The Bentley that blows: 1929 motorsport icon up for grabs
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Relive the hedonistic days of the socialite “Bentley Boys” of the Twenties with this replica of the cars that helped establish Bentley as a major producer of luxury sports cars by winning the grueling Le Mans 24 Hours race in 1928 and 1929.
Bentley first won Le Mans in 1924 - and then triumphed again every year between 1927 and 1930.
This example of the famed “Blower” Bentley, so called because of the distinctive Roots-type supercharger mounted in front of the imposing grille, is being sold at auction on November 25 and is estimated to sell for £750,000 to £875,000 (NZ$1.45–1.70million).
The road-going “Blower” was first shown at the Motor Exhibition at Olympia, London, in October 1929. It had been developed as a private venture by “Bentley Boy” Sir Henry Birkin to extract greater performance from the proven 4½-litre model, which was becoming outclassed by its rivals on the racetracks of Europe.
His aim was to produce a British car that would enable British drivers to continue to win races as spectacularly as the 4½-litre that had won the 1928 Le Mans 24 Hours.
The supercharger installation was engineered by the Amherst Villiers, who modestly claimed that it was “recognised in engineering circles as a definite landmark in automobile construction”. However, purist W.O. Bentley did not support the development of the supercharged car and is quoted as saying how much he "disliked the easy short cut provided by the supercharger", preferring to increase the capacity of the 4.4-litre straight-four.
Yet Birkin’s influence, backed by the wealthy fellow Bentley Boy Woolf Barnato - and, no doubt, inspired by Mercedes’ skilful deployment of similar forced induction - led to the supercharged 4½ litre Bentley.
Its potential was demonstrated when “Tim” Birkin took second place in the French Grand Prix at Pau with what was essentially a grand touring car against a field of thoroughbred Grand Prix racers.
The production cars were fitted with an Amherst Villiers Supercharger MkIV, of Roots type with twin paddle rotors, which drew mixture from twin SU carburettors and was driven off the front of the crankshaft. With 9½lb of boost at 3,500rpm, the “blown” Bentley developed 175bhp, a healthy increase over the production 4½-litre's 110bhp. With 10lb of boost at 3,900rpm, the engine developed 182bhp.
The first production model, a sporting four-seater bodied by Vanden Plas, was exhibited at Olympia and was retained by Bentley as a demonstrator.
Only 50 production supercharged 4½-litre Bentleys were built to support the homologation of five Birkin team cars: among the few cars of their day capable of 100mph on the open road, they have always been regarded as the supercars of their era. Motor Sport magazine wrote of the Blower's “remarkable acceleration” and called it “a car for the connoisseur of sporting cars”.
According to the copy of the original build sheet, order number 1,529 left the factory in Cricklewood, London on October 4, 1928 and was first registered on January 23 the following year with its current registration GE 3769.
Accompanied by its original buff log book, chassis UK 3299 began life as a four-seat sports tourer. Its owner had specified some minor modifications to distinguish this car from other “Blowers”. The car then had a two-seater body from a 12/60 Alvis fitted and then some years later a Vanden Plas body by Robinson was fitted and finally, in 2011, it was rebuilt as a Le Mans replica.
The present owner purchased GE 3769 in 2011 from the late great Stanley Mann when it was in need of some attention. Marque experts have helped make it a faithful copy of the famous “Birkin” Blower Bentley. There are only two totally original examples of these blown Bentleys in existence; one is with Bentley Motors in Crewe and the other in Ralph Lauren’s famous private collection.
The vendor was extremely particular to replicate every detail precisely, although it also has an overdrive unit and servo-assisted brakes. The British Racing Green bodywork is complemented by a dark green leather interior, while the dashboard is an exact copy of the original, complete with twin oilers and instrumentation by Jaeger and Smiths.
In short, it’s about as close as you’ll get to one of the most famous Bentleys ever.
And now for something completely different…
At the same sale is the opportunity to buy a car bearing the name of one of French motor racing’s most talented designers, Guy Ligier. But it’s not one of his Formula One or Le Mans endurance racing contenders that’s for sale - it’s a JS4 two-seat microcar produced in the early Eighties.
It is unregistered but offered for sale without reserve and is unregistered, although it was prepared for road use in 2010, when it received the requisite dipping headlights, mirrors and screen washers. It comes with an MoT test certificate from that year.
The JS4 was made from 1980 to 1983 by the street vehicle branch of Equipe Ligier. With its Formula One heritage, it was a strong seller with nearly 7,000 sold in the first year alone and, unsurprisingly, the Ligier F1 team used one painted in the team colours as a pit vehicle.
The JS4 has independent suspension on all four wheels, drum brakes all round and rack-and-pinion steering. A 50cc, single-cylinder, two-stroke Motobecane engine is mounted at the rear and powers the rear wheels through a continuously variable transmission.
This example was imported from the south of France a few years ago and is reported to have absolutely no structural rust at all although there are some age-related bumps and scratches.
- Daily Mail