Bluebird K3 is a Rolls Royce engined hydroplane driven by Malcolm Campbell in 1938




The K3 on display in London





With near perfect weather conditions Andy Taylor, Richard Millar, Dan Foulkes Halbard, Mick Waller, Dick Heyden and Jonnie with the CMBA team, Steve Carpenter, Geoff Allchorn, David Knight, Mike Tarry, Clive Boggis and Phil Bywater, all helped to get the K3 back into the briny at Bewl Water - actually not briny at all, it's fresh water.

Also on site was the 1938 Ford Woodie which had been Sir Malcolm's support vehicle on his last record outing with K3 in 1938 at lake Halwil Switzerland. It was the first time the two had been re united since 1938. The Ford is owned by the car publication the Automobile.

Owner of the boat and pilot for the day, Karl decided to get as many runs in as he could to prove reliability and test the shear pins now fitted in the new prop shaft. After the initial engine warm and static prop shaft test they were ready to go. The team and spectators were thrilled by slow speed passes but wanted more speed, so as the reservoir was quiet Karl decided that a faster run may be possible.

About ten seconds into a higher speed pass Karl felt a vibration followed by the engine revs rising rapidly. The two pins had done their job and sheared under heavy acceleration. Despite urgent ministrations the shaft would not line up to insert fresh shear pins - so that was that for the day. No more testing.


Afterwards, Karl Faulkes-Halbard thanked Howard Mackenzie, Mike Wilcock, young Hugh for piloting the Bewl rib, and all those at Southern Water, Bewl Valley Sailing Club.





OUTINGS 2012 & APRIL 2013


The original Bluebird K3 water speed record hydroplane powerboat made its Goodwood debut in September 2012 at the Revival. It was on display by the entrance to the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation Concours, where the hydroplane's flame-spitting V12 (tank) engine thundered into life several times a day. 


Then on the 28th of April of 2013 the K3 paid made a surprise appearance at this year’s Beaulieu Boatjumble.


The Bluebird K3 was a flat bottomed single step hydroplane with diagonal side planking to triangulate the frames. She was quite unstable at speed, as Malcolm Campbell soon realised.  She really needed to be a shallow V. She was though at the cutting edge of technology in her time and nobody knew any better. The Blue Bird K3 was commissioned in 1937 by Sir Malcolm Campbell, to rival American efforts in the fight for the world water speed record. She set three world water speed records, first on Lake Maggiore in September 1937, then later twice raising her own record.

The name "K3" was derived from its Lloyd's unlimited rating, and was carried in a prominent circular badge on the forward hull.




The traditional timber framed construction method was used by the builders. The tail has evolved as the boat was developed, but the origins are clear.



After Campbell's achievement of the 300 mph land speed record with Railton designed Blue Bird in 1935 he retired from the land speed record. Shortly afterwards he switched his attentions to the water speed record, at that time dominated by the American Gar Wood.

Fred Cooper of Saunders Roe was commissioned to design a small hydroplane powered by the same Rolls Royce R engine used in Blue Bird land speed record car at Daytona Beach in Florida, and also in pairs in Henry Segrave and Kaye Don's Miss England boats. Of the three individual R engines used by K3, one had previously run in Blue Bird and one in Miss England. Reid Railton was a consultant engineer, for the simple reason that he was very familiar with the Merlin R racing engines.

Unlike Gar Wood's multi-engined monsters, Blue Bird was designed for a single engine, and the smallest possible craft to carry it. She was 23 feet long, compared to 38 feet for Miss America X. Her estimated top speed on paper was to be 130 mph. It was usual at this time for English hydroplanes to have their engines mounted as far astern as possible (Gar Wood disagreed, and had pointed this out to Segrave). K3 took this a step further and had a narrow central nacelle that overhung the transom of the stern. This rearward weight distribution encouraged planing, but could lead to some peculiar attitudes when setting off at slow speeds, as the whole boat appeared to be sinking by the stern.




2012: Malcolm Campbell's world water speed record breaking Bluebird K3 roared across the water for the first time since being retired 74 years ago. The 23ft single step hydroplane carried out successful trials last on Bewl Water as the culmination of a 22-year restoration project.



On 1 September 1937, at Lake Maggiore on the border between Switzerland and Italy, K3 set a record of 126.32 mph, breaking Gar Wood's previous 5-year-old record. The next day she improved this to 129.5 mph.

Breaking the design speed of 130 would require another year, when on 17 August 1938 at Lake Hallwyl in Switzerland at 130.91 mph(210.63 km/h).

Despite these records, Campbell was dissatisfied with their small margin over the previous record (6 mph). K3's hull was a single-step hydroplane, as already used for Miss England. This lifted half of the hull clear of the water, reducing drag upon it. A new idea from America was the "three point" hydroplane, where the forward hull is divided into two sponsons and the boat rides at speed on just these and the propeller. This reduces the wetted area (and drag) still further. It was not possible to convert K3 to this hull form, so Campbell began work on a whole new boat, K4, re-using the same engine. But that's another story.









Length overall: 23′ 0″ (7.01 m)
Length at waterline 22′ 3″ (6.78 m)
Width 9′ 6″ (2.89 m)
Draught: 1′ 9″ (0.53 m)
Displacement: 4,945 lbs. (2.243 metric tons.)
Propeller diameter: 12″ (30.5 cm) to 14″ (35.6 cm)
Propeller pitch: 20″ (50.8 cm) x 27″ (68.6 cm)
Propeller speed 9,500 rpm.
Gear ratio: 3:1 increasing prop rpm
Engine (original): Rolls Royce R Type Vee 12
Starter (original): Compressed air



The original boat has been restored over a number of years at Filching Manor in East Sussex, on the south coast of England. The boat was found at Thorpe Park, gently rotting away as rainwater seeped into the hull and sat in the bilges eroding the original alloy plating away. This then had to be replaced with a new skin and many hundreds of screws. The decking is made of canvas, resin impregnated and painted silver. It does the job.


One of our boat design crew was part of the restoration that began in 1989. The story goes that our engineer was working on a car of his that was stored at Filching Manor. Steve Holter had been the curator at the museum. The crew working on the boat (Ken Pope and Andy Taylor) had fitted a tank Meteor engine (24 litre) onto reinforced timber stringers, but they could not get the engine to start. Those tank engines were much smaller in capacity than the supercharged R V12. They used a magneto ignition system running at 12 volts. But they were started at 24 volts, which our friendly engineer demonstrated as he started the engine using two 12 volt truck batteries in series, much to the delight of Paul Foulkes-Halbard, the then owner.



The Bluebird K3 hydroplane powered by Rolls Royce


The K3 - advancement is made by building and testing ideas.


15 OCTOBER 2012


Back with a blast after 75 years - Bluebird K3 wasn't out to set records today but needed to check its restoration was on track. A far cry from when it was rescued two decades ago, as its current owner, Karl Foulkes Halbard, explains:

"The hull was in very poor condition and has required an awful lot of work. The mechanicals were non-existent because most of it got scrapped in 1938."

In 1937, Bluebird K3 was piloted by Sir Malcolm Campbell to a record-breaking 131 mph. Today it made a slower journey from the East Sussex workshop where it's been rebuilt, to Bewl Water, the massive engine gurgling its approval.

"This is a 27 litre Meteor engine, a Rolls Royce Meteor." says engineer Andy Taylor. "It's a tank engine effectively. We've got the original engine at the museum but it's a very rare engine and would need completely rebuilding in order to run it."



The R series Rolls Royce Merlin engine that took the triple crown: Air, land and water speed records all in the same year.


An estimated seventy percent (70%) of the boat is original, with the rebuilt transmission and a restored wooden hull. Says the man who shaped that wood, Ken Pope:

"The main strength of the boat is the two walls right down from stern to the bow. They're about two foot high, inch and a half timbers, with two layers of ply on each side, about 800 screws holding it all on."

Three trials were planned - but disaster struck half way through. In the second run of the day the turbocharger inlet valve became stuck. It did briefly splutter again but a broken propshaft put paid to the trial. The team aren't disheartened though.

"Totally amazing." says Karl. "I mean, I became the third man in history to pilot it and once the boat gets up onto the plane it really starts to move and I have to be quite disciplined at that point not to get too carried away."

Now he wants £60,000 in sponsorship to take the boat to Italy where it originally set the record. Good luck with that Karl, we wish you all the best. We think you may need slightly more than £60,000 to make repairs and get to Italy and back - if you want to run the boat in style.


Sir Malcolm and K3 in Italy



Bluebird K3, Sir Malcolm Campbell’s record-breaking wooden speedboat, has finally left her East Sussex workshop after a restoration lasting 18 years. Not to be confused with K7, the Bluebird that killed Malcolm’s son Donald in 1967 (or, indeed its controversial replica, featured in our January issue), K3 held the world water speed record from 1937-8, set on Lake Maggiore at 137mph.

The restored K3, worked on by dedicated volunteers based at the Filching Motor Museum in East Sussex for nearly two decades, fired her 750hp Meteor engine on 30 November for the first time on Kent’s Bewl Water, flames bursting from her exhausts.

“It was unbelievably loud,” relates the K3 project’s manager Mike Parker. When trials begin, K3 will be limited to 60mph, not through any fear on the part of the team, but to prevent over stressing the wooden hull of the 22ft 3in (6.8m) craft. Her first run will be this January at a secret location.

Article originally from February 2012 Classic Boats.





Karl Foulkes-Halbard in the K3


Andy Taylor and Karl Faulkes Halbard in K3 on Bewl Water November 2012 (top left). Sir Malcolm claimed his first Land Speed Record in 1924, but in 1937 (and again the following year) he topped 130 mph on Italy’s Lake Maggiore to claim the World Water Speed Record back from the Americans. As technology moved on, the original K3 became obsolete and fell into disrepair as the K4 and then K7 boats captured the headlines. But what makes the K3 so iconic is not just the fact that it was the first chapter in the epic Campbell powerboat story, but that after more than two decades of hard work from Paul and now Karl Foulkes-Halbard (above left), she is once again seaworthy. Almost the entire craft has been restored to the same glorious form that saw her put Britain back on top way back in 1937 – this pristine embodiment of the Campbell legacy is a credit to Foulkes-Halbard and all the helpers at Filching Manor Motor Museum in East Sussex. The Sunbeam Blue Bird is also fully restored and out and about. 




16 SEPTEMBER 2012 - Bluebird K3 at the Goodwood Revival

The record breaking Bluebird K3 hydroplane powerboat is one of the many attractions of the Goodwood Revival this weekend.

The original Bluebird K3 Land Speed Record hydroplane powerboat is making its Goodwood debut at the Revival this weekend. Commissioned in 1937 by Sir Malcolm Campbell to rival the Americans' efforts in the fight for the world water speed record, the Rolls-Royce aero-engined monster set three world water speed records, first on Lake Maggiore in September 1937, then later twice raising her own record – the fastest speed being 130.91mph in 1938.

It is being displayed by the entrance to the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation Concours, where the hydroplane's flame-spitting V12 engine has been thundering into life several times a day.





Early in the morning of 26 June 1950 a small red boat skipped across Lake Washington, near Seattle, and improved on Campbell's record by 29 km/h (18 mph). The boat was called Slo-Mo-Shun IV. It was built by Seattle Chrysler dealer Stanley Sayres. The piston-engined boat was able to run at 160 mph (260 km/h) because its hull was designed to lift the top of the propellers out of water when running at high speed. This phenomenon, called ‘prop riding’, further reduced drag. In 1952 Sayres drove Slo-Mo-Shun to 287.25 km/h (178.49 mph) - a further 29 km/h (18 mph) increase. 



The Slo-mo-shun water speed record boat - surface piercing prop rider


SLO MO SHUN - The Slo-mo-shun water speed record boat from 1950, is a surface piercing prop rider, engine moved ahead of the pilot for better weight distribution and a simplified transmission arrangement.



Miss Bardahl, US hydroplane racer with RR engine


MISS BARDAHL - Very much following the lines of Slo Mo Shun, Miss Bardahl is seen here in 1958, wooden decks nicely varnished. This hydroplane regularly toped 160mph, sending up a distinctive rooster tail about 40 feet in the air. Since 1939, Bardahl has been a leading supplier in the oil and fuel additives industry. From the early years of 1950s & 1960s, Bardahl additives have been widely used in various races in the USA and have won multiple accolades. Through R&D over the years, we have developed a series of fuel, oil, transmission and other products to help your vehicles run better.





A very nice looking craft that follows the basic design principles of the K3 and K4, is Miss Bardahl, also a hydroplane with a Rolls-Royce aircraft engine.




The K3 found a good home at Filching Manor, near Polegate in East Sussex




K4 Bluebird hydroplane of Sir Malcolm Campbell 


The next generation hydroplane: K3 to K4. Not much difference in the basic concept, but lead in angle to wider front sponsons will improve stability coupled with a change in weight distribution.



Bluebird Trophy and Sir Malcolm Campbell


TROPHY - A trophy does not have to be a cup. It can be anything representative of the event's objectives, such as the K3 water speed record boat for the Bluebird trophy presented to Malcolm Campbell when he broke the world water speed record, hitting the new world record speed of 126.33mph on Lake Maggiore in Switzerland on 1 September 1937.


BONHAMS AUCTION 2010 - The trophy, a model of the single-step hydroplane Bluebird K3, attracted a pre-sale price of £35,000 to £50,000 ahead of the Bonhams auction on 24 March 2010.


Knowles, Arthur (2001). The Bluebird Years. Sigma Leisure. ISBN 978-1-85058-766-8.
Harris, Fred (2000). Skimming the Surface. Ainsdale Press.
Tremayne, David (2005). Donald Campbell: The Man Behind the Mask. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-81511-3.
Villa, Leo (1976). The World Water Speed Record.





THOSE WERE THE DAYS - Oh yes, those were the days, the cars and trucks of the day show us just how quickly we have adapted technology. Imagine the K3 running flat out at Coniston Water. Perhaps not one of the venues that Sir Malcolm used, except in the K4, but nevertheless, what a sight that would be. Then imagine the K7 and K3 running on the Lake together. Two generations of Bluebirds, father and son. Bill Smith had better get a move on with the K7 restoration if this is ever going to become a reality.




TONY SOLEY - During the Sixties Tony Soley noticed the K3 at The Master Robert Hotel on The Great West Road, Hounslow. The once great boat had been "Dumped" in the corner at the back of the Hotel. You can see from this picture (slides a little the worse for wear) that the engine and a whole lot more have been removed leaving just the shell. Even the famous insignia has been removed, but the shape and construction details are more than enough to confirm the identity of the vessel. Tony remembers that on one visit he had his camera with him, when he took a shot on a slide film. His father told him "that's Bluebird." And that is more than likely the only reason that this picture is still in existence. A big thankyou to Tony for letting us have a copy of this picture. If any reader would like to know more, please email us and we'll pass on a message.






Filching Manor
Jevington Road (Nr Polegate)
BN26 5QA, East Sussex

Telephone: 01323 487124 / 01323 487838




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