Bentley and Le Mans: The Genesis of Racing Legends

In 100 years of the Le Mans 24 Hours, few legends have proved as compelling as that of the Bentley Boys. Andrew Frankel tells the story of a largely amateur group of war veterans who took on the world’s greatest race with courage and determination – and against the odds

Woolf Barnato and Tim Birkin’s Speed Six of 1929

Woolf Barnato and Tim Birkin’s Speed Six of 1929


Taken from Motor sport online May 2023

When was the legend born? Certainly long after the story had started. I think it was in the early evening of 18th June, 1927 when a driver called Pierre Tabourin misjudged the entry to Maison Blanche corner in his Theophile Schneider, lost control, bounced off a bank and came to rest parked sideways across the circuit. At least most of it.

Next upon the scene was one Leslie Callingham in the new 4 1/2-litre Bentley – although sticklers for accuracy might tell you that, technically, it was a 3-litre with a 4 1/2-litre engine. It is his first race for Bentley, and it will be his last, but right now he is leading it, by miles. His car is the class of the field. He approaches White House flat out, even back then the Bentley travelling beyond 100mph, before slowing to perhaps 75mph for the curve. Concealed for sight by the inky darkness and topography of the curve, he spots too late his hapless rival. Desperate to avoid T-boning him, Callingham swerves violently which only serves to send the Bentley clean off the track and onto its side in a ditch.