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Original Issue


Donald Campbell, C.B.E., the dashing Englishman who has traveled quite a bit faster on water than anyone else, made a leisurely pit stop at a New York hotel last week en route from Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats to his home, Roundwood, in Horsehills, Surrey and said that he intended to go quite a bit faster, on land as well as water, before he packed it up.

"I'm getting a bit too old for the game, old boy," said Campbell, who is 37. "Not getting frightened, you know, but older. As you get older, the fear that you require gets greater; the fear that stops you from doing something rash. Of course, you're not at all frightened once you're under way; your mind's much too concentrated on handling the animals."

Campbell's animals are a boat and a car, both called Bluebird, as were the boats and cars of his celebrated father, Sir Malcolm, who was greatly affected by Count Maeterlinck's play. Bluebird the boat is the same animal in which Campbell, a Teddy bear in the cockpit with him, set his water speed record of 248.62 mph on Lake Coniston in Lancashire last November; Bluebird the car, which prompted his trip to Utah, will not be completed until February or March of next year, but a [1/16]th model, painted a disarming blue, travels with Campbell.

First on Campbell's schedule, however, is an attempt to exceed 250 mph on water. "No one else has crossed 200 and lived, God bless them," said Campbell. "We're going to try in May what eluded us last year, because the incidence of the prevailing winds on Coniston is lower then. Oh, the misery of the winds! There's none of the color of the race or the prizefight when you're running in the cold of the north of England, frozen to the marrow, fighting your way through darkness, through scientific darkness.

"This boat," said Campbell, indicating a photograph in his album, "was designed for 250 but has proved faster. But at those high-speed ranges so much is unknown and the primary consideration is safety. No goal is worth achieving on the edge of a knife; you have accomplished nothing and proved even less. At those high speeds you approach the point where the animal has control of you rather than you of it. Stability. Stability, old boy, is a closed book to mankind and only now are we slowly, laboriously turning the pages.

"Not a very pretty thing when she's static, is she?" asked Campbell and turned the page. "Look at her under way, though. I always say, if it doesn't look good, tear it up. Anything that doesn't look good, isn't.

"But this year is only a stepping-stone for next. I hope in 1960 to break two records in one year—it's never been done before, old boy—300 on water, which I rather doubt I'll get, and 400 on land [the present land record is 394.2 mph, set by the late John Cobb at Bonneville in 1947]. Then I can retire. I've got my sweet wife, you know." Sweet wife (No. 3 for Campbell) is Tonia Bern, a café singer, whom Campbell (No. 2 for Tonia), with his customary speed, proposed to 18 days after he met her at a cocktail party.

Campbell is much more confident of breaking 400 in his first try at cars, and regaining a record once held by his father. In fact, he has already set a date for his first record run at Bonneville: Sept. 4, 1960. The animal which he hopes will do it is 30 feet long, eight feet wide, 4 feet 9 inches high and weighs four tons. It has a wheelbase of 13 feet 6 inches; a track of 5 feet 6 inches; is powered by a Bristol Proteus 705 turbojet engine which develops 4,100 bhp (brake, or actual, horsepower); has four-wheel drive and fully independent suspension; enormous 4 x 52 x 8.25 tires; disc, air and parachute brakes which dissipate 75 million foot-pounds of energy; is covered with an aluminum skin; and has a potential speed of more than 500 mph.

"This is a $3 million project," said Campbell; "$300,000 has been spent on developing the tires alone. To think it all started years ago as a lighthearted sporting endeavor. It's far from being that now; it's scientific. Engineering's the fascination, old boy; pitting your wits, yourself, against the unknown to succeed, or to fail. It's either richly rewarding or bitterly depressing. But when it's rewarding and it's over, you get a hell of a kick, an association of factors which make a most wonderful pie.

"But what is the animated spirit that drives man on? If we only knew that. There is, you know, no limit to anything but the lack of man's knowledge. The most inspiring thing is the sight of a Boeing 707 going over New York. Don't tell me you haven't seen it—it looks like it's standing still."