Humans have always been fascinated with going faster. In fact, we seem to associate speed with the advancement of mankind; the fastest vehicle on earth acting as a benchmark to where we’re collectively at. Among the most famous speed vehicles of them all were the Bluebirds.
From 1914 to 1964 the land speed record was dominated by the British. In that time, there were twenty-five records set, of which only two were set by teams outside of the UK. This impressive period of British domination was led by Malcolm Campbell. Campbell was the undisputed king of speed. He broke the record nine times over eleven years, taking the top speed from 146mph to 301mph. The vehicles that he used to make these records were all called ‘Bluebird’.
The name for Campbell’s cars was inspired by a play of the same name by Maurice Maeterlinck. Immediately after seeing the play, Campbell famously woke a paint shop owner in the night so he could purchase azure blue paint before racing at Brooklands the following day. Campbell named three cars this way that all broke the land speed record, increasing the top speed by over 200mph from the first version to the last. However, there would be another record-breaking Bluebird not driven by Malcolm Campbell.
In 1964, Malcolm Campbell’s son Donald followed in his footsteps by setting his own land speed record. Driving in his own vehicle named the Bluebird CN7, Campbell hit a record speed of 403.10mph which was to be the last land speed record set in a wheel-driven vehicle. Astonishingly, in the same year, Campbell also set the water speed record in the Bluebird K7. To this day he remains the only person to ever achieve this feat.
Following on from the Campbells’ reign as the fastest men on earth, the Americans took centre stage in the era of the turbojet engine. This new technology revolutionised the field and enabled previously unimaginable speeds to be reached. For almost a decade the Americans held every land speed record that was set, eventually reaching speeds of over 600mph.
For over a decade, no attempt got close to beating the record set by the Americans. Then the British teams made a comeback. Originally, a small overtake in the record was made by Andy Noble in 1983 – increasing the top speed by almost 3mph. However, Noble continued to direct land speed projects and returned fourteen years later with a new vehicle and a new driver, called Andy Green. In the space of a month, Green became the first person to register a speed over 700mph and the only person to drive a vehicle that broke the speed of sound, peaking at a top speed of 763.035mph. This record stands today, but with two projects currently working on breaking it, it might not stay that way for very long.