Born into a family of jewellers, Frank Clement was intent of a career in the motor trade. In an era of the rich amateur, he was the only professional driver amid the “Bentley Boys” after a long career with the company.
Early racing career
Clement was a test driver for Vauxhall, Napier and others before World War I. He joined Bentley in that role after the conflict was over, also running the company’s research and development department. When Bentley first entered racing as a works team in 1921, Clement was among its drivers. The early highlight was his second-place finish in the 1922 Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man.
When you consider the race’s eventual place in his marque’s myth and legend, it is ironic that W.O.Bentley did not support the inaugural Le Mans 24 Hours in 1923. But John Duff entered a private Bentley “Sport” with Clement as his co-driver. The latter set the fastest lap of the race as they battled for the lead during the closing stages. They finished fourth despite fading brakes and running out of fuel at one stage.
Winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours
Duff and Clement returned a year later and to win the 1924 Le Mans 24 Hours by 10 miles. Clement continued to race Bentleys at Le Mans until 1930. He led and set the fastest lap again in 1927, was fourth in 1929 and second on his last appearance at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
That 1924 success was not the end to his achievements with Bentley. Clement won the 1927 Montlhéry 24 Hours with George Duller, 1929 BRDC 500 (Jack Barclay) and 1930 JCC Double 12 (Woolf Barnato) – both at Brooklands. His career came to an end amid Bentley’s financial problems at the time.