What is the acceptable cost of success? To what lengths would you go to fulfil a dream? What if that dream, in the pursuit, involved untold complexities, hurdles, barriers, disasters, pain, suffering and financial ruin? The Campbell family name is synonymous with World Speed Record Breaking, and despite all the aforementioned complexities, Donald and Sir Malcolm endured to leave a legacy of great British endeavour.
We're thrilled to be collaborating with the Campbell Family Heritage Trust to celebrate Donald and Sir Malcolm's land speed record achievements, and legacies, in a series of new watches.
The first watches to be produced as part of this new collaboration are to be launched on what would have been Donald's 100th birthday, 23rd March 2021, and will celebrate both his and his father's achievements of breaking the world land speed record. Later this year we'll also be releasing a very special and limited Centenary Edition watch, of only 100 pieces.
Sir Malcolm Campbell
Sir Malcolm was so deep into his speed chasing that it raises the question of whether he had the objectivity to see that the speeds he was now hitting were borderline unthinkable for a land-based machine; aeroplanes leave the ground at slower speeds, and with one little mistake there could be no recovery should he lose control - something his contemporaries were falling foul of left, right and centre. To compound this even more, safety wasn’t a concern - there were no roll cages, 5-point harnesses, helmets and HANS devices here. Sir Malcolm wore a leather cap and goggles, and strapped himself into the leather club-chair with a lap-belt only.
A new goal was looming on the horizon, pushing him onwards; an unfathomable speed that, should he find it, would surely remain unsurpassed forever more. Sir Malcolm went back to the drawing board - using the same Blue Bird chassis as his Campbell-Napier-Railton Blue Bird, drastically re-designing the aero package, as well as increasing the power from 1,400hp to 2,300hp with a new Rolls Royce R V12 supercharged engine. It was so immensely powerful that traction was now an issue; wheels spinning on the surface decreased the ultimate top speed. But with a few tweaks - double wheels on the rear axle - the now famous blue bullet-shaped car, the Campbell-Railton Blue Bird, immortalised in paintings and on display in a museum, would surge over the salty Utah desert to a new world record speed of 301.128mph.
The simple dream of going fast had taken Sir Malcolm around the world and back. Over the course of a decade he had taken that dream to a blistering climax in the searing heat of the Bonneville Salt Flats, but that dream had come true; he had done it. Sir Malcolm had secured his place, not just in the World Speed Records, but in popular culture too - he was world famous. Car brands and auto parts companies clamoured for his endorsements, ladies flocked to his side and men wanted to be him. But the most significant moment in all of the events that transpired on that 3rd day of September 1935, belonged to a small spectator. Donald Campbell, Sir Malcolm’s only son, had travelled to Utah with him to witness this new World Record attempt. Seeing his Dad wrestle that magnificence of cutting edge engineering to such ludicrously fast speeds was something that would set off a whole new chapter of speed records in the decades to follow. Speed, unlike so many of his contemporaries, did not cost Sir Malcolm his life. Instead his legacy, his tenacity and drive to achieve higher and higher speeds, would influence his son so completely, that it would be Donald who would pay the ultimate price in chasing speed.
For Donald, the thrill and joy of breaking new records and becoming, in his own eyes at least, comparable to his inimitable father Sir Malcolm, had given way, through a series of astounding poor luck, injury and financial burden, to be replaced by a gritted teeth desperation; to get the land speed record broken at any cost.
Donald Campbell had been obsessed with speed all his life. At the time of his land speed record attempt on the salt flat of Lake Eyre in Australia, he was already a success, holding the most water speed records of anyone at that time. Water speed was his. Yet he aspired, or perhaps more accurately, longed to be regarded amongst the upper echelons of record breakers, as his father and his father’s contemporaries were, when it came to land speed records. Going fast on water is technically complex, and perhaps a little harder for the layman to appreciate. Land speed however, is pretty easy for most to imagine and holds a certain mystique.
He would go on to smash through the 400mph barrier and, with the record averaged over two runs, became a true speed pioneer - he had finally made it to the lofty heights his father had, and he could put to rest this excruciating chapter of his life. It was at the party afterwards that he spoke with his engineer Leo Villa about his next venture. He was determined to capitalise on his Lake Eyre success with securing the double - breaking both land and water records in the same year. He did just that; on the very last day of 1964 on Lake Dumbleyung, became the first person to be both the fastest on land and water. But within 3 years of his Lake Eyre and Dumbleyung double success, he would be dead; his Bluebird K7 jet hydroplane, skimming over Coniston Water in January 1967, became airborne at over 300mph and speared into the water, ripping itself to pieces. Donald’s body and the K7 wouldn’t be recovered from Coniston Water for another 34 years, but the question of what Donald would accept as the cost of success was finally answered.
He was survived by his wife, Tonia, and daughter, Gina, who to this day celebrates her father’s achievements. Many people continue to celebrate Donald and his legacy, but we must thank Gina, for keeping his legacy intact, and allowing us the honour of celebrating this true titan of speed.