“If I have to go, old boy, I hope I’m going ruddy fast at the time.” So said Donald Campbell on New Year’s Eve 1966, as he hosted a party in Coniston, the town closest to the lake that was home to many of his water-speed records. Days later, the Speed King’s unintended wish would so infamously come true.
On 4 January 1967, just before 9am, Bluebird K7 left the surface of Lake Coniston shortly after hitting an estimated 328mph. It sank within seconds, Campbell dying in his attempt to take the water-speed record above 300mph. Desperate for success, he’d wanted to make headlines at the London Boat Show which opened hours later. He did, but they were of a far more sombre nature.
“That amazing accident and the visuality and finality of it, and his talking the whole way through as this thing was cartwheeling to its death, I think really stuck in people’s minds,” says his daughter, Gina Campbell. “Things like that weren’t caught on camera in 1967. I think it’s immortalised him in record-breaking.”
This feature was originally published in issue 291 of Top Gear magazine
Photos: Mark Riccioni