officials made their calculations. Their decision sent cheers ringing round the world. Campbell had achieved 301.337 mph and had become the fastest man on land.

This record would have satisfied many men, but not Campbell. He turned his attention to racing boats and, by 1937, had had built a Bluebird boat. This was shipped to Lake Maggiore in Italy where Sir Malcolm set up a record speed of 129.5 mph.

In the years that followed, he worked constantly on improving Bluebird, until he was able to achieve what was then, in 1939, a phenomenal speed of 141.74 mph.

Sir Malcolm’s desire for speed remained unsatisfied. After the Second World War, he was hoping to increase his speed on water. But failing sight and poor hearing, damaged by years behind the roar of high-powered engines, prevented this.

At the end of 1948, Campbell died in his sleep. Although all his speed records have now been broken, he is still a legend – a star of yesterday whose light will never fade.

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