‘Bentley Speed Six is a car for hunting the enemy’

Almost 100 years old, the Bentley Speed Six is sharp and snarling despite its age


Forget the Blower, the Speed Six was the car that made the headlines – and put Bentley on the map

It is the vastness of the thing that is most disconcerting. All that metal; tall, thin and long. It seems unfit for the purpose for which it has been designed. And that’s just the engine.

The car itself is no more reassuring. People used to race these? Climb aboard and settle in. The height of the driving position and length of the prow makes this feel more like a bridge than a cabin.

Flick the switches for the pumps and magnetos, remember to retard the ignition on the steering wheel and thumb the starter. All six cylinders of this 6.6-litre motor catch, each displacing more capacity than an entire Ford Fiesta engine. Its voice is deep and barrel-chested.

Press the clutch, push the gearlever forward and feel it slot into place. Add throttle. It feels like getting this thing underway should be far more difficult, but the pit building to the right appears to be moving.

Bentley Speed Six interior

Unlike a Blower Bentley, in a Speed Six the pedals are the correct way around. But getting a gear once underway is a different matter to when parked. There is no choice but to learn the gaps between the ratios, then judge by ear how much you should allow the revs to fall before trying to double declutch your way into the next one. Downshifts require you to reverse the process using the throttle pedal. It’s easier than it sounds and besides, these gearboxes are indestructible.

Steering is lighter than you expect and the brakes consistent in feel, though not that strong. But there is nothing here remotely alarming. The best part of 100 years old it may be, but it’s precision engineered. It’s the torque that dominates. You could slow to walking pace and pull smoothly away in top gear. Gearchanges can be regarded as optional. But getting it right and feeling the lever slice cleanly and silently into its new position is all part of the fun. The engine thunders when extended towards the 3500rpm Barnato and co would have used; it feels unburstable.

This really is a car for the Mulsanne, hunting the enemy at over 100mph. As its driver you’d know it was down to you, because your machinery was never going to let you down. Twenty-four hours later, you’d tumble out, utterly spent, requiring a week in bed to get over the experience. The Speed Six? It would be sat there, idling happily to itself, ready to go the distance all over again. AF