Sept. 3, 1935: Campbell breaks 300 mph speed barrier

Christy Karras

Sir Malcolm Campbell was no newbie when it came to achieving land-speed milestones: The record he broke by going 301 mph in 1935 was his own — a mere 276 mph.

The site of this speed test, and many others: the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah’s western desert, about an hour and a half (at today’s highway speeds) from Salt Lake City. His vehicle: a 2,500-hp car called Bluebird (shown in the photo above), built specifically for Campbell.

Sir Malcolm, an Englishman, was a World War I pilot before hitting the race-car circuit during the 1920s and ‘30s. His first speed records came in the UK, and he achieved subsequent ones at Daytona Beach, Fla. But in those days, Bonneville’s ancient lake bed — with a broad, hard surface that stretched for miles — was the fastest place on earth.

Satisfied with breaking the 300 mph barrier, Campbell retired from car racing after his feat on the salt flats. But never one to rest completely, he set his sights on a new goal: breaking water-speed records, which he successfully did until his death from a stroke in 1948.