Don and me: Kent man's story of the Bluebird

Donald Campbell
Donald Campbell

By Trevor Sturgess

The Kent engineer who worked with the legendary Donald Campbell on the Bluebird project has written his story of individual courage and record-breaking British engineering.

Donald Stevens, 75, from Sissinghurst, worked with the sporting hero who became the only man to smash land and water speed records in the same year. Both car and boat were called Bluebird.

Mr Stevens has a picture of the car with the inscription: "To Donald Stevens in appreciation of his help in this venture. Signed Donald Campbell, 1959."

The two men were often together professionally and socially, with worldly-wise Campbell taking the innocent young engineer to London nightclubs.

Mr Stevens remembers calling at Campbell's home near Gatwick and being driven around the country in his Bentley Continental.

"He lived the high life like heck," he recalls.

But the man brought up in a Cockney family of 15 says Campbell was an imperious figure.

"He always called me Stevens, never Donald."

In 1964, Campbell broke the land-speed record with a 440mph run and that same year smashed the water-speed record with 276.33 mph, both in Australia.

Campbell was killed a few years later - on January 4, 1967 - attempting a new world record on Coniston Water.

Mr Stevens blames Campbell for causing his own downfall by making a second run before the wash of the previous one had calmed down.

For the past few years, Mr Stevens has been writing a book about the experience and Bluebird CN7 - The Inside Story comes out this month.

He said: "The intention behind this book is to right a great omission in the history of land-speed record breaking, and to pay respect to the dedication of two men in particular, Ken and Lew Morris, whose contribution to the image of British engineering has never been officially recognised."

In his foreword, Wing Commander Andy Green writes: "The CN7 was quite literally 50 years ahead of its time.

"It is perhaps ironic that the Norris brothers looked ahead to a supersonic rocket car, the CN8.

"Fifty years later, we are building such a car, the Bloodhound SSC, with the aim of inspiring a new generation of engineers and scientists in Britain to follow in the footsteps of Donald Stevens and the Norris brothers."

Bluebird CN7 - The Inside Story, is published by Veloce. Mr Stevens will be signing copies, including a 30-minute DVD, at The Bell, Benenden, on Saturday May 29 from 11am - 4pm.

Signed copies are also available from Donald Stevens, Brindles, Golford, Cranbrook, TN17 3PA. Price £29, plus £5 p&p.

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