News

Five of the Coolest and Most Important Bentley Race Cars Ever

Each one is amazing—and amazingly rare.

W.O. Bentley founded Bentley Motors on July 10, 1919 and to celebrate 100 years of one of the quintessential English brands, there were many important classic models on display and running up the hill at the 2019 Goodwood Festival of Speed. We found five amazing examples of Bentley’s motorsports heritage at the event in Chichester, England, and just had to share them with you.

1930 Bentley Speed Six “Old Number Two”

Many of the best prewar Bentley racers were graced with charming nicknames, and Old Number Two is among them. (“Old Mother Gun” is another.) Said to be one of the most original and correct vintage Bentleys going, Old Number Two was no slouch on the track with a second place finish at the 1930 24 Hours of Le Mans and a win at the Brooklands Double Twelve the same year, completing 2080 miles with an average race speed of more than 86 mph—heady stuff for the day. That it was driven by such well known Bentley Boys as Woolf Barnato and Frank Clemant at the latter is a cool bonus.

1929 Bentley “Birkin Single-Seater”

This special-bodied, supercharged Bentley racer was driven by Bentley Boy Sir Henry Ralph Stanley “Tim” Birkin to a new Brooklands Outer Circuit lap record in 1931, with an average speed of 135.33 mph. Birkin helped pioneer the age of supercharged Bentleys, W.O. himself not approving in the least and thinking of forced induction as a lazy and unreliable approach to gaining more power. Time would ultimately prove W.O. wrong and this car was the first supercharged Bentley to ever win a race. This car was last sold at Bonham’s 2012 Goodwood auction for $6,318,438 and it’s nice to see the owner putting it to good use.

1933 Bentley “Barnato Hassan Special”

Walter Thomas Frederick “Wally” Hassan is probably best known for his work developing ERA race cars and production Jaguar engines, but his first job was with Bentley where he worked his way up from sweeping floors as a teenager to the brand’s number-one mechanic in his twenties, servicing its best-known race cars. By 1933, Hassan had left Bentley, but was still very friendly with Bentley Boy (and by then, company savior) Woolf Barnato, who he co-built this car with. Equipped with a massive 8.0-liter engine, the Barnato Hassan Special would go on to set the runner-up to the fastest ever lap recorded at Brookland’s Outer Circuit with an average speed of 142.60 mph.

2003 Bentley Speed 8

When Bentley chose to return to Le Mans in 2001 with the EXP Speed 8, its 73-year absence hadn’t done it any favors. Still, one car managed a third-place finish, which was enough motivation for Bentley to carry on. A fourth place finish followed in 2002, but in 2003, the revised Speed 8s finished 1-2 overall, winning the race for the first time in over 70 years. While the Speed 8 is essentially a modified Audi R8C underneath, somehow that doesn’t dampen the car’s appeal—or diminish a great motorsports story.

1929 Bentley 4 ½-Litre Supercharged

A works Bentley racer, this 4 ½-Litre “blower” model had a busy 1929 and 1930, competing in the Irish Grand Prix and Tourist Trophy races twice each as well as setting a new lap record of 89.69 mph at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1930. It also competed in Belgium and at Brooklands, finishing in second place at the latter. How can you tell this is a supercharged model? Take a look at that huge blower hanging off the front of the car, beneath the grille.

 

1919 Bentley EXP 2

The second-ever Bentley to be built, EXP 2 also has the significance of being the first Bentley to win a race and is currently the oldest Bentley left in existence. It debuted as a non-running car at the 1919 Olympia Auto Show then competed as the first factory Bentley racer in 1921 at Brooklands, where it won with Bentley Boy Frank Clement behind the wheel. With a 3.0-liter, four-cylinder SOHC engine, power is rated somewhere around 175 horsepower—plenty when its curb weight is less than 1,500 pounds!

Read More
Why W.O. Bentley Despised the Blower Bentleys
Bentley at 100: A History of the Marque
Bentley and Le Mans Were a Perfect Match