To help this column along, JE Dussek of Plaxted has kindly contributed a most interesting chapter from Round the World with an Appetite by Molly Castle (Hodder & Stoughton, 1963). The authoress seems to have been a pioneer of the now popular cookery books and TV recipes programmes. But the chapter under review describes her visit to Le Mans in 1929. She clearly made this journey and the book is not fiction. But the names of the personalities involved have been changed, creating a nice exercise in identity for Bentley DC and other historians.
After the run from London to Le Mans, they saw the race won convincingly by the Bentley team – a 6 1/2-litre and three 4 1/2-litre cars. The winning Speed Six was driven by Barnato and Birkin, at an average 73,62mph.
Molly Castle describes the fifth car of the Bentley team as a supercharged 4 1/2-litre, which “although it was considered an inferior motor car by people in the know, would do 110mph on the road.” It had been “acquired recently” by Lois’s boyfriend Bill, one of at least four oily and indifferent young men whose horizons were bounded by Bentleys in the east, Berkeley Hotel in the west.”
The blower 4 1//2-litre Bentleys could not be prepared in time for this 1929 Le Mans race, so three unblown 4 1/2-litres had to be substituted in haste. Presumably the fifth of these blower 41/2 Bentleys had been sold to ‘Bill’.
So who was Bill?
Molly’s friend was Mac, partner to Bill in a motor business with offices in Sackville Street. It was a business run apparently more to enable them to buy their own cars at a discount, rather than for profit, and the offices were used frequently for cocktail parties. The car is described as painted in British green, with “the number 10 still daubed on a black disc, relic of the Double-Twelve, or whatever Brooklands race it had competed in unsuccessfully.” So there’s a clue . . . except that in the only JCC Double-Twelve race then run, the number 10 Bentley was WB Scott’s, which did retire. But ‘Bummer’ Scott was partnered by his wife and, although she did remarry later, would he have departed for Le Mans the following month with another girl?
Possibly, but we are spared any aspersions about ‘Bummer’ because his was a non-supercharged Bentley.
I find myself wondering: who were ‘Bill’ and ‘Mac’? The story of that Le Mans visit is delightfully told. The girls shared the bedroom of the men, but only for strictly moral catnaps. But the statement that ‘Bill’ drove better when he was drunk would not do today!
On the way out there had been a night at the Ritz in Paris, plus a visit to the Folies Bergeres. Then it was on to Le Mans, their Bentley getting a fine reception from the French as they drove about – had not these British cars won there in 1924, 1927 and 1928?
During the race the girls were lent a bedroom occupied by “Robin and Toby, racedriver friends of Bill’s”, for a wash and a rest. ‘Robin’ Molly describes as more of a racing driver than her boyfriend Mac, and also more fun. The son of a millionaire peer, he had his own aeroplane, in which he had flown to Le Mans.
Could he have been the Hon Brian Lewis? Was ‘Toby’ Rose-Richards?
They had shared a Lagonda, which retired.
Molly went in a taxi to the airfield to see ‘Robin’ off, then drove in the Bentley to Chartres for dinner, later stopping for the night at Dinard. The following evening they were back in London, having left on the Friday before and covered 1500 enjoyable miles in between.
It’s a delightful period piece, with those anonymous personalities and cars to sort out. The account rings entirely true, except where Molly Castle mentions “Nuvolari going well”. He wasn’t in the race, but she was recalling the happenings seven years later. . .