Brilliant Blower Junior Brings out the Best of W.O. Bentley’s London

Simon Thompson

“I see you’ve brought it home,” says possibly the poshest man I’ve ever met. In the clipped tones of the English aristocracy, he goes on to explain that though number 48 Chagford Street has recently been refurbished, the building is outwardly much the same as it was in 1919 when W.O. Bentley began work on the first motor car to bear his name.

Back then, the cobbled Marylebone street was known as New Street Mews, but nonetheless, a blue plaque above the door of number 48 marks the monumental occasion.

Strictly speaking, I haven’t brought this car home at all. First, by the time Bentley built his brand-defining Blower, he had moved the company to Cricklewood in the London suburbs. Second, this Bentley Blower wasn’t built by Bentley.

Instead, it is assembled by The Little Car Company in Bicester. You may know them from their Baby Bugatti II, Ferrari Testa Rossa J and Aston Martin Junior—all sold as official OEM models, but as the naming suggests, significantly smaller in scale. The Bentley Blower Junior is the company’s most ambitious project to date. It’s bigger—at 85 percent of the original—but most notably it is road legal, which is why rather than a private track, I’m here in the heart of London for a drive of the first prototype.

Even in this quiet mews, the Blower Junior quickly attracts attention, with half a dozen people coming out of a nearby office to take a gander, plus our local historian, of course. It’s no wonder, really, since it looks fantastic—an almost exact replica of the Blower Team Car from 1929.

It may only be 3.7 meters (146 inches) long and 1.5 meters (59 inches) wide, but it still has plenty of presence, with that lovely louvered bonnet held down by leather straps, a pair of big spot lamps mounted ahead of the mesh grille, and even what looks like a supercharger mounted right at the front. In profile it’s a pure example of form following function—there are no unnecessary accoutrements, just big cycle wings all round and a spare tire mounted on the left hand side ahead of a Union flag on the single door. Externally mounted on the right is the handbrake, while the tail finishes abruptly with a small trunk in place of the original’s fuel tank.

Underneath is a steel chassis with leaf spring suspension and period-correct friction dampers. The brakes, sat behind the stunning spoked wheels, are modern Brembo discs. In lieu of an ash frame to support the bodywork, The Little Car Company has used carbon fiber, but the impregnated fabric that’s used for the skin is the same as in Bentley’s continuation models, and the hood is hand-formed aluminum. What’s most notably different from the 1929 original is the tandem two-seater layout, the little buckets trimmed in Dark Green Lustrana Hide, just as deployed by Mulliner for the continuation cars.

The turned aluminum dash sits behind a massive rope-bound steering wheel and houses traditional-look instruments and switchgear, albeit repurposed to suit the Junior’s powertrain. Like all the other Little Cars, the Blower is electric, powered by a 15kW (20-hp) motor at the rear that’s supplied by a 10.8 kWh battery pack. Its charge port is hidden, cheekily, within the front-mounted faux supercharger, and fully juiced you can drive for a claimed range of around 60 miles and reach a top speed of 45 mph (although it will be restricted to 25 mph in the U.S.).

Certainly that’s more than enough for what I require in order to follow W.O.’s own London journey. I’m skipping Cricklewood because the factory is long gone, replaced by a drab modern industrial unit. I’m instead heading for Berkeley Square in Mayfair, where Jack Barclay has been selling Bentleys since 1927, making it the oldest dealership in the world.

I use the single step to hop through the narrow door aperture, dropping down into the seat. A wave of an immobilizer, a push of a start button, and the Blower doesn’t so much blow as hum. A smaller lever on the dash selects drive, and with a squeeze of the handbrake and a prod of the right pedal I’m off, with my new chums waving goodbye.

Simon Thompson

It’s stop-start all the way to Mayfair, but there’s never a dull moment. London’s road users are not known for their affability, but everyone smiles when they see the Blower. I couldn’t count the number of smartphone snaps I now feature in, nor the times someone says “Nice car!”

At Jack Barclay, they’re especially excited to see the Blower, inviting me into the showroom alongside Bentaygas and Continentals. Even the staff in the neighbouring Ferrari franchise come to take a look.

Simon Thompson

After a few laps of the square, I ascertain that the steering requires several armfuls of lock for even the most gentle curve, and that the suspension certainly doesn’t cosset like a modern Bentley. In other words, this drives like an old car. Which is a compliment.

Acceleration is brisk to the 20 mph central London speed limit and the brakes seem up to the job of avoiding gobsmacked tourists who stop suddenly to fire away with their phones.

Long before social media, word of Bentley’s victory at the 1927 Le Mans 24 Hours reached London by telephone, and The Autocar invited the Bentley Boys to a slap-up dinner at The Savoy hotel on The Strand. Such was the clout of the printed page in those days that the magazine even persuaded the hotel to allow the car inside. Once dismantled and reassembled, the car was the centerpiece of the table at which drivers Dudley Benjafield and Sammy Davis enjoyed an 11-course feast.

It’s another traffic-filled trip to get there, but no less entertaining thanks to the cheer the Blower brings to everyone around it. Arriving at the Savoy, the car is clearly small enough to drive through the doors of the hotel, but I settle for a quick in-and-out drive under their porte-cochere instead. The doormen are completely unfazed.

Simon Thompson

Perhaps if I’d told them it costs £109,000 ($136,500) they may have raised an eyebrow, but then again probably not, given that a single night in the Royal Suite is £17,500 ($22,000).

Both are, of course, a quite unnecessary indulgence, but the Blower seems somehow less selfish, as it spreads joy wherever you go. It turns gridlock to grin lock. Everybody loves this car and I’m no exception.

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Comments

    Cool car but it’s missing that roar of the original.

    We had one here that was a real Supercharged Bentley that a guy would come to the cruise in’s. The sound was like an air plane engine. That was cool/

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