Birdman: A Spotlight on Sir Malcolm Campbell

To the land speed record community, Bonneville is the mecca of speed. Its big, its flat and its the proving ground for those wanting to push the limits. Land speed records have been set (officially) since 1898. Even though Bonneville is often the first destination associated with land speed records today, it wasn’t until 1935 that the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile recognized the first record at Bonneville. It was set by a man who was no stranger to speed. By the time he made an attempt at Bonneville, he was already recognized as breaking the land speed record eight times in the United Kingdom, at Daytona Beach Florida and even in South Africa. The driver was Sir Malcolm Campbell. Born in 1885, he started as a motorbike racer in his native country of England. He broke the land speed record in 1924 going 146.16 mph in a car called the Sunbeam 330HP. He would set another record with that car a year later then moved onto the car that eventually broke an astounding seven records. He named the 27ft long car the Blue Bird after an English play. The fastest time he recorded with that vehicle was 301.129 mph in 1935. In the midst of his land speed records, Campbell casually tried his hand at Grand Prix racing. He won the Grand Prix de Boulogne in France in 1927 and 1928.

Not only was Sir Malcolm Campbell known for his abilities on land, but on water as well. In a three point hydroplane also christened the Blue Bird, Malcolm Campbell set four water speed records. The fastest being 141.7 mph in 1939.

After breaking the land speed record in 1931, he was knighted by King George V. Of all his amazing feats, the most impressive is the fact that Sir Malcolm Campbell lived to the age of 63 and died of natural causes. This particular breed was fearless and most didn’t live past their daring years.

We at the World of Speed have a collection of Sir Malcolm Campbell/Blue Bird memorabilia on display. A personal favorite piece is a simple picture of Sir Malcolm Campbell photographed after setting one of his water speed records. It is an image of a man that felt pure joy from pushing the limits and stretching his wings.