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Setting land speed records in a car is one of the most insane things a person can do. Attempting such a thing in 1935 is nothing short of heroically mad. However, in 1935 a fellow named Sir Malcolm Campbell blasted down the Bonneville Salt Flats at 300 mph in his mighty Bluebird. The Bluebird had nearly the same power-to-weight ratio as a Bugatti Veyron. Chew on that for a minute. 

A black and white picture of the Blue Bird, the first car to ever go 300 mph.
The Blue Bird | Land Speed Record Org

What is the Blue Bird? 

Simply put, the Blue Bird (or Bluebird, depending on who you ask) was a nightmare machine that drank dragon fire and dressed in opulent art deco swoops, punctuated by a cartoonishly huge fin, like something that might belong to a prehistoric predatory fish. The Blue Bird V was the car that hit the highest speed but had multiple iterations over the years. 

Aside from its wild looks, the guts were equally untamed. According to the Land Speed Record Org, the Blue Bird V drew its power from a 36.7-liter supercharged Rolls-Royce R V12. Campbell managed to wring 2,300 hp, of which every horse was desperately needed to make the 300-mph mark. 

In order to fit the engine, aero, cockpit, and whatever else Campbell needed to hit his mark, the 6-wheel Blue Bird was over 27 feet long. The car cost £9,000 to build in its first version, which in today’s bread equals roughly £818,915.96. By the time he hit the record-setting 301 mph run, he had put another £16,000. You do the math. 

Who was the first person to go 300 mph?

Sir (yeah, he was also a knight) Campbell’s Bluebird became the first car to crest 300 mph in 1935, breaking his record for the ninth time. According to Wired, Campbell set his first record 11 years before the 330-mph run. This first record was set in Pendine Sands in Wales, where he peaked at 146.6 mph. Next, he went to work again, breaking the 200 mph barrier in 1928, 250 mph in 1932, and 275 mph on March 7, 1935, only six months before his big boy run in Bonneville Salt Flats, hitting 300 mph. 

After setting his final record (301.129 mph), Campbell retired from the white-knuckle quest of setting land speed records. 

Even though he retired from setting land records, he took to the water and burned up multiple records there, too; four of them, all told. 

His son Donald Campbell followed in his daddy’s footsteps by being the first to crack 400 mph. Donald, unfortunately, died in 1967 in a crash. 

Bugatti shmoogatti

The Bugatti Veyron is a legend. It was the fastest car in the world at one point. But with only 1,500 hp, the Blue Bird’s 2,300 hp nearly 70 years earlier seems pretty dang serious. Even though the Blue Bird weight 4.75 tons, it had so much power that it didn’t really matter. In fact, the numbers get even more impressive if you look at the Veyron. For instance, the Bugatti Veyron weighs just a hair over 4,000 lbs making 1,500 hp. The Blue Bird clocks in over double the weight but has nearly 1,000 more horsepower. The Bugatti’s power-to-weight ratio is better, but not by that much. Pretty impressive for a car nearly 100 years old today.