On This Day: Donald Campbell becomes first man to break land and water speed records in a single year

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On This Day: Donald Campbell becomes first man to break land and water speed records in a single year
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DECEMBER 30, 1964: Donald Campbell became the first and only man to break the world land and water speed records in the same year on this day in 1964.

The Briton, whose father Malcolm set numerous records himself, achieved the feat by averaged 276.33mph in his boat Bluebird on Lake Dumbleyung in Perth, Australia.

Mr Campbell broke the land speed record in July on Lake Eyre salt flat in central Australia after averaging 403.1mph in a car that was also called Bluebird.

A British Pathé newsreel shows him hitting a speed on the ground that remains the fastest a wheel-driven car – as opposed to a jet-propelled one - has ever gone.

It filmed him receiving his teddy bear mascot from Tonia Bern-Campbell, his third and final wife, before setting off in the gas turbine-engined vehicle.

He set the record but was disappointed because he knew the Bluebird-Proteus CN7could go faster – having hit 440mph at one point on the 20-mile run.

But he was hampered after flooding left the ground damp and slowed him down considerably on other parts of the stretch.

And indeed, Campbell’s land speed feat was short lived.

In October, American Art Arfons drove his Green Monster jet car across Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah at an average speed of 536.71mph.


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So Campbell decided he would try and do the double and also break the water speed record in the same year – a feat he correctly thought would be impossible to beat.

But he was again hampered by nature.

His first choice of Lake Bonney in South Australia, proved too unpredictable and Lake Dumbleyung was initially full of moulting ducks and then hit by high winds.

But only hours to spare before the year was over, chief mechanic, Leo Villa, who also served Campbell’s father since the 1920s, decided the time was right.

“I think it's worth a try - let's go, skipper!” the 64-year-old blasted over the radio as the winds suddenly died down.

Campbell went for it – and smashed the record – beating his previous record of 260.35mph by 16mph.


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When Mrs Bern-Campbell heard that her husband had done it, she dived into the lake and swam out to embrace him as he brought Bluebird in.

As he stepped ashore, Mr Campbell told reporters: “It's amazing that we clinched it. I never thought we had the chance of a snowball on the desert of cracking it today.”

Tragically, he died just over two years later when – at age 45 – he crashed his boat Bluebird K7 at 310mph in the Lake District after trying to break his earlier record.

His body was not recovered from Coniston Water until 2001.

He remains the last Briton to hold the water speed record after it passed to Australian Ken Warby in 1978 when he average 317.6mph.

Donald Campbell’s death brought to an end the dynasty of a father-son daredevil duo.

Sir Malcolm, who set 13 records in total in cars and boats called Blue Bird, died in 1948 from a series of strokes at age 63.

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