W. 0. Bentley and Harry Weslake


I was intrigued to read your comments about my Harry Weslake book in the current issue of Motor Sport and to learn that I may have added a little to the controversy that centres around certain aspects of the Bentley marque. Having taken a close look at the copious shorthand notes I made during my various sessions with Harry, I can confirm that everything I reported was exactly as he told me and that some of the episodes, such as that when he first met up with the great man, have been related to me on several different occasions. Right up to the moment of his death, Harry retained all his faculties, including a very clear memory, and I know that he was never over-enamoured with the reputation that W.O. had acquired. Most certainly he gave the impression, and very clearly too, that he had never been given the credit for all the work he did for W.O. when he was employed in a consulting capacity. He was insistent that I should try and put right what had been written in Elizabeth Nagle’s book, to the extent that the carefully chosen words I used were exactly those which he dictated himself. This was the only occasion throughout our many discussions that he stipulated what should be said, so you can see that he felt quite strongly about the depth of his own involvement at that time.

The reference to a motorcycle engine developing 40 b.h.p. was clearly a direct reference to the o.h.v. Sunbeam on which he entered Gordon Cobbold at Brooklands and other speed venues. Tuned by him and fitted with his own Wex carburettor, it was a remarkably quick machine, as Gordon’s many successes will confirm. Running on alcohol fuel and being capable of well over 90 m.p.h., it is not too difficult to imagine the b.h.p. figure being too far from the truth. He did, after all, say “I had a smaller engine of my own . . . that had broken world records”.

To be fair, I would not be in a position to take either a good or poor view of W.O.’s achievements, for what went on was well before my time and, in any case, most of my knowledge relates to two-, rather than four-wheeled vehicles. I believe his reason for mentioning the choked silencers at Lagonda was no so much to be unkind to W.O.’s memory but to show how the obvious can so easily be overlooked and, more to the pint, why there is often a disparity in the readings of different brakes. Later in the book a somewhat similar occurrence is mentioned at the Coventry Climax works.

What a pity that Harry is no longer able to answer some of the more controversial points in his own unique manner, for I know only too well just how he would have reacted. If nothing else, I hope that my book has, in some small way, brought to light just how much Harry did for the British motor industry behind the scenes. We could to with a few more of his type in these troubled times that beset us today.

Sparkford, Jeff Clew