There are many branches to a family tree. Dissecting your history can be hit and miss. You may find that you had some questionable relatives or you could be descended from Kings. The reality is that we all have a story in our past. Sometimes though, these stories have become legendary. In the case of this car, it is automotive royalty. Bow your head in reverence to the ‘Birkin’ Bentley Blower.
This is the car that Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin raced and is acknowledged as one of the most significant cars in the history of Bentley. Given that W.O. himself didn’t like it, hated the idea of adding a supercharger or blower, and the fact that it didn’t win a race, it is strange how it became so revered.
The car is an iconic testament to the racing Bentley cars of the pre-war years, and what so endeared it to the fans of motor racing back then was the sheer turn of speed. By the end of 1928, the competition were closing in on the supremacy of the Bentley race cars. The main way to increase speed was to simply build a bigger engine and for W.O. Bentley, that is precisely what he did. The 6 ½ Litre Speed Six resulted winning Le Mans in 1929 and 1930.
But Bentley Boy Birkin preferred the supercharging option based on the 4 ½ Litre cars.
In 1929, Sir ‘Tim’ commissioned the production of a series of 4 ½ Litre Bentleys, powered by an independently produced supercharger from engineer, Amherst Villiers. W.O. Bentley believed this would ‘pervert the engine’s design’ but the then chairman, Woolf Barnato, was persuaded by Birkin and the project to produce 50 production cars, the required limit to go racing, began.
The duel at the 1930 Le Mans race between Mercedes-Benz driver Rudolf Carracciola and Sir Tim Birkin, is legendary. Where there is legend, there is also fiction, but from the moment the drivers ran to their cars Birkin and Carracciola were neck and neck around the French circuit. Birkin famously passed the Mercedes SSK down the Hunaudières straight with two wheels on the grass and while neither car lasted the distance in that 24 hour race, they have ascended into motorsport legend.
We had the pleasure of meeting this famous car and the ‘Birkin’ family of Sir Henry himself at the Bicester Heritage Scramble. With gracious thanks not only to Bentley for bringing this £20m car to the event, but also to Loop Agency for arranging the grandson and great grandson to take a tour of the site in the car for the very first time. It was not only special for them but also for us.
As Mike Sayer from Bentley Motors says, ‘these cars were built for a purpose and that purpose was not to sit in a museum and never be seen, heard or enjoyed.’ We cannot wait to see what other treasures Mike may turn up in next.
In the words of engineer and automotive historian Laurence Pomeroy, ‘the spectacular feats of driving by Birkin, and the magnificent and imposing appearance of these cars, have contributed to give them a heroic and legendary fame.’