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After his fathers death in 1948 Donald purchased his K4 for a nominal fee, due to a clause in his will. The boat was set up in a jet configuration, after Sir Malcolm had it converted from its original propeller configuration in an unsuccessful attempt on the waterspeed record at Coniston in 1947. Donald wanted to run the boat in this jet configuration, but due to his inexperience and his experienced fathers struggles with it, Major Halford of deHavilland was reluctant to let Donald use the jet engine and asked for it back! This also came as a relief to Leo Villa for he too was more comfortable for Donald to use it in propeller form. Vospers were instructed to deconvert it back to the propeller configuration, which they did and returned it back to Donald to install the Rolls Royce engine.

With the engine installed K4 took to the water on the 10th of August for Donald to have his first taste of her. He made four runs primarily to allow him to get comfortable with the boat, he settled in nicely averaging around 80mph for the four runs. Further subsequent runs took place that week, giving Donald a few hairy moments! On the 19th Donald made an attempt on the record. It was not without drama however. On the first south run a hatch cover came away and put the boat into a slide, on the return run north oil from the gearbox spilled into the cockpit and covered the windscreen and Donald’s legs. Donald though did not let up. On returning to shore, Donald’s wife at the time, Daphne was informed by the timekeepers that Donald had broken his fathers record. Donald, though delighted called for a minutes silence in honour of his father. The jubilation though was short lived, half an hour later the timekeepers informed the team that there had been an error in their calculations and he was in fact 2mph under the record. After the run they discovered that the propshaft had been badly scored, as well as a nearly seized gearbox.

The boat was taken back to Surrey for repair. Donald then suggested that another seat be fitted for Leo Villa. This was so that Leo could look at the instruments for him and also to monitor the behaviour of the boat, while Donald concentrated on driving. The cockpit was placed on the starboard side replacing one of the fuel tanks. During some trials in 1950 the team heard that the water speed record had been broken by a large margin by Stanley Sayers in his boat Slo-Mo-Shun. It had been raised from 141.74 to 160.32mph. This caused concern, as the team were lead to believe that K4 may flip on its back if speeds exceeded 150mph! However with the installation of a newly designed propeller, they prepared to try again. The weather, not for the last time in Donalds speed breaking career caused delays until 7th August, when they managed to go out onto the water. During this trial the water intake for cooling the engine lifted above the water and thus starved the boat of the water it needed to cool the engine. The engine overheated and the cylinder heads damaged. The run though provided an important realisation. Leo had noticed what he initially thought was the bow dipping, Donald noticed this too. It then became apparent that it was in fact the stern rising. This is what caused the intake to lift clear of the water. Reid Railton then informed the team that Stanley Sayers boat used a special propeller that enabled the boat to lift out of the water and "ride" on the propeller. This was the effect that was being felt by Donald and Leo. Reid Railton watched the boat on the water and confirmed that this is what was happening to K4. The team then fitted a new scoop fitted more forward on the boat ready for further trials. The trials late in the year were successful in resolving the cooling problems, but Donald had bigger ideas.

Donald wanted to convert the boat to a full-blown prop rider. Lewis and Ken Norris undertook the design for the conversion. The engine was moved forward to alter the centre of gravity, and Donalds seat was relocated on the port side. A new propeller was also needed. During this build Donald was invited to enter the Oltranza Cup races in Italy. The race took part on Lake Garda. This was four laps over a 5-mile triangular course; with the winner winning the Grand Prix for the fastest overall speed and the Oltranza cup going to the boat that set the fastest time over two consecutive laps. The boat had a tendency to corkscrew and even the fitting of a new propeller failed to help. They eventually settled on an old propeller of Malcolm’s, the boat still corkscrewed but to a lesser extent. The race took place on the 10th of June after being delayed because of bad weather. As they were about to start the race the engine failed to start, they then decided to change the spark plugs, all 24 of them. This now left them well behind in the race with now chance of winning the Grand Prix; they could however still win the Oltranza cup. Donald gave Leo the ride of his life as he flew around the course; the boat was taking a bit of a pounding (all the instruments were shaken to bits apart from the rev counter!). Donald had lost track of how many laps they had completed and tried to get the attention of Leo to find out. He got Leos attention alright, along with some choice words of what he thought of Donald and the cup! They had won the Oltranza cup, and by a large margin. This gave Donald some true recognition for his skills as a driver.

On their return from Italy, Lewis and Ken Norris looked into the problems of the corkscrewing encountered with the boat. The came up with three propellers that they hoped would cure the problem. The took the boat out on Coniston in September 1951, but the corkscrewing still continued, they then tried putting ballast in different parts of the boat, again without success. Reid Railton the suggested they tried increasing the angle of the front plaining shoes. They took her out on the water and gave her a run. At low speed the boat tramped from side to side, but when the speed increased the tramping stopped and the boat ran smoother than ever, with no corkscrewing. Delighted Donald decided to turn around and give it a bit more, again after tramping the boat stabilised and was flying. Then all of a sudden they hit a submerged object, the boat started to slide everywhere. When it came to a standstill they noticed water coming in, the boat was sinking. The boat sank before they could get to the shore, albeit in shallow water. The boat was a write off, salvageable parts were removed, and the carcass was then burnt. Donald was left to think over his next move.

Donald Campbell
Speed 320mph
Length 11.2mtrs
Width 2.02mtrs
Weight 150 kilos