Bentley’s drive for innovation can be traced throughout its history. The British luxury car manufacturer marks its centenary this year.
With Bentley Boy, Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin, sitting behind the steering wheel. The legendary ‘Blower’ Bentley, with a supercharged engine, was sensationally quick in 1929.
Birkin and the Blower are intrinsically intertwined in the pre-war era of British motor racing history. Birkin’s quest for speed led to the creation of the Blower. The duo recorded heroic drives at the Le Mans 24 Hours and the French Grand Prix and broke the Brooklands outer circuit lap record, the most coveted racing circuit of the time. With a supercharged engine, the 4 ½ Litre model of the Blower became the most iconic racing Bentley for years. It was the Blower that garnered Bentley a legion of worldwide motorsports fans and to this day it is a symbol of the countries ingenuity and innovative prowess.
Pushing the Boundaries of Performance
Towards the end of 1928, the Bentley 4 ½ Litre engine was nearing the end of its development cycle and other manufacturers were beginning to catch up with Bentley’s superlative engine designs. Founder W.O. Bentley responded by increasing the engine capacity. His 6½ Litre model won Le Mans in 1929 and 1930.
Sir Henry Birkin, on the other hand, had a different idea. He wanted to apply an innovative new supercharger to the 4½ Litre engine of the existing car instead of increasing capacity.
Birkin went around W.O. and persuaded Bentley’s new owner and chairman, fellow Bentley Boy and British financier, Woolf Barnato, to build him five supercharged Blowers for the racetrack along with 50 production Blower Bentley’s for the road to meet the racing rules of the era.
A Famous Battle on the Racetrack
With the supercharger placed in front of the crankshaft, the power of the 4½ Litre engine increased from 110bhp to 175bhp and, with Birkin at the wheel, it was sensationally fast. This also gave the Blower Bentley a totally unique appearance. A racing legend was born.
Birkin returned from the front in the First World War with an insatiable thirst for adrenaline and complete disregard for danger on the racetrack. He was described by W.O. Bentley as “the greatest Briton of his time”.
Birkins duel with Mercedes-Benz driver, Rudolf Caracciola at the 1930 Le Mans 24 Hour is the stuff of legend. Bentley fielded Birkin’s team of supercharged 4 ½ Litre Bentleys and three team Speed Sixes for the event.
The rest, as they say, is history. Birkin and Caracciola raced neck and neck from the gun, with the Briton at one point passing Caracciola at high speed with two wheels on the grass. Neither car lasted the course. The race was eventually won by a Bentley Speed Six with Barnato driving.
Blower Bentley – An Enduring Legacy
The enduring impact of the Blower Bentley has been enjoyed by very few cars. Many believe that had Birkin managed his race better over the grueling 24-hour period at Le Mans, instead of his usual flat out for the win, the result may have been different.
Birkin drove his two-ton car to a remarkable second place podium finish in the 1930 French Grand Prix at Pau, amid a field of lighter Bugattis. This is considered by many to be The Blower’s finest hour. The Blower has the distinction of being the heaviest car ever entered in a Grand Prix.
The Blower was later converted into a single-seater version and raced on the banked circuit at Brooklands in Surrey. Birkin achieved 222 km/h (137.9 mph) with the increased engine output of 240bhp and broke the Brooklands lap record. His car was often airborne due to the poor quality of the surface.
Continental GT Number 9 Edition by Mulliner
To celebrate the company’s centenary in 2019, Bentley has created the ultimate collector’s version of the all-new Continental GT.
The Continental GT Number 9 Edition by Mulliner is inspired by Bentley’s illustrious motorsport past. It incorporates a number of distinctive features from the legendary Blower into the world’s most luxurious Grand Tourer and pays homage to Birkin. Each model features a wood insert from the seat of Birkin’s iconic 1930 No. 9 Le Mans race car.
Mulliner in Crewe, England, will hand build only 100 of these limited editions, based on the Continental GT this year.
Bentley’s Centenary – 100 Years of Extraordinary
Bentley’s marks its 100th year on July 10, 2019. This is an extraordinary milestone emulated by only a handful of companies.
Bentley has planned, a year-long series of special activities, with celebrations at events around the world. Through these activities, Bentley will showcase its motoring evolution over the past 100 years, highlighting its global success today and the exciting future of innovation on the road ahead.