Cars To Dream About

No. 2: The 4.5 litre bentley (1927)

The Bentley 4.5 Litre

Back in 1927 racing performance was everything. Winning or at least doing well in some of the major races throughout the world could make or break the reputation of a car manufacturer so it was not unusual for racing drivers to demand bigger and more powerful engines so that they could not only enhance the car manufacturer's reputation but their own as well.

So it was with the Bentley three litre. Although one of them came first in the 24 Hours Le Mans endurance race it was once described by no less a celebrated manufacturer than Ettore Bugatti as nothing more than 'the fastest lorry in the world' and it was widely considered to be underpowered; and so Bentley's founder, WO Bentley MBE upgraded the engine to 4.4 litres. Despite weighing more than a ton and a half, and having the aerodynamics of a brick this 110 brake horsepower monster was still capable of just a shade under 100 miles an hour. In a departure from the normal two valves per cylinder this one boasted four; and there were 17 inch cable operated brakes on all the wheels to help slow it down, although this was still hardly enough to stop it within a reasonable distance. In standard racing trim it was fitted with 19 inch wire wheels and fold down windshields although buyers were able to choose their own body styles, most of them opting for saloons or tourers.

Racing driver Henry Birkin was not satisfied with this. He wanted a supercharger fitted; and he did this against the advice of WO Bentley who felt that it would tarnish his company's reputation. However he was powerless to stop him since Birkin had the support of Bentley's major shareholder, Joel Woolf Barnato. Barnato had raced Bentleys for many years and was considered to be one of the best racing drivers in the world; unfortunately his mechanical skill didn't match with his driving skills and supercharging the car proved to be a huge mistake.

This modification pushed the power output up to 175 brake horsepower but unfortunately it was not very reliable; two 'Bentley Blowers', as they were known as, competed at Le Mans but neither of them completed the course. This did no good at all to the reputation of Bentley; and coupled with the 1929 Wall Street crash, which severely affected sales of expensive new cars, it may well have been a factor in the company's financial decline. By 1931 the money had run out. A receiver was appointed and the company fell into the hands of Rolls-Royce (a company which Barnato had just bought a substantial number of shares in). By 1934 he was, again, back on the board of the reconstituted Bentley Motors (1931) Ltd.

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