Happier Days!

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Being memories of a supercharged 4½-litre Bentley in a variety of countries.

Reading of other’s experiences with vintage cars has filled me with nostalgia for one of my own of long ago – surely one of the most entertaining high-performance cars ever made – a supercharged 4½-litre Bentley.

I shall always remember the first sight of the “blower.” I had an ordinary 4½-litre at the time and had driven up to H. M. Bentley’s, in Hanover Street, to discuss some modification – and there in the showroom stood the perfect car, a blown 4½ with a shining black open four-seater body with screen folded flat and two aero-screens in position. I had to have it and a deal was struck. “H. M.” had had the engine stripped and new bearings fitted as well as everything else possible done and. I started off with a virtually new car and drove it 75,000 miles with only normal decoking and brake-relining having to be done in the course of them. At first there was plug trouble at 95 m.p.h., but on fitting different types on the inlet and exhaust side of the engine this vanished and the car would at any time do up to 115 m.p.h., and from 70 to 90 the acceleration on top hit one in the back.

Contrary to many peoples’ belief I found the “blower” exceedingly reliable. It went everywhere with me – Europe, Asia, North Africa. I drove it from Oslo to Garmisch for the Olympic Winter Sports in mid-winter and I drove it overland to Cairo by way of Istanbul, Asia Minor and Palestine in mid-summer. I used it in London traffic and for long-distance fast travel. Calais to Vienna with one night on the road is a fair example of the latter.

I finished the Egypt trip by shipping from Alexandria to Athens and driving back overland from there, and the round trip of 8,000 miles, though full of incident, was free of any mechanical trouble save twice, both in Turkey. Driving at night in the military zone short of Istanbul with a soldier on board (whom I persuaded to lay down his loaded rifle in exchange for a Teddy Bear mascot I had in the car) we knocked the drain plug from the stamp on an appalling piece of road. Fortunately we reached Istanbul still spewing oil, and an efficient garage mended the damage during our two days’ wait for a ferry over the Bosphorus.

The second mishap occurred in Anatolia, navigating an irrigation ditch. The sides of the ditch collapsed with the car endways in it and the front wheels went down one way and the back the other, with the result that the radiator was twisted away from one lug and a steady leak developed. We got the car out with some horses and for 900 miles had to fill the radiator at every possible well, until at Aleppo an admirable garage did a permanent repair inside 24 hours.

One other Turkish incident is worth recalling. The “blower” and I ran into Dortyol, on the Turkish-Syrian frontier, one evening and I found on getting out that somewhere back on the day’s run the fuel -filler cap had come off and my precious tankful of petrol had been slopped out on the road. By the time I had bought enough petrol (at 4s. 6d. a gallon) to get on to Alexandretta I had only a few piastres (about 9d.) left, as I had not wanted to be left with surplus Turkish money when I left the country. No bank was available and I was very hungry. While I was paying for the petrol a cobbler who had been watching from outside his shop walked over and, to my great surprise, for Dortyol is a tiny place, asked in good English if he could help in any way as it was the first G.B. car he had seen there. I said he could, by going into the local restaurant and asking them to give me what they could for my last piastres, explaining what had happened. “Sir,” he replied, “I was a prisoner of war in your country for a long time and I have never yet had a chance of repaying the kindness shown me. Tonight you are my supper guest.” And so I was, and it was better than a banquet, that meal of nameless and curious dishes eaten in a grubby little eating house in a Turkish village with an old cobbler – and I felt very proud of England.

More than ten years have passed since the “blower ” and I parted cornpany – once again in Hanover Street. What would I give to be able to have one now!

C. E.. R.

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