Bentley starts building brand new 1929 Blowers
Drunk on nostalgia after completing its recent recreation of the "lost" 1939 Corniche, Bentley has commissioned its Mulliner division to build 12 reproductions of one of the brand's most famous pre-WW2 race cars.
The "Blower" was built in 1929, originally by superstar "Bentley Boys" racer Sir Henry Ralph Stanley "Tim" Birkin, who had just won Le Mans behind the wheel of a Speed Six, but who knew the Bentleys were in for a hiding if they didn't come up with something to challenge the supercharged Mercedes they were to compete against the next year.
The top brass at Bentley hated the idea of forced induction, preferring to make bigger motors instead, but Birkin felt that only a supercharger could take on the Mercedes. Eventually, he decided to make a prototype of his own that boosted horsepower from 130 up to around 240. It was hideously unreliable, and the whole jaunt nearly bankrupted his wealthy family, but it was unarguably flat-out faster than anything else Bentley was making, and Birkin finally convinced Bentley to manufacture 55 "Blower" cars with 4½-liter engines – 55 being enough to homologate the car for production endurance racing.
At Le Mans in 1930, Birkin put the Blower to work against Rudolf Caracciola's Mercedes SSK, pushing the German car to its limits and forcing Caracciola to overuse his own supercharger to the point where it failed and he was forced to retire. The Bentley Blower's failed as well, mind you, but it was reported as a ding-dong race up until that point, and Bentley's un-blown Speed Sixes swooped in to take the win for England in one of the most exciting races of the era.
So despite the fact that "Blower" was a four letter word to W.O. Bentley back when they were built, and the fact that they never won a single one of the 12 races they competed in, the supercharged race cars have a special place in Bentley's history. Indeed, the company even owns one. Chassis HB 3403 was the second of the four "team Blowers" Birkin built himself after convincing a wealthy heiress to throw her cash after his dream (nearly bankrupting herself in the process), and Bentley picked it up for the brand's heritage fleet.
And now, the company has decided it needs more Blowers. So it's planning to disassemble its heritage car down to the last bolt, then 3D scan the lot. Then, using original molds, jigs and hand tools that have survived from the 1920s (with a bit of help from 21st century technology), the Mulliner team will built 12 sets of parts, and then assemble them into 12 cars. The process will take two years.
Bentley says the 12 new Blowers will be "identical wherever possible to the original – mechanically, aesthetically and spiritually – with only minimal hidden changes dictated by modern safety concerns." Price is available on application, and will be a lot. Doubtless Bentley remembers well that its original run of 55 Blowers nearly bankrupted the company, along with Birkin's family and his heiress friend.
Birkin would surely be proud to see his sacrilegious creations become a part of Bentley's heritage celebrations. That is, if he hadn't died penniless in 1933 at the ripe old age of 36, a personification of the old adage that if you want to make a million dollars out of racing, the best way is to start out with a billion. Godspeed, you moustachioed madman, you gave it a gumboot full.