The car on display was the only Bentley ever built by Rolls-Royce that was raced with the assistance of the Derby factory. Thereby hangs a fascinating tale.
The odd couple: such was the public’s reaction when Rolls-Royce acquired Bentley Motors in 1931. But the obvious advantage of owning a rival notwithstanding, the Bentley purchase was opportune because Rolls-Royce had already decided to build a sporting model. Now such a model could carry the name which for a decade had been a literal definition for sports car.
Among the earliest purchasers of the new 3 ½ Litre Rolls-designed Bentley was Yorkshire industrialist E.R. “Eddie” Hall. Immediately, he took his Rolls-Bentley to Italy to learn the circuit prior to running the Mille Miglia in an M.G. K3 Magnette. Some 4,000 miles in his “practice car” convinced Hall that this Bentley deserved to be raced too. Returning home, he convinced Rolls-Royce likewise. Factory sponsorship was out of the question, but Derby agreed to modify the car for Hall to enter in the Tourist Trophy, Britain’s most prestigious road race. Hall competed there three successive years. Rolls replaced the engine with a 163-bhp 4 ¼ liter unit in 1936, the same year Hall bespoke the new streamlined body by Offord & Sons, Ltd. that you see here. The result was always the same: Hall and Bentley ran away from the field, but finished a close and heartbreaking second each time on handicap. Still, the figures spoke for themselves. In 1934 Hall’s 78 mph average was 9 mph faster than ever recorded by a W.O.-era Bentley; in 1936 the Rolls-Bentley’s 80.81 mph average was the fastest yet recorded in the Tourist Trophy.
Prewar, Eddie Hall and this Bentley never lost their class anywhere, putting up particularly impressive performances at Shelsley Walsh. Postwar, Hall’s last event was LeMans in 1950, where the Bentley averaged 82.951 mph and finished 8th overall amidst a field dominated by brand-new cars.
Speculation is idle, but one is tempted to wonder what might have been the result had Rolls-Royce decided to forget its dignified image and go racing seriously in the 1930’s. Three successive Tourist Trophy victories would have been the minimum.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
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