DFP digressions

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Here is a backwater of motor-racing history which has connotations to both the great WO Bentley and Sir Henry Birkin. The aircraft industry was particularly badly hit by the recession that soon followed the war to end all wars and by the autumn of 1920 the famous Sopwith Company had been reduced to making items such as saucepans, wooden toys and ABC motorcycles. It was reformed by their legendary test-pilot Harry Hawker, Tom Sopwith and Sigrist, as the HG Hawker Engineering Company, which initially made Hawker motorcycles and car bodies, some of which were destined for race-cars. The restless ex-transatlantic pilot also took up motor-racing with an AC and formed an agency in his native Australia for the once-popular DFP cars.

To publicise the venture with latter marque, Hawker drove a standard DFP at the 1920 September Brooklands races but so painfully slow was it that he was still running as competitors for the next event were leaving the Paddock; an average of some 30mph! Unsurprisingly the agency idea folded…

The English concessionaires for the DFP were still, as they had been since 1912, WO Bentley and his brother HM at New Street Mews, London, where, in 1919, the Bentley car had been born. They had just opened fine new premises in London’s North Audley Street, perhaps with sales of the new 3-litre Bentley as well as DFF’s in mind. Fortunately for them a quicker DFP had been running on the same day as Hawker’s damp squib…

WO Bentley had raced one of these 12/15hp DFPs very successfully before the war at the Track where he took many class records, the hour at 89.9mph, in the Isle of Man TT, and in hill-climbs, etc. This second DFP of 1920 was driven by H RS Birkin and in view of his later famous appearances at Le Mans, etc, with Bentley cars, it seems very likely that WO had advised him to use a DFP for his racing initiation. In fact, his brown car with its aluminium bonnet and a body of mahogany planks sewn together with copper wire on the Saunders-Roe ‘Consuta’ system, as used for seaplane floats etc, had the radiator from WO’s pre-war racing DPP.

Unplaced in 1920, Birkin managed to score a second and a third place at the 1921 Summer BARC races. The family lace business then took him away from motor racing for six years, but RC Gallop drove the DFP with some gusto at the August Brooklands Meeting, repeating the form with second and third places.

There is another Bentley link here, because Gallop was employed by WO when the first 3-litre was being built, and, in later years, he joined up with Sir Henry on his blower 4½-litre Bentley and other projects. He again drove the DFP at the Autumn 1921 races, in both of which he did the car’s fastest-ever lap, 81.64mph, but to no avail. After an abortive attempt by Douglas Hawkes to race this road-taxed DFP in 1922 it disappeared. But I have no need to remind you of the great racing career Sir Henry Birkin, Bt, subsequently achieved.

Doriot, Flandrin et Parant? They sold their Courbevoie factory in 1926 to the Lafitte company, who made a very odd little cyclecar.