GREAT BRITISH ACHIEVEMENTS
A. Rivers-Fletcher describes the Bentley successes at Le Mans.
IT is proposed to recount the four successive Bentley victories at Le Mans in 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930. But it must be remembered that a private owner won at Le Mans in 1924, when Capt. J. F. Duff, partnered by F. C. Clement, brought their 8-litre to victory in the Grand Prix d’Enduranee, and even this was not the first Bentley -appearance there, because Duff and Clement had already put up a good show in the 1923 event, in which race their car suffered a considerable delay with a punctured petrol tank, but nevertheless was able to finish fourth. In 1924, however, the Bentley’s petrol tank was protected from flying stones (which had caused the puncture the previous year) by a wire gauze covering and, moreover, frontwheel brakes had been added. There was 4 fairly large field and the Bentley’s greatest rivals E were tit en:tad-etNV ale i. ers and Lorraine-Dietrichs, but the british car had the legs of its competitors, and won at an average speed of 53.75 m.p.h., covering 1,290.75 miles in the 24 hours.
In 1925 Dul and Clement again ran ; also Kensington Moir and Dr. Benjatield, with another 3-litre. The cars were not successful, however, nor did they have any luck the following year, when the Bentley Company officially ran two cars, with another privately-owned model.
So We come to 1927, when the Bentley Company entered two of the well-tried 3-litre models, to be driven by George Duller, with Baron D’Erlanger, and S. C. 1 E. Davis with Dr. J. D. Benjafield, and one of the new 41.-litre cars, to be driven by Capt. Woolf Barnato and F. C. Clement. No 1, the new 4-litre, was the first of these ears to be raced, and showed up very well in practice, although Capt. Barnato was unable to get to Le Mans, so that L. G. Gillingham, who had previously had Bentley -experience in the Six-hour Race at Brooklands, was roped in as second driver with t. lenient. No. 2 was a new car, specidly prepared for this event, and No. 3 was in actual filet privately owned, being the very car that carried No. 7 in the previous Le Mans race, when the same drivers, Benjatield and Davis., had put up a good show until the brakes gave out. Tills car was now, however, returned to the lirm for this race so that it would conic under team discipline. W. 0. Bentley presided over all the team arrangements and was personally responsible for the tactics to be employed during the race. Although there was a good entry, it seemed obvious that the Bentleys would be favourites. Practice had shown them quite easily the fastest cars on the eOurse, the drivers Were good experienced men, and the whole team control and general turn-out was obviously very finished ; this despite the fact that the ears were racing in a foreign errantry and a long way from their own works—a great disadvantage in itself. The first 200 miles had to be covered with hoods erected. The Bentley team got away in fine style, Clement leading on the 44-slitre, followed by Benjafield and then D’Erlanger. For the first few hours everything went perfectly. The ears ran faultlessly and had a speed which would easily give them the race. Then came the terrible White House crash, which involved all the Bentley team, putting the new 4-A-and 8-litre ears right out and badly crippling the one remaining—last year’s 3-litre. The story of the crash must be well known to all readers of MOTOR SPORT, but I will recall it briefly. : White house corner was a very fast curve, and the crash occurred in that very dangerous half light at dusk. A Schneider got into a bad skid coming out of the corner and swung round backwards into a brick wall, blocking most of the road and lying right in the path taken by the fast cars. The first car to come into sight was the ” 4 ” driven by Caffingham. Ile did what he could, but there was no robin for him at that speed, and his car struck the outside of the corner and overturned, throwing him out on to the road, and still further blocking the way. The second car, No. 2, the 3-litre driven by Duller, crashed into the ” 44,” throwing Duller clear and making a seemingly impassable barrier of crashed cars, almost blocking the entire road. Next was Sammy Davis, with the last Bentley. As he came into the corner he caught sight of extra dirt on the road and, sensing a crash, this fine driver was able to apply his brakes just that split-second sooner, and although he, too, crashed into the other cars, he did so less furiously, and was later able to extricate his car and drive on slowly to the pits, where it was found that the car was in pretty bad shape. The frame was bent, the front axle was pushed back a long Way on one side, the battery Was loose, one headlamp smashed, and the off-side front wing bent sideways. Sammy Davis decided, however, to carry °A with the car and, gradually went -faster and faster as he conauered the Odd steering and brakes, which were badly:afit.et ed by the crash. Later Davis canie in to rafuel and handed over to Dr. Benjalield, who now had the unenviable task of discovering the tricks of the steering and brakes in the dark. There was a certain amount of trouble from the lighting, as the battery was still loose, but somehow or other Dr. Benjafield and Sammy Davis got that car through the night ; even though torrential rain added to their difficulties. Moreover, the car was by now in second place behind Laly on an Aries. The Aries had a very great lead, however, and it didn’t seem possible for the Bentley to catch it, but acting upon instructions from 1:V.O. in the pit, the Bentley was speeded up as fast as they dared arid they gained gradually on t he Aries, whose pit was rather: slow to notice the Bentley’s increase in speed, and did not inform their driver until quite a lot of leeway had been made up. When the Aries came in to refuel, and Chassagne took over the wheel, a terrific scrap developed between this driver and Benjafield on the Bentley, a scrap which ended with the Aries blown up by the roadside, and the Bentley leading the race; so S. C. H. Davis and Dr. J. D. Benjafield
brought the crippled Bentley into first place at an average speed of 61.36 m.p.h., covering 1,472.0 miles, and won the Grand Prix d’Endurance. It had been a grand race and received great publicity.
in 1928 the Bentley Companyagain entered three cars, but this time they were all 4i-litres. No. 2, driven by Clement and Benjatield, and No. 3, by Birkin and Chassagne, were new cars, with better streamlined bodies, with a high curved rail joining the body between the front and rear seats, supporting a tonneau which merged into a new tail, in which was . recessed the spare wheel. No. 4, Barnato’s, was last year’s ” 41,” which carried a 3-litre type radiator and long wings and running boards, in contrast to the short semi-cycle-type wings used on the Other team cars. .1 he spare wheel on No. 4 was carried on the scuttle. No. 2 was registered in England as VW2557, No. 3 V•1203, and No. 4 N1i3190. All the cars carried very good head-lights, with a spotlight mounteu centrally.
‘Ilie cosmopolitan nature of the entry was increased by two -Chryslers and a Stutz from America. Among the Other starters were Aries, Lagenda and Alvis, but once again it seemed as though the Bentleys had the best chance, though they were conceding hall-a-litre to the ” Black liawk ” Stutz, to be driven by Brisson and Bloch.
In the opening rounds the Bentleys were able to out-distance all except the 5-litre Stutz, which seemed to be able to leave the “4s.” Laly’s Aries was put out with big-end trouble and the two Lagondas were out in an unlucky crash. To start with, Birkin’s new ” 44-1′ was the fastest of the Bentley team, but he had the misfortune to puncture a tyre on the off side of the course, and as the Bentleys were not carrying jacks, !Arkin had to run on the rim for quite a considerable distance. lie used a bit too much load pedal and the rim collapsed, the car eventually coming to rest with 4 rear brake drum buried in the grass. Chassagne, the second driver, did good work to get the car going again, but No. 3 was now a lung way behind. No. 2. Bentley, however, was leaning the race, held by the Stutz in second place, with Barnato on No. 4 lying third. Before night the leading Bentley was in trouble with a broken oil pipe, but soon got going: again, after losing first place to the Stutz. The pave was high and many cars were in trouble, No. 2 Bentley being put out by a most annoying spot of bother—hihrication trouble caused overheating, which caused the car to lose all its water, and the race rules prevented any replenishment before a certain number of laps had been completed, so, as this car had not yet gone the required distance, it had to be retired when it otherwise seemed a. though it might have stood a good chance of winning. This left only NO. 4 Bentley in a strong position to challenge the Stutz, and it now increased speed and took the lead. The Stutz, clung on valiantly for sonic time, but eventually gearbox trouble caused it to drop back. No. 3, which had been delayed so much earlier in the race, was being beautifully driven by Chassagne and I3irkin and now stood a
chance of completing the set minimum distance scheduled for qualification for next year’s Rudge Whitworth Cup. No. 4, safely in first place, carried on to win at 69.1i m.p.h.’ and No. 3 just qualified for next -year’s Cup by virtue of Birkin’s final record lap in 8 min. 7 sec. In 1929, as • many as five cars were entered by the Bentley Company, headed by the new Big Six. This was a road
racing edition of the Of 37.2-h.p. 6-cylinder car which Bentleys had previously only marketed as a town carriage. It was to be driven by Barnato and Birkin and carried No. 1. No. 8 was a works 41-litre; to be driven by Clement and Chassagne, No. 9, the veteran ” 41 ” still carrying its 3-litre radiator and long wings and running boards, and driven by Jack Dunfee and Glen Kidston. Then, as a separate team, No. 10, the ” 41 ” driven in the ” Double-Twelve ” race by S. C. If. Davis, was now to be handled by Benjafield and D’Erlanger, and the other ” 41,” with which Mrs. Victor Bruce had recently taken the 24-hour record at Montlhery, was to be driven by Lord Howe and Rubin. All these cars got away well at the start Of the race, headed by the new Six, with Birkin up. in the early part of the race the only cars that could live with the Bentleys were the Stutz team, handled by Bouriat, Eyston, and Benoist. Two white Chryslers, a Dupont, and the Lagonda team were all putting up a good show, but it was obvious to all and sundry that the Bentleys ought to win.
It transpired that it had not been possible to prepare the second team of Bentleys, Nos. 10 and 11, sufficiently thoroughly, and both these cars were in fairly early, No. 11 retiring with magneto trouble. This may seem rather odd, as the Bentleys always carried twin magnetos, but apparently the vertical drive shaft had broken, thus putting both magnetos out of action. The other Bentley’s trouble was less serious, and this car was soon going well again. The Big Six, handled by Birkin, had broken the lap record at 79.78 m.p.h. After six hours, the four Bentleys were leading the race, followed by the Stutz and Chrysler teams, but the Stutz were having b lower trouble, and the Chrysler, though running well, were just not up to the Bentley’s speed. During the night the Bentley team Were beset by a curious trouble, in that the bulb-holders in their headlamps worked loose and broke off, so that the cars were constantly in and out of the pits having this annoying trouble rectified.
The rest of the race was fairly uneventful for the Bentleys, because, although some of the cars were in and out of the pits with minor troubles, they had, in reality, such a huge lead over the rest of the field that they could well afford to take things easily, and the race proved a great triumph for the team. The four cars were slowed by team orders on the last lap and toured over the line in close formation—a most impressive sight. Birkin and Barnato averaged 73.62 m.p.h., with the Big Six covering 1,767.25 miles in the 24 hours. This also gave them the Rudge Whitworth Cup. Glen Kidston and Jack Dunfce were second with the veteran “4k,” Benjafield and D’Erlanger third, and Clement and Chassagne fourth.
1930 proved a really good race. This year the Bentley Company entered three of the 6-cylinder 61-litre cars, last year’s winner to be driven by Barnato and Kidston. Clive Dunfee and Sammy Davies, and Dick Watney and Clement were handling the two comparatively new cars, which had been built for, and run in, the ” Double-Twelve ” at Brooklands a few months before.
The Hon. Dorothy Paget also entered three cars, these being the new 41-litre supercharged cars driven by ‘firkin and Chassagne, Benjafield and Ramponi, and Jack Dunfee and Berris Wood. The idea of there being two Bentley teams rather complicated the control, and in the first instance there was no thought of running the two teams in liaison. ‘1 he Bentleys, however, obviously had a great rival in the 7-litre Mercedes, to be haialled by Caraeciola and Werner. This car was larger than the biggest Bentley and supercharged into the bargain ; moreover, it was of a well-proved type. From the Bentley prestige point of view, it was practically essential that a Bentley should win this race, as they had now built up a reputation for so doing, and had six cars of their own in the race against the lone German Mercedes. So “‘rim ” ‘firkin, who had charge of Dorothy Paget’s team, very handsomely agreed to drive his car to the limit in the early stages of the race in order to push the Mercedes beyond its safe limit, Birkin, of course, fully realising that this would endanger his own chance of winning, or even finishing, the race, lie and W.O. worked out a detailed plan of action for all the ears, and during the race itself this plan worked admirably. The Mercedes proved certainly as fast and probably faster than any of the Bentleys if the latter were driven at a speed that would ensure their finishing, but Caracciola endeavoured to hang on to the tail of Birkin, who was putting up a terrific performance. After an epic run ‘firkin was eventually put out with tyre trouble, and then Glen Kidston started to harry the Mercedes. Meanwhile Clive Dunfee, who had taken over from Sammy Davies on No. 3 Six, came down to the turn at Pontlieu too quickly and buried the car in the sandbank, so that it had to be retired, despite heroic work on the part of Sammy Davies, who tried to dig it out with a lamp glass ; this, too, despite the fact that he was suffering considerable pain from pieces of glass in his eye from a stone which shattered his goggles during his spell at the wheel. Again this year there were two Stutz cars driven by Philippe de Rothschild and Brisson, but although they and the rest of the field, including two English Talbots, were putting up a good show, they did not really present any serious challenge to the Bentleys and Mercedes. The blower Bentley’s had considerable tyre trouble, the covers seeming to last only a few laps when the cars were driven really fast. One Stutz went out with a broken back-axle, and the other caught fire and was burnt to destnwt ion, luckily without injury to the driver or anyone else. After about 40 laps had been covered, Barnato, in the veteran Big Six, was speeded up by his pit and began to challenge the Mercedes, which had held first place up to now for most of the race. Barnato soon. passed, and in the ensuing dog fight, which lasted for nearly five hours, the lead changed many times. Eventually, however, the Mercedes went -out with dynamo trouble and reduced oil pressure. Evidently Birkin’s harrying tactics in the earlier part of the race had played their part. Now that the Mercedes was out, it would obviously be Bentleys’ race, and the team cars were slowed by instructions. The two Sixes carried on through the rest of the race with no troulle, although the blower ears were often in and out of their pits changing tyres. Glen Kidston and Woolf Barnato
won the race at 75.87 m.p.h., covering 1,821 miles. Clement and Watney were second on another Six. SO much for a brief resume of the Bentley successes at Le Mans. Dutes and Clement’s win in 1924 Set the seal of success on the 3-litre Bentley for ever. 1927 was famous for the historic White House crash, and the subsequent victory of a crippled car. .1928 saw the 41-litre cars victorious for the first time. 1929 was, I suppose, a fairly easy race for Bentleys, and the first race in which the new big Six succeeded, and 1980 gave Woolf Barnato his personal ” Hat-Trick,” and the same Big Six its second Le Mars victory. Great credit is due to the old Bentley Company, W.O., Woolf Barnato, and the rest of the Bentley boys. Bentleys, at Le Mans, have done more for
Britain than almost any other team anywhere, and they have left 4 tradition and heritage of which we may feel justifiably proud. It is sometimes said that the “Bentley Le Mans influence ” on British sports-cars was ” a bad thing ” in that for many years afterwards it became the fashion to market large, heavy 4-seater sports cars which often carried a mass of redun dant equipment. It must be admitted that some very pseudo ” Le Mans ” cars were marketed at one time or another— but on the whale I feel that the influence was a good one, in that it gave us sports cars which were at the same time Very practical tourers and much more suited to everyday use than the narrow, pointed tail 2-seaters, which would otherwise have probably become the vogue. had this came to pass it would have reflected very seriously on the “one car man,” though it would have had some advantages to the man who could have afforded
to run a sports-car as a second string which need not be used for everyday work; in this case his sports-car would have been faster, but not, I think, so desiraLle a possession.
Having driven examples of all the different types-of Le Mans Bentley I have come to the conclusion that I like the Big. Six far and away the best. This type has an animal fascination all its own, with a smooth but colossal flow of power through out ik range. The general opinion at Bentleys used to be that the 41-litre handled better at speed, and it was largely a matter of personaltaste, but I was in the minority in preferring the Six. I feel I should apologise for having written this article, as there are so many people better qualified to do so than I am, but your Editor asked for it. Finally, I hope I haven’t cribbed too much from
S. C. H. Davis’s wonderful book, “Motor Racing.” But without frequent reference to its pages I couldn’t have completed the story of these great British achievements.