Memories of a record-breaking summer

A photo of the Bluebird car which broke the World Land Speed at Bonneville, USA, on the 3rd of September 1935 and our superimposed replica at the museum

2023 may have broken records for the wettest summer and hottest September, but this summer we’ve been looking back at the high-speed exploits of the legendary Campbell family.

Especially to the glory days of speed record-breaking summers in the 1930s and 1940s.

It was back in August 1939 that Malcolm Campbell set his water speed record in Blue Bird K4 on Coniston Water. A replica of the stunning powerboat is part of our Campbell Bluebird Exhibition at our site in Backbarrow.

Housed in its own unique building, the Campbell Bluebird Exhibition is an extensive tribute to the racing career of both Sir Malcolm and Donald Campbell.

Our replica of the record-breaking Blue Bird K4.

The powerboat, Blue Bird K4, was commissioned in 1939 by Sir Malcolm to rival American efforts in the competition to set the world water speed record.

It was a three-point hydroplane. When it increased its speed most of the hull lifted out of the water and it planed on three contact points alone.

It was built by the Portsmouth-based shipbuilding firm Vosper and Company as a replacement for Blue Bird K3 which had earlier set three other water speed records for Sir Malcolm. It used a Rolls Royce R-Type engine.

On the 19thof August 1939, just before the outbreak of World War Two, Malcolm Campbell took to Coniston Water in Blue Bird K4 and successfully achieved a water speed record of 141.740 mph or 228.108 kmh.

After the Second World War, Sir Malcolm unsuccessfully re-engined K4 with a de Havilland Goblin turbojet but did not gain any records. The new superstructure gained the nickname “The Coniston Slipper”.

Actual image of the K4 out on the water in a record-breaking attempt

After Sir Malcolm’s death at the end of 1948, Donald Campbell again re-engined K4. But he deemed it too slow. It was eventually replaced by the jet-powered Bluebird K7 in which Donald set several records but then tragically died during a record attempt in 1967.

The museum’s exhibition also includes full sized replicas of the 1935 Blue Bird car and the 1967 jet hydroplane Bluebird K7.

1967 Hydroplane Bluebird K7 (full-size replica)

Visitors can also see Bluebird Electric 1 which broke the British speed record for an electric vehicle in 1997. The car continued the tradition of the record- breaking Campbell family as it was developed and driven by Don Wales who is the grandson of Sir Malcolm Campbell. It first broke the record in May 1997 at a speed of 116 mph.

After further improvements the record was raised to 137 mph in August 2000, reaching a maximum speed of 160 mph – a record which stood for 12 years.

Chris Lowe, Manager of the museum, says: “The Campbell exhibition is steeped in history and it’s a great reminder of the record-breaking legacy of Malcolm and Donald Campbell. When you see the vehicles, you can’t help but marvel at the legendary feats of speed they have taken part in. They really are part of a proud British history.”

1935 Bluebird Car (full-size replica)

👁️: Our Campbell Bluebird Exhibition is included in your entrance ticket and gets you up close to all the vehicles mentioned in this article and more.

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