Some of the most wonderful cars ever created
Ettore Bugatti once described the Big Bentleys as 'the fastest lorries in the world' and looking at them it is easy to see how he came to that conclusion!
The three litre series that preceeded it was generally considered to be underpowered, despite a number of high-profile racing successes. Although most Bentley buyers wanted them for prestigious personal transport racing success was one of the best ways of promoting the brand and the Le Mans 24-hour race was the one that everyone had their eye on. The legendary Wilfred Owen Bentley (normally known as W. O.), who had first created Bentley Motors, had by now run into financial difficulties and a wealthy racing driver called Woolf Barnato, who had raced Bentleys successfully, had injected money into the company and became it's chairman. however W. O. had stayed on as chief designer and in 1927 he designed the car with a 4.5 litre engine specifically designed for the Le Mans Race. And what a monster it was!
The 110 bhp four-cylinder engine was quite revolutionary for it's day. it had twin carburettors, an overhead camshaft and, unusually for the day, had four valves and two spark plugs per cylinder. The open hand built bodies were hardly elegant and streamlined; in fact the appearance was quite brutal; but despite this the car handled well and in 1928 a Le Mans placing of second third and fourth, behind a six cylinder Bentley, quickly established the car's reputation. There were clouds on the horizon however.
Another racing driver who regularly raced Bentleys was Sir Henry Birkin, commonly known as 'Tim'. He reckoned that adding a supercharger to the 4.5 litre engine would make the car unbeatable. W. O. disagreed; he had never been a fan of forced induction and he had design his engine to be naturally aspirated. unfortunately he no longer was the boss. Barnato had the final say and a supercharger was fitted in front of the grill. This pushed the engine output up to a massive 240 brake horsepower but it had two unfortunate side effects; the extra weight created understeer and, as W. O. had predicted, it had a very adverse effect on the car's reliability. In the Le Mans race of 1930 two Blown Bentleys were entered, one of them with Birkin as co-driver; but neither of them managed to complete the race. The fact is that although a number of speed records were set up in Blown Bentleys none of them ever managed to come first in a major race. By 1931 the effects of the 1929 Wall Street crash had badly affected sales of luxury cars and Bentley Motors passed into the hands of Rolls-Royce; something that W. O. resented for the rest of his life. By then a total of 720 4.5 Litre cars had being sold; 55 of them with blowers. Despite their lack of success they are still much treasured by collectors; a naturally aspirated one could now fetch around a million Euros whilst Blowers can attract many times that price.