Watch 29 pre-war Bentleys blasting at full speed
Bentley is celebrating its centenary year. So far the storied automaker has marked the occasion with its most forward-looking concept car ever, the EXP 100 GT, along with the promise of 12 traditionally built, yet high-tech 1929 Bentley Blower continuation cars. For these pre-war-style delights, Bentley’s own original, chassis number HB 3403 Blower, will be completely disassembled and 3D-scanned in order to create a perfect digital model of the car. After that, Bentley’s experts will use the original tooling and jigs to hand-build those new Blowers, which still need a few hidden modifications in the name of safety and reliability.
If you take a tour of Bentley’s Crewe factory today—which was opened by then-parent-company Rolls-Royce in place of its aero-engine plant in 1946—it becomes clear that traditional skills are not forgotten there, despite the modern, semi-automated Benteyga-Continental-Flying Spur assembly line next door. At Mulliner, flawless wooden logs ranging from the exotic to the more common still meet the bandsaw, a 19th-century British invention perfected by the French and commercialized by the Americans.
Seeing 29 pre-war Bentleys stampeding for the 2019 Goodwood Revival Brooklands Trophy was truly wonderful. This annual vintage race puts a slew of hand-polished walnut track-side, and takes our minds back to the golden era of luxury and how Bentley built its racing legacy.
Watching the livestream also reminded me how the entire racing heritage of Bentley was basically built in eight years. From 1922 to 1930 the Bentley Boys reigned. Afterwards the brand only returned to Le Mans in 2001, with the Audi-based Speed 8 taking the crown two years later.
Three years after the company’s foundation, W.O. Bentley’s cars started to do pretty well at Brooklands, the RAC Tourist Trophy, and various British hillclimb events, as well as at Indianapolis across the pond. Then came Le Mans. Following John Duff and Frank Clement’s victory in 1924, mining heir Captain Woolf Barnato put his inheritance into Bentley, allowing W.O. to continue development while Barnato and his friends kept racing. Sir Tim Birkin’s supercharged “Blower” Bentley came in 1929, along with four consecutive Le Mans victories with the Bentley 3.0 Speed, the 4½ Litre, and the Speed Six. However, no racing trophy could finance the Bentley Boys’ flamboyant lifestyle, not to mention the climate following the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Bankrupt Bentley’s assets were purchased by Rolls-Royce in 1931.
Maybe that’s why there was no 1931 Bentley at Goodwood. Instead, the oldest was a 3-Litre from 1922, with a pair of 1930 Bentleys on the other end of the scale, consisting of a 4 ½-Litre “Blower” and 4½-Litre Le Mans. Speeds, Blowers, a Tourist Trophy or a Parkward Saloon, you name it! Just don’t forget how to fold down the roof…