Oh for the days when the phrase ‘the open road’ truly applied – before speed limits, police traps and congested traffic. For example, in 1938 I was able to stop outside the entrance to the Houses of Parliament with a 4¼-litre Bentley, where a suspicious policeman wanted to know why we had parked there for so long. We told him “when Big Ben strikes midnight we are starting on a run to John O’Groats”. I made good time, through the deserted streets and turning left at a signpost that said ‘To the North’. We drove along the then very narrow A1; as war was imminent the many army convoys made overtaking difficult. I had intended to make a non-stop run to John O’Groats but my passengers Tom Lush and James Brymer, the latter taking photographs, insisted on stopping for breakfast at a roadside café. My average running time worked out at 50.5mph, minus 81min for breakfast, over 702 miles.
During the return run we experienced tyre trouble so went to the India Depot in Glasgow for a new pair of rear tyres. Telephoning the Bentley Motors head office in London we were asked to bring back the offending tyre, which was reluctantly handed over. Shortly afterwards in the Trade section of the Motoring Press there appeared an announcement that ‘in future Bentley cars will be fitted with Avon Tyres’.
In 1955 I was co-driver when we did the same run in a 2-litre Bristol 404. Using the A14 our 716 miles gave an average of 53.6mph and took half an hour less.
In 1956 we tried again in a 4.9-litre S-series Bentley with an automatic gearbox, but aborted the attempt in Edinburgh due to bad road holding.
In January 1986 a Motor Sport staff member decided to do the same run in a Bentley Eight, but was stopped by a woman driving a police car.
When he told Mr Tee about his run being faster than mine by a small margin (55mph), Mr Tee replied “at least WB wasn’t stopped by a police car…”.