Best known for his achievements in record breaking, Malcolm Campbell started racing at Brooklands before the First World War driving amongst other cars, a Darracq christened Bluebird, a name that became synonymous with his own.
Malcolm was the only son of a successful Hatton Garden diamond merchant. He first became involved with racing whilst in Europe studying the diamond business as his father had done before him. Germany would be the place which would see him begin his quest for speed. At the turn of the century, he advanced from being a bicycle enthusiast to a motorcyclist enthusiast. Malcolm, how with a thirst for racing went on to win three successive gold medals in the London to Lakes End Trials between 1906 and 1908.
In 1909, he became interested in aeroplanes and in 1910 began car racing at Brooklands, initially christening his cars "The Flapper". In 1912 he adopted the name 'Blue Bird' after seeing the stage play 'The Blue Bird' by Maurice Maeterlinck. Malcolm was now married, but after only two short years he divorced. When World War I started he was drafted into the Royal Flying Corps, having had some previous flying experience. He remarried after the war and his son, Donald was born in 1921, followed by a daughter, Jean, two years later.
In 1923 after driving many different racing cars including an Austro Daimler, Star, Talbots, Italas and Chryslers, he purchased the former Land Speed Record holding 350HP V12 Sunbeam from Kennelm Lee Guinness, (of the famous brewing family and inventor of the K.L.G. spark plug) which would see him clock 146.16mph on Pendine Sands and officially take the Land Speed Record for the first time in 1924. Realising the Sunbeam's limitations, he employed the talents of Amherst Villiers to design what would become the Campbell-Napier Blue Bird which would, in 1927, allow him to take the record for a second time, clocking a speed of 174.88mph. Malcolm was not the only man in quest of records, however. Among his challengers was England's Henry Segrave. Segrave set a new record of 203.79 mph on the hard packed sand's of Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1927. The following year, 1928, Campbell fought back and recaptured the record with 206.95 mph at the beach.
Malcolm returned home a record holder again, but less than two months later, the Americans fought back and reclaimed the record for the first time since 1906. Malcolm, now with the news that the British challenge would be taken up by Segrave with Golden Arrow, set about rethinking Bluebird in an attempt to regain the Land Speed Record.
After a very expensive and less than impressive attempt at Verneuk Pan, South Africa in 1929, a new Reid Railton designed, Gurney Nutting bodied Blue Bird appeared in 1931. Fitted with a Napier Sprint Lion VII Schneider Cup aircraft engine, it would propel him to a speed of 246.09mph on 5th February 1931, earning him a new record, a Knighthood and the coveted Lord Wakefield Trophy for his achievements. In the years to come, he would also be awarded the Seagrave Trophy in 1933 and 1939.
By 1935, Malcolm had raised the mark to 276.82 at Daytona Beach, but now concerned with the soft sand and lack of tractionat the beach, wanted to find another site to reach the ultimate mark of 300 mph. He found this at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, and on 3rd September 1935, he became the first man to exceed 300 mph. Malcolm was also a shareholder and director in several businesses, including Brooklands racing circuit, where he was active in the running of the track and designed the Campbell road racing circuit within the confines of the site. This circuit was used from its opening on 1st May 1937 to the outbreak of World War II.
In 1937 having achieved his goal on land, he aspired for the same result on water, setting the Water Speed Record in the all new Blue Bird K3 Hydroplane on 1st September at 126.33 mph. The following day, dissatisfied with his first record, he raised it again to 129.56 mph. The following year, 1938, saw him go to Lake Hallwyl in Switzerland, where he raised the record to 130.93 mph.
On 19 August 1939, he set another record with a speed of 141.74 mph at Coniston Waters in the all new Blue Bird K4 Hydroplane, a record that was still his when he died on New Years Eve, 1948 in Reigate, Surrey. Sir Malcolm was buried in Chiselhurst, in the same grave as his mother and father. His son, Donald, was to follow in his footsteps, together they were to become the 'Speed Kings' of the 20th century.
The Racing Campbells