Michael Hay (or perhaps Osprey) chooses to title this as if it were only about the cars, but in truth it is the whole story of one of the least commercially sound outfits to have tottered into motoring history. No one has ever claimed that WO’s firm was a money-spinner, but as Hay’s fantastically detailed tale reveals, the company should have collapsed several times even before the combination of underfunding, slow market responses, unrealistic goals, and the 1929 slump brought the inevitable.
In 20 chapters, Hay quotes from internal memoranda, personal letters, family and staff recollections, and financial agreements to give the most intimate portrait yet of the hand-to-mouth existence concealed behind the glamour of racing success. He outlines the commercial events, including Bamato’s crucial support and the policy and personal disputes which accompanied it, but also goes into minute detail on the technical story, listing all cars run by the factory for development or racing purposes, the race history, and the Blower saga.
Using plans of the Cricklewood premises as a key, and a wonderful run of pictures, he leads us on a tour of the works on February 18, 1930. naming most of the staff depicted and even identifying the engines on the bench – an eerie experience 63 years on.
Hay has the grace to assume some Bentley knowledge on the reader’s part, but also the sense to insert tactful reminders here and there. He pinpoints factual conflicts in the written accounts, including WO’s own, makes a convincing bid to offer the best-balanced view of the WO years so far, and certainly the most thorough. Compelling for Bentley people – and I blame Hay’s earlier Bentley book entirely for numbering myself as one. GC