Book Reviews, February 1991, February 1991
Books for the New Year Automobile Year — 1990/91 Editor David Hodges. 279 pp. 12¾…
RACING MARQUES GREAT
The first car.
THE name of Bentley was by no means unknown in the racing world before the first car bearing it ever made its appearance. All followers of the sport in pre-War days remembered ” W.O. on his little D.F.P. in the 1914 T.T., and the plucky performance which he put up. When, therefore, directly after the war it became known that he was going to produce a sports car of his own, interest was thoroughly aroused.
The first experimental editions of the Bentley car were to be seen on the road in 1920. The new machine proved to be in all essentials a 1914 racing car. Bentley had not been led astray by the wartime aero engine practice enthusiasm for multi-cylinder engines, but had stuck to the ” four ‘ for his 3-litre, then, incidentally, regarded distinctly as a medium sized engine. The engine had a long stroke, the dimensions of 80 x 149 inms. had been famous for 3-litres ever since the days of the pre-war Voiturette racers, which were descended from the machines of the limited bore regulation period. Four valves per cylinder were used, operated by an overhead camshaft, the gear-box was separate from the engine, and an open propellor shaft took the drive to the back axle.
A daring venture.
Here obviously was a car to warm the heart of any enthusiast. On the road the machine fully lived up to its specification. Yet when it was announced, in 1922, that three standard sports cars would be entered for the T.T. race, which was for 3-litre racing cars, without any other restriction, even those who knew the Bentley well, were surprised at the daring of the manufacturers. W. 0. Bentley, however, declared that he was out to demonstrate the high-speed reliability of his cars, and not necessarily to win the rate. How well he succeeded in his object may now be described.
The rate was run on 22nd June, 1922, over the famous course in the Isle of Man, the total distance being 302 miles. The three Bentleys were driven by ” W.0.” himself, F. C. Clement and W. D. Hawkes. Their Only antagonists were teams of Sunbeams and Vauxhalls, both of which, however had built Special racing machines for the race. l’nfortimately Kennelm Lee Guinness’ Sunbeam suffered from a slipping clutch on the morning of the race, and the starters were consequently reduced to eight.
The 1922 T.T.
The start of the race took place at 9.30 on a miserable wet and misty morning. In spite of the conditions, the straighteight Sunbeams soon showed themselves
By E. K. H. KARSLAKE
the fastest cars on the course, but at the end of the first lap, W. 0. Bentley appeared in third place immediately behind Segrave and Chassagne. Clement, at the same time, was lying fifth, but on the second lap the first withdrawal, in the form of one of the Vauxhalls took place, and Clement moved up behind W. 0. Bentley, going ahead of him. on the next lap. On the fourth lap Segrave retired with magneto trouble, and Clement took second place, from which he was never to be dislodged. Bentley himself finally finished fourth, with Hawkes fifth. The whole team had thus completed the race intact. The nature of the performance can best be gauged from the fact that only one each of the Sunbeam and Vauxhall teams was able to do likewise. W. 0. Bentley’s claim for high-speed reliability had received ample justification. The excitement over this performance of the Bentley in road racing had hardly
died away when its reliability at even higher speed was demonstrated on the track. J. F. Duff, like many another enthusiast, had bought a standard 4-seater sports 3-litre Bentley. He provided it with supplementary petrol and oil tanks. stripped it of every unnecessary accessory and set out to attack the doubletwelve hour record at Brooklands. The attempt on the record, which then stood at 80.10 m.p.h., took place on 27th and 28th September, 1922, and Duff, driving single handed throughout, had by the end of the second day covered 2,082 miles, 1,726 yards. His average speed was thus 86.79 m.p.h. and the record was handsomely broken.
Duff at Le Mans.
It was in 1923 that the enterprising Automobile Club de l’Ouest de la France conceived the brilliant idea of organising a 24-hour road race for standard cars at le Mans. The first race of a series which was to become perhaps the most famous of modern times was passed almost unnoticed by British manufacturers. J. F. Duff, however, decided to enter his Bentley for this equally strenuous test of endurance, and was accompanied by F. C. Clement as relief driver. The Bentley soon showed itself among the fastest cars on the course, but unfortunately it was considerably handicapped in competition with its French rivals by reason of its lack of front wheel brakes. Nevertheless, and in spite of trouble with a headlamp during the night, when the morning of Sunday, 27th May, 1923 broke, the Bentley was running third to two of the Chenard et Walckers. Th.roughout the morning the English car maintained its position, and then, just before mid-day, a stone went right through the petrol tank, and the car was stranded three miles from the pits.
By the time that fresh supplies of fuel had been fetched and a temporary repair effected, 21 hours had been lost. F. C. Clement, in spite of his lack of front brakes, proceeded to put up a record for the le Mans circuit at 67 m.p.h. But the delay could by no means be made good and the Bentley had to be content to tie for fourth place with one of the 2-litre Bignans, behind another car of similar type and two 3-litre Chenard et Walchers. The English car’s average in the first le Mans 24-hour race was 49.9 m.p.h.
A victory in Spain.
Later in the year Duff decided to take his car to San Sebastian for the touring car races which were held on. the now wellknown Lasarte road-circuit at the end of July. Another Bentley driven by Carreras also started in the 3-litre class. The latter was forced to retire, and liuff, while leading the field and having only two more laps to go, crashed into a stdne wall. The driver was slightly injured and his car too badly damaged to continue. Nevertheless, as no one else finished in the class,
Duff was awarded the prize he had so nearly won. Nothing daunted by this accident, however Duff once more appeared at the wheel of a Bentley in the Georges Boillot Cup race which was held at Boulogne at the beginning of September, 1923. On this occasion he was accompanied by Clement and Kensington Moir on similar cars. The Bentleys, however, for some reason did not meet with their usual good fortune. Duff and Clement were both forced to retire before the end
of the race, and Kensington Moir, whose car had not been going well, finished in sixth place, a long way behind the winner.
The next year, Duff once more decided to try his luck with his Bentley in the le Mans 24-hour race, and he again had Clement as his driving partner. This time, however, the Bentley’s main disadvantage of the year before had been eliminated, for like all the fast French cars, it was fitted with 4-wheel brakes. For the 1924 race a new rule had been introduced whereby the cars had to stop, put up their hoods and continue with them up for a couple of laps. Other things being equal, therefore, the speed was likely to be lower. When the start was given on Saturday, 14th June, however, the weather conditions were perfect.
Le Mans, 1924 and 1925.
Once again the Bentley’s chief rivals proved to be the Chenard et Walckers, the Lorraine .Dietrichs and the Bignans. At half time the English car was running second, about 20 miles behind the leading Lorraine. During the early hours of the morning in spite of a delay through a coachwork staple falling into the gearlever gate and blocking the change, the
Bentley began to creep up, and. at half past nine assumed the lead. About a couple of hours before the end, Duff came into to change the wheels, and was considerably delayed by reason of swollen hubs. The Lorraine-Dietrich, however, had meanwhile fallen out, and when the English car got away again it still had a long lead over its nearest competitor. But the rules specified that a maximum time only could be taken for each five laps, and the Bentley by reason of the wheel changing episode had fallen below schedule
for one of these periods. The last 70 miles or so covered by the car were therefore not credited to it at all. So great had been its lead before this incident, however, that the Bentley nevertheless won the Grand Prix d’Endurance, by a little over 10 miles. The distance officially credited to it was 1,290.75 miles, which gives an average speed of 53.75 m.p.h. After this magnificent victory, Duff and Clement decided to return to the fray with their Bentley in 1925. This year also they were joined by another car of the same type which had Kensington Moir and Dr. J. D. Benjafield as its drivers. The race was run on 21st and 22nd June, and the Bentleys’ fastest rivals were the Chenard et Walckers and Lorraine Dietrichs as before, and the 3-litre Sunbeams which now appeared for the first time to swell the English contingent. The Bentleys’ luck, however, completely failed them on this occasion. The first 20 rounds of the race had this year to be covered with the hoods up. Moir’s car had a slightly lower gear-ratio than Duff’s, with the result that it was able to attain maximum revs, in spite of the increased distance. The effect on its fuel consumption, however, had been overlooked, and
with 15 miles still to go before it was entitled by the rules to fill up, it ran out of petrol.
Duff, by reason ofhis higher gear ratio, was saved from this disaster. On the other hand, the car was delayed by a faulty petrol pump, and then about 5 a.m. the casting of one float chamber broke and the car caught fire. By the time the flames had been extinguished considerable damage had been done to the petrol piping. The walk to the pits and back to the point where the car had stopped would alone have occupied a couple of hours. There was obviously, therefore, little chance of finishing well up in the race, and the car was withdrawn.
24 hours at 95.02 m.p.h.
Before the end of the year Bentleys had some compensation for their hard luck on this occasion. Duff once more decided to attack long-distance track records, but this time he repaired to Montlhery, where 24 hours could be run at a stretch. On his 3-litre Bentley he succeeded with Woolf Barnato as his co-driver in covering 2,280.9 miles in the two rounds of the clock. The average speed was thus 95.02 m.p.h. and the previous record was broken by 178 miles.
By 1926 the Grand Prix d’Endurance at le Mans had become so important an event, that Bentleys decided to take an official hand in the game. Two cars were therefore entered by the factory and had respectively F. C. Clement and George Duller and S. C. H. Davis and Dr. J. D. Benj afield as their drivers. In addition the firm had by now produced a short chassis” 100 m.p.h.” model, an example of which was entered by A. ‘1’. Thistlethwaite and driven by its owner and Clive Gallop.
The Bentley-Lorraine duel.
It was to be proved, however, that increased numbers did not spell success. In the early hours of the race the Bentleys showed that they could hold their own with the fastest cars, the Lorraine Dietrichs and Peugeots. But soon after half time the leading car, then driven by Duller broke a valve and had to retire. Six hours later a similar misfortune overtook Gallop. There was now only one Bentley left in the race, but it was running well in third place. Then, during the last hour its driver, S. C. H. Davis, while engaged in a battle royal with Mongin’s Lorraine Lietrich, tried to take the Mulsanne corner too fast and crashed into the bank
at the roadside. The car could not be extricated, but by the time of the crash had already covered a sufficient distance to be placed sixth.
Benjafield’s car made another appearance later in the year in the Georges Boillot Cup race at Boulogne, but, curiously enough, elimination again took place through a crash, three laps from the end. In 1927 the enterprising Essex Motor Club decided to hold a 6-hour race at Brooldands for standard cars, artificial turns being introduced into the circuit. The race attracted the entry of no less than five Bentleys, the drivers of the cars
being S. G. Harvey, L. 0. Callitigham, J. D. Benjafield, Woolf Baxnato, H. R. S. Birkin, C. A. C. Birkin and P. C. Clement. Birkin’s car, however, was the only mem
ber of the team to finish, covering third greatest distance at an average speed of 59.8 m. p. h. During the early months of the year, mysterious things had been going on at the Bentley works. Rumours began to spread of a new sports model which would be added to the famous 3-litre and the 6-cylinder, which had been introduced in 1925. Shortly before the le Mans race the mystery was cleared up. One of the entries was indeed a new model of most interesting type. The chassis was almost identical with that of the 3-litre, and the engine followed the same design. The
dimensions of the new unit, however, were 100 x 140 mms., giving a capacity of 4,500 c.c. The new car was driven in the race by P. C. Clement and L. G.
Callingham, while its two team mates, whkh were of the well-known 3-litre type, had as their drivers Baron d’Erlanger and George Duller and Dr. J. D. Benjafield and S. C. H. Davis.
The Bentleys soon showed themselves by far the fastest cars in the race. At 9.30 on the evening of Saturday, 18th June they were in the three leading positions, when there occurred one of the most amazing crashes en masse in the history of motor racing. On an easy left-hand bend, soon after the Arnage turn, a Th. Selmeider crashed into a wall and ended up in the middle of the road. Callingham who was following on the 41-litre Bentley, in an effort to avoid the Th. Schneider, ditched his car, and Duller on one of the 3-litres crashed into the back of the “ft “, both cars being wrecked. Davis on the third Bentley somehow sensed disaster and braked bard, but was unable to avoid bumping the back of Duller’s car. He got off, however, with a broken wheel, wing and headlamp and a bent front axle.
There was now only one Bentley left in the race, and this one was damaged. In this condition it fought a magnificent duel with a 3-litre Aries, until the latter broke the vertical shaft driving the overhead camshaft. With its only serious competitor out of it the Bentley, driven by Davis and Benjafield came home the winner of the Grand Prix d’Endurance for the second time. The distance covered was 1,472.6 miles and the average speed 61.4 m.p.h.
(To be continued in our December issue).
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