While London swung and Concorde took shape in a hangar, it was Campbell and his demolition of eight speed records on land and water that stood as the pre-eminent symbol of the nation’s supremacy.
The name Bluebird was synonymous with his own. His father, Malcolm, had been setting records since the 1920s in a succession of craft bearing the name.
And when Donald set out on Coniston Water in the Lake District, exactly 50 years ago, in what some said was a publicity stunt to promote his vision of a supersonic rocket car, it seemed as though anything was possible.
Yet within hours, the dream was over. Bluebird K7 somersaulted at 328mph and broke in two. All they found was some debris and Campbell’s mascot, a teddy bear called Mr Whoppit.
It would be another 34 years before his body was recovered, his race suit still intact.
Today, the anniversary was marked at the site of the crash. His daughter, Gina Campbell, was among a small party who travelled by boat to the site and laid flowers on the lake at the exact time of the tragedy.
During the journey she clutched Mr Whoppit.
Later, as crowds gathered for a public remembrance service at his memorial on the village green, Ms Campbell, who lives in Thorner, near Leeds, described the day as “bittersweet”.
She said: “My dad did not do things for public display but I think he would be delighted to see the public here today.”
Afterwards, more wreaths were laid at Coniston Cemetery.
Campbell was posthumously awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct.
It is hoped that Bluebird will be restored by next year and will take to Coniston Water again before it finds a permanent home in the village’s Ruskin Museum.