Jayson Fong ©2023, courtesy of RM Sotheby’s

There are few sounds in motorsport quite as evocative as a Blower Bentley at full chat — a gruff explosion of noise and power only matched by the guttural howl of a Vulcan bomber. Unapologetically loud, dirty, and fearsomely quick, the model earned a legion of fans throughout the 1920s and 1930s despite never winning an international race meeting. An icon of British ingenuity, the model holds an appeal that has transcended the ages.

Chassis DS3573 started life as a “heavy chassis” 4½ Litre with an H.J. Mulliner saloon body and was completed by the factory in August 1929 before being registered in July 1931. By 1965 the Bentley had entered the care of its 12th owners, Hugh Swain and his wife, Annabelle, whose father, journalistic giant John Bolster, served as Technical Editor for The Autocar. By 1990 the car belonged to Graham Jones, in whose care it was rebuilt with a supercharger, a “D”-type gearbox, and an Arley-built Le Mans Tourer body on its original chassis; it would subsequently be finished to concours standard by a later owner.

Despite being capable of reaching a scarcely believable 132 mph (demonstrated on many occasions by the current owner along the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans), it’s the car’s character, versatility and practicality that have proved the biggest draw. Warmly welcomed at the best events, it cut up the stubble with the Benjafield’s Racing Club in 2014, and on countless occasions has even been used for family holidays to destinations as far flung as Italy.

With an impeccably documented history, a top-tier rebuild featuring a genuine Speed Six rear axle, and a W.O. gearbox (not to mention an enviable race record), chassis DS3573 has without a doubt become one of the most celebrated pre-war Bentleys. But to look to the past or count rivets somewhat misses the point of this magnificent machine. A vintage Bentley is not only a golden ticket to the world’s best events, it is also a member of the family that opens the door to adventure. Whether thundering along Goodwood’s Lavant Straight, cruising to the South of France or simply burbling to the local pub, and at a fraction of the value of a factory-delivered “Blower,” chassis DS3573 is a car that will take you places in great style, sound and (if required) speed.

SCM Analysis

Detailing

Vehicle:1929 Bentley 4½ Litre Supercharged Le Mans Tourer
Years Produced:1927–31
Number Produced:720 (including 55 Supercharged)
SCM Valuation:$550,000–$700,000
Tune Up Cost:$1,000
Chassis Number Location:Front knuckle of chassis frame, plate on bulkhead
Engine Number Location:On engine bearer cast into crankcase
Club Info:Bentley Drivers Club; Benjafield’s Racing Club
Website:http://www.bdcl.org
Alternatives:1912–21 Stutz Bearcat, 1938–48 Supermarine Spitfire, 1965–67 Shelby Cobra 427
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 220, sold for $1,002,740 (£815,000), including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s London, U.K., auction on November 4, 2023.

Of course, it’s not a “real” Blower. Only 50 “production” originals were made, and the last two auction sales were at $2.7m in 2018 (SCM# 6874847) and $1.6m in 2019 (SCM# 6907155). But mixing and matching Bentley components has been an honorable tradition since the factory started doing it in the ’20s. By now, plenty of specialists and enthusiasts — and latterly, Bentley itself — have created copies that are identical to the real thing, but thanks to development, usually much faster.

Stonky and storied

Any “W.O.” Bentley is a stonky old thing. Plenty of torque encourages early upshifts, for which you’ll be rewarded by the famous “bloody thump” from the tailpipe, but the Blowers just keep pulling. Luckily, the brakes are pretty good (in Vintage terms, at least), and they are nicely balanced, albeit with rather heavy controls. When you get used to it (and when it’s right — they all feel slightly different) the right-hand, non-synchro gearchange is a thing of joy. Still, the center-mounted throttle does concentrate the mind, and some owners convert to a conventional layout. This car is still as Walter Owen Bentley intended, though the “button” pedal has been supplemented by a hinged flap.

Our subject car had an illustrious and interesting set of owners, all of them “the right sort of chaps.” First was the chairman of the Tate & Lyle sugar company, Sir Leonard Lyle. Five owners later, in 1954, was John Hyrne Tucker Wilson. A Cambridge “blue” who won the Boat Race three consecutive times between 1934 and 1936, as well as an Olympic gold, he went on to serve in the Sudan Political Service, where he survived a dramatic spear attack in 1942. Its eighth owner, Robin Coombs, had also served during World War II, and survived crash-landing his Blenheim bomber on an island in Greece in 1941.

Its story really starts for us when it became a Blower replica around 1990; it was bought by the vendor in 2006. He started a long and successful racing career with it, more than 100 events everywhere from Brooklands and Silverstone to Le Mans and Angoulême in France. It has competed at Le Mans eight times, was driven by Derek Bell at the 2012 Goodwood Revival, and in 2019 it became the first supercharged Bentley in history to win an international race, in the Revival’s Brooklands Trophy. This old warhorse wears its patina proudly, from the sandblasted race numbers to a reminder scrawled on the dash roll: “40 mph pits.” It’s more than 30 years since this body was put on, and it looks as if it could have been there from the start.

A new adventure

The seller is a serious car collector who is not only a regular at the Le Mans Classic but has bought and renovated the Hotel de France, an historic petrolheads’ meeting spot 40 km from the circuit. Most of the famous teams stayed there at some point, and in old pictures you’ll see it as the backdrop for everything from Aston DBR1s to Ford GT40s and Porsche 917s setting out to drive to the circuit for the race. He put about 40,000 miles on the Bentley all over Europe, and in 2017 trailered his Porsche 962 to Angoulême behind it, later repeating the stunt with a Bentley Continental GT3 racer behind for a Silverstone Classic press day.

He said at the time: “The brakes on the trailer are drastically better than the brakes on the Bentley, which makes stopping ‘interesting.’ The Porsche is also considerably wider than the Bentley, meaning I constantly have to watch what’s happening behind when driving through the small villages in France. Overtaking is terrifying.”

This is the epitome of the racing Bentley: magnificently patinated, with character and race history in spadefuls. And bloody fast. The price? Right in the ballpark for a “bolt-on Blower.” ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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