Racing in the Dark book review: WO Bentley's Le Mans triumph

A fresh look at the early years of Bentley reveals how the British marque put the roar into the ’20s, says Gordon Cruickshank

Bentley Speed Six of Clement and Watney at Le Mans 1930

Frenzied night-time action surrounds the Speed Six of Clement and Watney, placed second in 1930

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Current page

183

Current page

184

Current page

185

Current page

186

Current page

187

Current page

188

Cover soundbites from Alexei Sayle and Robbie Coltrane tell you this has wider targets than the motoring field, but then as with his previous book High Performance Grimsdale brings wider views to our little world. It means that while his story – Bentley’s Le Mans racing pre-war – is something that we’ve covered at length in these pages at the time and ever since, let alone the scores of books on the subject, we can expect some different viewpoints to go with the intended different readership. A look at the bibliography confirms this: not just scads of Bentley and racing titles but others on economics, politics and social history.

It would have been astonishing had Grimsdale discovered any rich new sources so far on and he doesn’t claim to (except that he does tap unpublished memoirs of ‘Benjy’ Benjafield thanks to the racing doctor’s grandson). What he does so well is to assimilate a huge body of events and views into an elegantly packaged story, stitching the racing into a tapestry of the times and the lives of the people involved. It’s also a very human tale drawing on a large number of personal memoirs, whether it’s a passing mention of Jean Chassagne’s background or an explanation of how closely WO Bentley’s story ties up with Sammy Davis, later to be the hero of that great victory wrenched from defeat (Grimsdale says “not so much from its jaws as somewhere deep down in its digestive system”), the 1927 White House crash which piled all three Bentleys into five other cars.

I liked his comment about Bentley’s financial saviour and triumphant Le Mans hat-tricker: “Barnato was the closest 1920s Britain came to a real life Jay Gatsby.” Although I don’t think Gatsby ever kept wicket for Surrey or built his own full-size pub in the basement of his country house as ‘Babe’ did.