A supercharged single- seater Bentley 1-type

Readers can see how three years of effort has resulted in a big blue single-seater of almost submarine length and profile. I had no inkling of what awaited me at our Surrey test track. Our editor had described it as having some kinship with a F5000 car, so my visions were of rear engined formula machine of quite unbelievable power, thanks to a supercharger mounted on the aluminium V8! What I found at the test track was equally incredible. The front engined monster is a quite beautifully finished tribute to the development abilities of Lyncar. Equipped with large silencers we could chuff gently along in true Bentley style; firmer pressure on the accelerator turning “Gently Bentley” into a threshing beast whose mandatory narrow wheels could not contain the torrent of energy being split so carelessly over exceptionally slippery tarmac. Very impressive, but what is the point?

Barrington Eastick, a stalwart of the Bentley Drivers’ Club, decided in 1974 that the development left in the most popular Bentley racing choice, the highly modified Mk. 6-based cars, was limited. He recalls, “people think the BDC must consist of a lot of snobs with too much money. When I started racing Mk. 6s you could pick one up for a £100 or so: now, of course, it’s very different. Newcomers must find it much harder to get started than I did …”

Mr. Eastick decided that the then-current T-type specification could provide the basis for a much faster car: the V8 engine, all disc braking and independent suspension were all key factors. Mr. Eastick was fortunate in obtaining the necessary T-type suspension, steering and engine components from Rolls Royce at Crewe. It is unlikely that such an opportunity will arise again, though M. Eastick talks about running a Bentley at Le Mans in wistful manner. Such a project would need expert help indeed. Also needed were BDC rules to cover a T-type project, and these were swiftly formulated around front engine and gearbox pattern. The T-type special got off to a false start. The project was then moved to Lyncar and designer Martin Slater on December 1st, 1975. Thanks to the sterling work of mechanic Vernon Francis the car was ready to run in August last year.

It was conceived as a single-seater that could be turned into a dual-seat sports car, but the latter layout is now unlikely after such an expensive birth. The key to this project is that Slater has used his extensive formula car design experience to ensure that everything works, and is no more complicated than such an ambitious engine development must dictate.

The basis for the car is the front and rear suspensions of a F-type joined together by a capacious space frame-ladder structure on an 8 ft. 10 in. wheelbase. The standard T-type cross-members are used and the suspension mounling points – but not the springs or Koni dampers, of course. The steel chassis is clothed in aluminium panels secured by stainless steel screws.

At the rear the 13-gallon fuel tank is filled with normal 5-star fuel. It sits in front of the trailing arm i.r.s. layout, which sparkles in its unfamiliar home beneath a layer of nickel plate. A cursory glance at the rear end shows that there is nothing that end that is going to counterbalance that 6 1/2-litre engine and equally hefty four speed gearbox placed at the front. Of its 2,156 lb. this Bentley racing car (chassis and engine number SSSC 2, derived front its show car mechanical ancestry) has a massive 1,320 lb. front and just 836 lb. at the rear!

This weight distribution is most accurately relayed by the unassisted recirculating ball steering, which just gets further toward total inertia and requires ever more massive effort the faster you try and turn the car. If Barry Eastick had been able to carry out the project today – and even he is doubtful if he would even want to set out on such a scheme again! – the car would benefit considerably from rack and pinion steering, thicker disc brakes and by 6 3/4-litre motor.

The final drive ratio was a Bentley Continental’s 3.07, to 1 for the test. Theuse of the Salisbury E-type Jaguar differential allows quite a few choices of final drives to go with the Bentley Continental close ratio gears within the R-type casing. That box is actually mounted upside down, with a remote control and linkage to take the change over to the left of the driver.

The 6,230 c.c. V8 is magnificent to look at, and to drive behind. From a competition viewpoint this V8 has quite a lot of features in common with the ubiquitous Chevrolets: at least with those of 5.7-litres, or less. In aluminium construction, the motor weighs less than the Bentley six used in S1 cars. The production 104 mm. bore and 91.4 mm. stroke are retained.

Generally speaking the engine is a blueprinted cousin to the production unit, until lubrication and induction features are discussed, that is. A dry sump layout holds 3 1/2 gallons of oil with the alloy reservoir in the cockpit.

The Supercharger is of the Roots type sold through Allard. Currently operating at 5-7 lb. of boost, the Slater designed installation has the priority of keeping the bonnet line low. This is achieved by a pair of 2-in. SUs at by front of the car, plumbed to feed into the cadmium plated steel induction tubing that takes the blower assistance on up to a remarkably flat piping network within the central 90 degree vee. Low compression pistons offer a 6-to-1 static c.r., operating in comunction with a standard head gasket.

Primary problems centred around getting the fuel distribution, and thus the first time starting, to a civilised level. Piping Ki-Gass into the inlets may not be original, in fact it brings a welcome breath of the past to this modern adaptation of the Bentley name, but it also allows first class starting manners. Within the engine the original components live on, merely balanced to allow a 5,000-r.p.m. limit, some 250 r.p.m. rnore than production engines allow.

Originally the hydraulic pushrods operated in the standard copper with hollow centres. Following a spate of bent pushrods, silvered steel has been substituted. The brakes have also proved a bit disappointing, considering the lighter load they have to retard. Servo assistance is retained, but with smaller-bore master cylinders. Alloy Girling AR calipers operate via twin pistons (one either side) at the front, or single piston at the rear: both ends are padded by Ferodo.

New Zealander Howard Wood handed the car over, after a thorough appraisal of its habits from a modern professional driver’s view, with the words, “Now that’s wheelspin!” Later on, Howard was to discover a far more balanced set of tyre pressures, but in the form I had the car both initial understeer and terminal power oversteer were strong facts of life! The cockpit was not the cliche squeeze that single-sever drivers would recognise. In fact there seems to be plenty of space for the old-fashioned wood rim steering wheel, imaginary passenger alongside, and that shining example of machine finished metal that provides the facia on this car.

Instrumentation is quite conventional, rather than the 1920/30s style I had half expected. True, the tachometer is big, but 60 lb. regular pil pressure and 70 C were indicated on the normal type of Smiths puge. The bucket-style driving scat and Luke comprehensive harness re-affirm the feeling that there’s a modern feel to this Bentley, maybe it is a normal car?

The thought lasts but an instant. Stretching away into the acres of tasteful dark blue body one can faintly discern the outline of the front wheels. Starting is as simple as anticipated, but care is needed to try and fool the unsynchronised first gear smoothly into mesh while the proud owner surveys your efforts.

Somewhat ponderously I waddled the Bentley’s ample length to the outer circuit. The track is as standard, though clothed with 15 by 8 in. fronts and 15 by 10 in. rears from Minilite wheels: Dunlop provide the traditional treaded rubber. A carefully ordered change into second prods this strange entourage firmly toward our banking.

At first, I concentrated on trying to establish, at low speed, the breakaway characteristics of this ttnique device. I had no standard by which to judge the car at all. The tyres were old enough to have featured the compounder’s equivalent of concrete, and it was obvious from the off that the guesstimated horsepower (400 b.h.p.) was totally irrelevant: maximum torque seemed to be available from 1,000 to 4,000 r.p.m. So, applying throttle in third gear could kick the rear wheels happily out of line.

After 20 minutes playing time some of this Bentley special’s character had filtered through. It really is a locomotive: lovingly cared for and engineered … bulky, but capable of thundering along in a most impressive manner. The gearchange has to be used slowly and with care, but is really hardly needed at all. The super charging layout allows plenty of bottom end pulling power, and yet the engine will run up to its 5,000 r.p.m. maximum in top gear with casual ease.

Acceleration is controlled only by the wheelspin and the speed with which you can change gear without mating the internals, tooth tip-to-tip. The maximum r.p.m. in fourth are quickly attained, when you can pound along enraptured by the magnificent bellow of the big engine. At this stage you may wonder if the occasional transmission whine is relevant to your immediate future on earth, but since the Bentley has that trustworthy aura of brute strength, the accelerator stays depressed.

Handling is exactly how one might imagine a nose-heavy vintage car. My arms ached for days afterwards from the effort of pointing the car into slow corners, or trying to hold it around our rough banking. Obviously at slower speeds, there is always the chance of oversteering the car by acceleration, but the thought of Mr. Eastick’s good natured hospitality restrained me from holding it in what I would expect to be a consistent tail-slide. Cowardice was a relevant factor here, for the long wheelbase machine slipped out of line quite easily on our slippery surface, and it was not always possible to tell if the nose or the neatly faired tail would dart out of the driver’s grasp. Mr. Eastick explored this aspect thoroughly over the August Bank Holiday: the Bentley is currently awaiting some £1,000-worth of crash repairs!

In many ways this Bentley special is an astonishing device. It seems to alter shape as one walks around it, the nose modelled on a BRM and the tail carrying echoes of both sports and single-seater racing cars of the fifties. In the cockpit the handsome wooden steering wheel seems hardly relevant as the supercharger lends extra might to the already considerable pulling power of those litres: a real expert should be able to slide from corner to corner with barely a twitch of the wheel, until the inevitable giant tail slide had to be fully corrected.

I wished I had driven, or had the benefit of knowing an expert on the antics of the radically altered Mk 6-based racers. Then it would be possible to judge how much of an advantage this purpose-built machine had over current BDC competitors. If you are interested in matters Bentley, whether racing or ownership, I should add that the BDC (founded in 1936) operate from the W. O. Bentley Memorial Building, 16 Chearlsley Road, Long Crendon, Aylesbury, Bucks, Tel. Long Crendon 208233.

If the dead steering and adequate, rather than inspiring, brakes left me little desire to actually race the beast, the memory of that hearty engine is unlikely to fade. It may not rev in the approved racing manner, but it certainly has power where no other racing unit can pack such a punch! A unique experience that seems leas credible as the weeks go by – .