Donald Campbell

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Donald Campbell : biography

21 March 1921 – 04 January 1961

In the village of Coniston, the Ruskin Museum has a display of Donald Campbell memorabilia, and the Bristol Orpheus engine recovered in 2001 is also displayed. The engine’s casing is mostly missing, having acted as a sacrificial anode in its time underwater but the internals are remarkably preserved. Donald Campbell’s helmet from the ill fated run is also on display. On Thursday 7 December 2006, Gina Campbell, Donald’s daughter, formally gifted Bluebird K7 to the Ruskin Museum in Coniston on behalf of the Campbell Family Heritage Trust. In agreement with the Campbell Family Heritage Trust and the museum, Bill Smith is to organize the restoration of the boat, which is now under way. Now the property of the Ruskin Museum, the intention is to rebuild K7 back to running order circa January 4, 1967. Bill Smith has said that this will take an undisclosed number of years to accomplish. Gina Campbell commented: "I’ve decided to secure the future of Bluebird for the people of Coniston, the Ruskin Museum and the people of the world". Museum Director Vicky Slowe spoke of Gina’s generosity and then said: "Bill Smith has assured us he can get Bluebird fully conserved and reconfigured at no cost to the museum.As of 2008, K7 is being fully restored by The Bluebird Project, to a very high standard of working condition in North Shields, Tyne and Wear, using a significant proportion of her original fabric, but with a new BS Orpheus engine of the same type albeit incorporating many original components.

As of May 2009 permission has been given for a one off set of proving trials of Bluebird on Coniston Water, where she will be tested to a safe speed for demonstration purposes only. There is no fixed date for completion of Bluebird K7 or the trials. K7 will be housed in her own purpose built wing at the Ruskin Museum in Coniston, while remaining in the care of The Bluebird Project.

Land Speed Record Attempt

It was after the Lake Mead WSR success in 1955 that the seeds of Donald’s ambition to hold the Land Speed Record as well were planted. The following year, the serious planning was underway – to build a car to break the land speed record, which then stood at and had been set by John Cobb in 1947. The Norris brothers designed Bluebird-Proteus CN7 with in mind. The brothers were even more enthusiastic about the car than the boat and like all of his projects, Donald wanted Bluebird CN7, to be the best of its type, a showcase of British engineering skill. The British motor industry in the guise of Dunlop, BP, Smiths Industries and Lucas, as well as many others, became heavily involved in the project to build the most advanced car the world had yet seen. CN7 was powered by a specially modified Bristol-Siddeley Proteus free-turbine engine of . driving all four wheels. Bluebird CN7 was designed to achieve 475–500 mph and was completed by the spring of 1960.

Following low-speed tests conducted at the Goodwood motor racing circuit in Sussex, in July, the CN7 was taken to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, USA, scene of his father’s last LSR triumph, some 25 years earlier in September 1935. The trials initially went well, and various adjustments were made to the car. On the sixth run in CN7, Campbell lost control at over 360 mph and crashed. It was the car’s enormous structural integrity that saved his life. He was hospitalised with a fractured skull and a burst eardrum, as well as minor cuts and bruises.CN7 was a write off. Almost immediately, Campbell announced he was determined to have another go. Sir Alfred Owen, whose Rubery Owen industrial group had built CN7, offered to rebuild it for him. That single decision was to have a profound influence on the rest of Donald Campbell’s life. His original plan had been to break the LSR at over 400 mph in 1960, return to Bonneville the following year to really bump up the speed to something near to 500 mph, get his seventh WSR with K7 and then retire, as undisputed champion of speed and perhaps just as important, secure in the knowledge that he was worthy of his father’s legacy.