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The history of Bentley is closely linked to the history of the 24h of Le Mans. Today the race is important for the manufacturers to show their advanced technology but in these days it was even more important to show the reliability of the cars in an 24 hour test on the most demanding circumstances.

At the first edition in 1923 a private entered Bentley 3 Litre in the Hands of Duff and Clement came home forth overall after leading before a stop because of an leaking tank. WO Bentley himself was at the pits and it seems that he realized the importance of the race as every of the coming years saw a works entry of the Cricklewood company.

Based on the experience of the first year Duff and Clement partnered again a 3 Litre in 1924 giving Bentley their first victory. The next 2 years were not very successful with none of the works entered cars finishing but 1927 saw the next victory. The famous white house crash took out the entire works team including the new 4 ½ Litre with just one car surviving in battered form to take the chequered flag first. The 4 ½ Litre set the lap record and was the option for the following year to replace the 3 Litres and compete with Stutzes and Chryslers of the same capacity giving Bentley another win. For 1929 Bentley took even a step further and entered a 6.5 Litre Speed Six to follow the credo of WO that an increase of power should be achieved by increasing the displacement. The 6.5 Litre was introduced in 1926 but was not intended to race in the beginning but to carry heavy coach build bodies. Bentley-Boy Woolf Barnato won its second Le Mans after 1928 partnering Henry “Tim” Birkin who should become the driving force behind the Blower project.

Birkin did not agree with WO that a naturally-aspirated large capacity engine should be the option but he wanted a supercharged version of the 4 ½ Litre to compete with the very fast supercharged Mercedes that was entered in 1930 for Caracciola and Werner. WO agreed to run a 50 cars production of the 4 ½ Litre Blower to meet the requirements of the regulation but the race cars were entered by Birkin and financed by Dorothy Paget. The supercharger was supplied by Amherst Villier and attached to the later heavy crank engine of the 4 ½ litre production line.

In the 1930 Le Mans race there were few opponents for the 6 Bentleys entered except the Mercedes so WO gave out the simple team order to chase the very fast Mercedes with all cars into retirement. Birkin in his Blower was the first to compete and in an epic battle he passed Caracciola with 2 wheels in the grass to set a new lap record despite a destroyed rear tire. This might be one of the most painted scene of classic racing beside Barnatos battle with the Blue Train. Birkin fell back with a blown tire and had to retire a few hours later with a broken valve but as the Mercedes was overstressed by the chase of the Bentleys as well the remaining Speed Sixes came home at a invulnerable 1-2 giving Barnato his third win in a row with the very same car that won in 1929, becoming famously known as “Old No.1”.

Birkin campaigned the Blowers throughout the season in either single-seater form or with standard tourer body with a best second place at the French GP, this led Ettore Bugatti to call them “the fastest trucks in the world”.

Although the Blower Bentley never won a major race in his active career and therefore is the least successful of the Bentley racers he became an icon of its era over the years. With just 50 units build (plus the 4 Birkin team cars and a spare car) and the charisma of Tim Birkin and WO Bentley behind it, it is highly sought after in today's market. With the years of experience most of the cars are sorted out today leaving most of the problems of the original design behind and they are actively campaigned by the very adventurous members of the Bentley Drivers Club.

This July the long time Blower owners and enthusiasts of the Family Weibel organised a jubilee rally to celebrate 80 years of the Le Mans entry. Between the second and the sixth of July about a dozen of the original Blowers plus the first supercharged Bentley (a 1923 3 Litre) and a few 4 ½ Litre that were supercharged later in their life came together in Bad Säckingen near the German-Swiss border to enjoy their toys on various daily trip in the Black Forest, the Jura mountains and the Alps.

Just between the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Le Mans Classics we had the opportunity to join them on their last day to the Alps. After a long journey from Sussex to Bad Säckingen we were welcomed by 13 cars parked on the parking lot in the pedestrian zone in front of the hotel. Being the last day the field had already dried out a little bit with 3 cars already on their way home and a few more to leave the following morning.

9 cars left in the following morning on the freeway directly to the Klausenpass that once showcased the famous hill climb in the 30s and today features the Revival every 5 years.

Unfortunately the weather has changed overnight so rain and fog accompanied the crew on their way up the hill. With no additional weather protection for the rear passengers this was a rare opportunity to see Bentleys with hood up as usually they are driven open at whatever conditions, but here one could see why the dual-cowl was a well chosen option these days if the back seats were used by others than luggage.

The first stop was at a local cheese manufactory at the Urnerboden for a taste of the local specialities before the convoy headed up for the last miles to the top of the pass to take lunch at the Hotel Klausenpass. During lunch the weather cleared up a little bit and when the cars left the Klausenpass the sun was out again. Nevertheless most of the crews have chosen the direct route back to Bad Säckingen with a coffee break at the Lake Lucerne and just one car challenged the optional Susten- and the Bruening Pass. They reported it was very cold up there but still much to the enjoyment of the drivers.

Even when we joined just for the last day and with a reduced field one could see that the rally was a big success and when asked all the participants would join in again. This might have been the largest gathering of Blowers in the last years and hopefully others might take over the torch to organise the next meeting in a few years. Maybe due to the experiences of this meeting there might be also more support from the factory.

Text & Images Peter & Wolfgang Singhof www.ClassicCarPhotography.de