Royal Flying Corps veteran, race car driver and land speed record setter Sir Malcolm Campbell was born on this day in 1885. Prior to the breakout of WWI, Campbell began racing cars and motorcycles in England. When drafted into service in 1914, he began his military career as a motorcycle dispatch. By war’s end he’d find himself as a pilot, a job that only increased his love of speed.
Though he would remain an active military member until age 60, he made plenty of time for his speed obsessions. He broke the land speed record for the first time in 1924, when he reached 146.16 mph in a V12 Sunbeam. He’d fight to maintain his position as fastest man on the ground up through his final record setting run in 1935. In that final attempt, at Bonneville Salt Flats, he averaged 301.337 mph. This made him the first person to ever travel 300 mph or more on the ground.
With that box checked, he focused on maintaining the water speed record, which he set for times. His fastest record run in the waves came in 1939 when he hit 141.74 mph in Blue Bird K4.
Between 1940 and 1942 he commanded the military police contingent of the Coats Mission. This outfit held the task of evacuating King George VI and Queen Elizabeth from London should a German invasion occur. By the end of 1945, having hit the age limit of 60, Campbell relinquished his commission. At that time he was granted the honorary rank of major.
He passed away three years later at the age of 63 due to a series of strokes. In the era, it’s noticeably rare for such a daredevil to die in a manner unrelated to speed. His son Donald Campbell, who would later become the only person to set a land speed and water speed record in the same year, wasn’t so lucky.