The Blower Bentley represented one of two solutions to a problem. In 1928, despite the four cylinder 4 ½ Litre’s Le Mans win, the consensus at the Bentley works was that it was no longer competitive. W.O. Bentley’s decision was to create the Speed Six. The other decision was to supercharge the four.
W.O. hated this latter idea. But Sir Henry Birkin, whose notion it was, had persuaded fellow Bentley team driver Woolf Barnato that it was worth a try – and, since Barnato’s heavy investment in Bentley Motors, Ltd. was the principal reason the company was still alive, W.O. had no recourse but to grudgingly give his okay, and incidentally find room at his factory for production of the 50 cars necessary to qualify for Le Mans. Fortunately, Birkin had also convinced the Hon. Dorothy Paget to finance premises at Welwyn for the conversion of 4½ blown production cars into race cars – so W.O. did not have to witness the final desecration which would, in his words, “pervert” his engine and “corrupt its performance.”
Actually, the performance of the Blower Bentley was spectacular – in short spurts. Blindingly fast, the car was also woefully unreliable. A Speed Six won Le Mans in 1929 and 1930. The Blower never did win a race. Its best finish was second in the 1930 French Grand Prix to a Bugatti that was half its weight. This was a compelling achievement, but didn’t impress W.O. much. The Blower’s other moment of competitive glory was at Brooklands in 1932 when Birkin broke the Outer Circuit record at 137.96 mph.
At $7375, the Blower Bentley was priced about $2000 more than an unsupercharged version. The car on display, distinguished by its flared wings, cutaway sides and liberal use of chrome plating, was originally ordered by the adventurous Miss N. McCaw. It was brought to this country in 1932 and was owned for a time by the Packard Motor Car Company.
Given its competition record, the Blower Bentley might have been forgotten. But some cars achieve mythic status through sheer audacity. Ian Fleming helped when he provided James Bond a Blower Bentley to drive in his earlier novels. A secret agent behind the wheel of this conspicuous car? Fiction nicely complemented fact.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Briggs Cunningham imported the first Ferrari to race in the US and you can see it in the museum. Learn more