This week sees the anniversary of Malcolm Campbell breaking the land speed record again. It got me thinking how different the speeds he was achieving were from those of the general public.
Malcolm Campbell was born in 1885 in Kent. He first took up motorcycle racing in the 1900’s and then cars as well in the 1910’s. It was with the cars that he started to call them Blue Bird. During WW1 he started out as a dispatch rider and was then in the Royal Flying Corp as a pilot.
It was in the 1920’s when he began taking on speed records, as well as Grand Prix racing. In 1927 and 1928 he won the French GP. Campbell first broke the land speed record in 1924 on Pendine Sands in Carmarthenshire, Wales when he achieved 146 mph in a V12 Sunbeam beating Ernest Eldridge’s record of 145mph. He then broke this record again in 1927 at 174 mph in the Napier Campbell Blue Bird also at Pendine Sands beating Parry Thomas’ 170mph record set on the beach. For his next 2 records he took to the USA. In 1931 on Dayton Beach he achieved 244mph beating Henry Segrave who achieved 231mph. The result of this record earned Campbell a Knighthood from the King. He continued getting faster and faster but when he moved the attempts to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah and with his car Blue Bird he achieved 301mph beating his own record he set on Dayton beach of 276mph.
Campbell then moved to the water and took on the water speed record which he achieved in 1939 on Conniston Water in the lake district of England when he achieved 141mph in Blue Bird K4 beating his own record of 126mph he achieved in Blue Bird K3.
Sir Malcolm Campbell died in 1948. Unlike most of his fellow speed men he died as a result of a stroke and not behind the wheel of a vehicle.
So how did these speeds compare with what regular drivers were achieving? Well despite what you might think drivers never had to have someone walking along with a flag in front of them and it was the technology of the day that limited the speed, to an extent.
In the UK until 1931 the speed limit was 20mph, so when Campbell broke his first record at 146mph he was 126 mph faster than he could drive on the roads. Admittedly when he broke the records between 1931 and 1935 there was actually no speed limit in the UK. You really could go as fast as you wanted. Let’s put that into perspective. In the 1920’s the fastest production car in the world was the American Dusenberg Model J which could achieve 119mph. The UK Government decided this was daft as people were speeding along and unfortunately hitting people. So in 1935 they introduced a speed limit of 30mph in built up areas but else where you could still go as fast as you wanted. Thus on the early motorways car companies used them as test tracks late at night. It wasn’t until 1965 that the 70mph limit was introduced. But if you think about it the last speed record set by a car with an internal combustion engine was in 1947 at 394mph. That’s 324mph higher then we can do now.
Can you imagine the speed in the 1920’s at 20mph. Your ancestors would have been astounded if they could go in a car, as unless they had gone on a train or had a really fast horse they wouldn’t have known such speed. These days 70mph is the norm on motorways and 125mph on the trains. Planes are a little faster at around 500mph so when you jet off abroad you are faster than the land speed record of an internal combustion engine but not as fast as Wing Commander Andy Green who hold the record in a jet powered car of 760mph.
Me, the fastest I’ve gone is 125mph on a train, although I swear when I fell down the stairs as a kid I was going much faster! I have driven along Pendine Sands in a car and a mobility scooter but I didn’t achieve Malcolm Campbell’s speeds. That was back when you could still take your car on the beach and drive along.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my Family History Ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!