1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer
Lot 204
The Ex-Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin, Hon. Dorothy Paget-owned, Brooklands Outer Circuit Lap Record Breaking The Ex-Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin, Hon. Dorothy Paget-owned, Brooklands Outer Circuit Lap Record Breaking ,1929-31 4½-Litre Supercharged 'Blower' Bentley Single-Seater Chassis no. HB 3402 Engine no. SM 3901
Sold for £5,041,500 (US$ 8,161,224) inc. premium

Lot Details
1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Supercharged Single-Seat Racer
The Ex-Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin, Hon. Dorothy Paget-owned, Brooklands Outer Circuit Lap Record Breaking The Ex-Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin, Hon. Dorothy Paget-owned, Brooklands Outer Circuit Lap Record Breaking
1929-31 4½-Litre Supercharged 'Blower' Bentley Single-Seater
Registration no. UU 5871
Chassis no. HB 3402
Engine no. SM 3901

Footnotes

  • Amongst all Brooklands habitués of the 1920-30s, perhaps the most glamorous and charismatic of all the historic Motor Course's racing celebrities was the diminutive Bentley-driving Baronet, Sir Henry Ralph Stanley 'Tim' Birkin. He combined his 'Bentley Boy' high-society image with a fearless driving talent and here we offer the unique 'Blower' Bentley Single-Seater in which he shattered the Brooklands Outer Circuit Lap Record in 1931.

    For an entire generation of British motor racing enthusiasts, 'Tiger Tim's' militarily-moustachioed, be-goggled figure, in his neat wind cap, often with a polka-dot scarf fluttering in the slipstream, personified an English ideal. This so-British hero became the absolute epitome of Imperial power, speed and daring...

    But 'Tim' Birkin in truth embodied far more than mere celebrity just flirting with motor racing. He was in fact intensely competitive, a born sportsman who relished racing for racing's sake, dedicated to maximizing his chances on track, and committed whole-heartedly to making the absolute most of whatever natural talent he possessed.

    Despite the contemporary press image of him as a fearlessly courageous daredevil, Sir Henry described himself as being "...quite small, and I do stammer...in business that does not interest me, I am hopelessly vague and inefficient but on a subject in which I am absorbed, just as hopelessly talkative and meticulous".

    With fellow enthusiast/racer Mike Couper, Birkin & Couper Ltd was established at Welwyn where it produced the prototype 4½-litre Blower Bentley in the summer of 1929. W.O. recalled: "They would lack in their preparation all the experience we had built up in (our own) racing department over 10 years. I feared the worst and looked forward to their first appearance with anxiety...".

    Birkin ran his prototype tourer-bodied car in the Brooklands 6-Hour race on June 29,1929. The car retired. At Dublin's Phoenix Park race two weeks later the two supercharged Bentleys finished 3rd and 8th. In the RAC Tourist Trophy at Ards in Ulster, Bernard Rubin's 'Blower' overturned while Birkin, who had challenged W.O. to act as his riding mechanic (the marque's founder accepting), placed a worthy second overall and won his class. The third 'Blower', meanwhile, broke its engine.

    Birkin then retired from the Brooklands 500-Miles and the entire team retired from the Double-Twelve race at Brooklands in May 1930. W.O., embittered – one must remember – by the collapse of his company – summed it up as follows: "The supercharged 4½ never won a race, suffered a never-ending series of mechanical failures, brought the marque Bentley disrepute and incidentally cost Dorothy Paget a large sum before she decided to withdraw her support in October 1930...".

    W.O. added the sting in the tail: "Tim managed to persuade Barnato to allow him to enter a team in the 1930 Le Mans (in which none survived) and we were obliged, in order to meet the regulations, to construct no less than fifty of these machines for sale to the public...".

    W.O. assertion that the 'Blower' Bentley "never won a race" is wrong. The car offered here is the exception – and it would not only become a multiple Brooklands race winner, but also holder of the Outer Circuit lap record there.

    Birkin had been disappointed by his failure at Le Mans 1929 and then decided during that summer to make a firm entry for the BRDC 500-Mile race at Brooklands, using a car with the future potential to break the Outer Circuit lap record there.

    Bentley Motors had been rocking in the deepening recession when Tim Birkin became attracted, unlike W.O. Bentley himself, to the notion of supercharging the 4½-litre Bentley. Those were the great years of Bentley success with consecutive victories in the Le Mans 24-Hours race, but Birkin hungered for greater power and more speed as W.O. explained: "Tim had a constant urge to do the dramatic thing, a characteristic which I suppose had originally brought him into racing. His gaily vivid, restless personality seemed to be always driving him on to something new and spectacular, and unfortunately our 4½-litre car was one of his targets... Tim used all his charm and persuasion to induce first Amherst Villiers to build a special blower for his 4½, next Woolf Barnato" – company financier as well as leading team driver – "to give it his blessing, and finally the Hon. Dorothy Paget to put up the money for a works at Welwyn" – just north of London – "and to buy and modify the chassis".

    At his Birkin & Couper Ltd works in Welwyn, this special track-racing 'Blower' Bentley was then developed alongside the road-racing endurance sports cars. Captain – later Lt. Colonel – Clive Gallop was largely responsible for the new track-racing car, while working under his direction on the project were foreman E.A. Jennings, the Champion English racing walker Whitcombe who was 'Tim' Birkin's riding mechanic, Logan and Newcombe, who were successively Bentley's chief engine fitters; Browning, the chief chassis fitter, and Billy Rockell, the works' supercharger fitter.

    The Bentley chassis selected as basis of the project was of 10 feet 10 inch wheelbase, chassis number 'HB 3402' while the selected engine number was 'SM 3901'.

    Amherst Villiers had designed the supercharger and its configuration, while the developed engine's enlarged-diameter crankshaft, with 90mm journals, and special rods were drawn and detailed by Villiers' chief draughtsman, Tom Murray Jamieson of later racing Austin and ERA fame before his tragic death at Brooklands – as a luckless spectator – in 1938.

    The Villiers Roots-type supercharger for this 'Blower' Bentley 'Track Car' used a standard casing as on the sports cars, but housing larger rotors to increase boost. Otherwise, according to Clive Gallop at the time, the engine was the normal 4-cylinder with four overhead valves per cylinder, actuated by a single-overhead camshaft. The cylinder-head ports were of course highly polished, any engine fitter within the Welwyn works who found himself temporarily idle being put straight onto this task. As much of the cylinder head as possible was also polished, but not re-machined. Bench testing showed that fuel consumption "...of methanol mixture of 0.79 specific gravity would be 1.2 pints per bhp/hour". On track the finished car's actual fuel consumption figure proved to be 2.07 miles per gallon...

    The body initially fitted to chassis 'HB 3402' was of '1½-seater' form, with fabric skin stretched over a spring-steel lattice framework. The radiator was exposed while the supercharger, dumb-irons and carburettors were all partially cowled-in. This brand-new bodywork was painted in a rich mid-blue livery.

    The Outer Circuit was no minor challenge at that time, in 1929. The old concrete bankings and straights were frost-heaved, patched and bumpy. Fuel tank troubles were anticipated, for the ageing Brooklands Motor Course could mete out a fearful pounding to cars running at way above one hundred miles per hour. Consequently a fuel tank design adapted from the 42-gallon Le Mans 24-Hour race type was mounted by means of a Le Mans-style cross-tube at the back which passed through the tank and which was carried within a rubber-lined trunnion on each of the two main frame rails. Clive Gallop then provided a third mounting point using a plate shaped to the match the front end of the tank, carrying a nickel-steel pin that accommodated the spider of a Hardy-Spicer universal joint.

    A structure rising from the chassis then carried another spider which coupled to that on the tank, thus providing a flexible forward mounting.

    Unfortunately, during practice on the eve the 1929 500-Mile race, the nickel-steel pin attached to the tank sheared due to embrittlement when it had been brazed into place – not at Welwyn, Gallop emphasized. He promptly drove the damaged Track car back from Brooklands to the Welwyn works for repair, without mudguards, lamps and starting handle and with a police car following him right into the factory yard!

    It became obvious that in the time available overnight an adequately heavy new support could not be provided. Instead, the suggestion of a young mechanic named Hoffman was adopted, in which a normal steel strap packed with rubber and felt was placed round the front of the tank, and then attached to the chassis by reinforced angle plates, welded into place.

    Just after dawn on race day, Clive Gallop drove the great car back to Brooklands, Birkin – who was in the process of negotiating provision of a substitute car from 'Babe' Barnato – having been warned that it was on the way. Clive Gallop saw, and held, 120mph along the Barnet Bypass road, and the new car was finally delivered to the Track just in time to be checked over and readied for the race start.

    Incidentally, during this rushed delivery to Weybridge, Clive Gallop had found the Track car so tractable on the public road that eventually a Welwyn-to-Brooklands route was selected which included London suburban traffic. If a spark plug should oil up, Clive Gallop's standard procedure would be to stop on the hill at Putney Vale – on the stretch passing the KLG spark plug factory – where he would fit a fresh plug and then roll-start down the remainder of the gradient there.

    When the big cars were finally flagged away into that 1929 BRDC 500-Miles race, 'Tim' Birkin in the 'Blower' Bentley single-seater now offered here, immediately set the pace, lapping at over 121mph. A great duel ensued between this 'Blower' Bentley and Kaye Don's V12-cylinder Sunbeam. But as it hurtled round the punishing, high-banked Motor Course, the new blue Bentley began to spray a thin mist of engine oil from its bonnet louvres, the droplets coating the aero screen, cockpit coaming and driver's head and shoulders. Birkin soon found his hands slipping on the steering wheel rim, and his vision diminishing through coated goggles, so he tore into the pits to clean up. The Clive Dunfee/'Sammy' Davis Speed Six Bentley took over the lead on scratch, while on handicap small-capacity Amilcars and Austin Sevens held the advantage. By 90 laps George Eyston's Sunbeam 'Cub' was up into to second place and after 108 laps it led overall. Dudley Froy, partnering Kaye Don in the big Sunbeam, also led before retiring with a broken back spring – the Brooklands bumps offering no mercy – and Eyston's Sunbeam would also break a spring.

    Having rejoined, 'Tim' Birkin in this 'Blower' Bentley single-seater then encountered further trouble. The problem of compensating for expansion and movement between the exhaust manifold and the silencer body-cum-pipe had been countered by inserting a length of flexible steel tubing "as used in HM submarines" with a backing applied to the car body to insulate it from silencer heat. W.O. Bentley had advised against such a scheme and as the long race tore on the localized exhaust heat degraded both the flexible pipe material and its pipe-backing, which crumbled. This left the coils of metal to vibrate and fracture, opening a hole in the exhaust system from which violet flame blasted onto the fabric body skin and set it alight.

    Birkin arrowed into the pits with his new Track car trailing flame and smoke. The fire was quickly doused, but that day the car would race no further...

    For 1930, 'Tim' Birkin then decided to attack track racing seriously with the single-seater, which went on to establish itself as one of the Brooklands Motor Course's most charismatic cars, campaigned by certainly its most charismatic contemporary driver.

    In its 1930 form, with Villiers supercharger driven from the crankshaft nose and inhaling through two huge horizontal SU carburettors, the car's engine developed some 240bhp on alcohol fuel mix, some 65bhp more than a standard 'Blower' Bentley on benzole petrol. Its rear axle featured a new nose piece housing a special pinion which provided a final-drive ratio of 2.8:1. Fuel flow at full throttle was quoted as being approximately one Imperial gallon every 74 seconds...

    Reid A. Railton had been commissioned to design a new (fire proof!) aluminium body to replace the flexibly-frame fabric original, and it was hand made for the car by A.P. Compton & Co of Merton. The regulation Brooklands silencer on the car's nearside now bolted directly to the exhaust manifold, without any flexible-pipe intervening. Front-wheel brakes were deleted and the car rode on 32-inch x 6.50 Dunlop Racing tyres.

    The first Brooklands Meeting of 1930 then saw Birkin battling against his starting penalty, taking second place in the three-lap Kent Short Handicap race despite a slipping clutch and with supercharger casing cracks hastily plugged just before the start, using Plasticene... His flying lap was still clocked at 123.89mph. He then contested the meeting's Surrey Short Handicap, setting fastest lap at 124.51mph.

    In the four-lap Kent Long Handicap, Birkin then had the chance to overcome his penalty, winning by one second at 119.13mph average, and setting fastest lap at 126.73mph. This was the first race victory ever achieved by a 'Blower' Bentley – and while Sir Henry, car owner the Hon. Dorothy Paget and their supporters were delighted, W.O. Bentley – whose distaste for supercharging was often declared – had perhaps mixed feelings.

    Brooklands' Easter meeting then saw Birkin campaign his single-seater before a 20,000 crowd, winning the Bedford Short Handicap easily at 117.81mph and lapping at 134.24!

    As the late, great Bill Boddy recalled in his definitive 'History of Brooklands Motor Course 1906-1940' - "Plug troubles foiled Birkin's hopes in the Dorset Lightning Short Handicap but he turned out again for a 3-lap match race against Dunfee's GP Sunbeam. Sadly Dunfee's car had thrown a rod, so Birkin came out alone, to attempt to beat Kaye Don's lap record. The Bentley was in grand trim, roaring very high round the Byfleet banking, dropping to the Fork in a puff of dust, clipping the verge by the Vickers' sheds and going onto the Members' banking each time with that characteristic and disturbing little snake that those who saw the car in action are not likely to forget. From the notorious bump" – where the Hennebique Bridge near the end of the Member's Banking had subsided slightly into the River Wey – "... it leapt some 70 feet, clear of the Track, onto the Railway Straight. It was a grand sight, Birkin's scarf flirting with the fairing behind his head as he held the car to its course. The 'Blower' Bentley certainly provided as great a thrill for the onlookers of the 1930s as had the V12 Sunbeam and the 'Chittys' for the 1920s...".

    'Tiger Tim's heroic driving that day had seen the Bentley Single-Seater lap in 1 minute 13.4 seconds, 135.33mph, beating Don's existing outright record by 0.73mph. On its standing lap the Single-Seater had lapped at 133.88mph, then completed its succeeding three laps at 134.60, 134.60 and finally the new record 135.33mph.

    Birkin then contested the following Bedford Long Handicap race, but with his new lap record conferring an "owes 20secs" handicap he was unplaced, despite equaling his new record on two consecutive laps...

    Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin's Blower Bentley single-seater was plainly Great Britain's fastest track racing car of that time. After that day's racing he promptly flew back to Le Touquet to claim the dinner that 'Babe' Barnato had promised him that morning if he could break the Outer Circuit lap record.

    At the following BARC Club Meeting, the great car was off form, issuing clouds of smoke on the startline and Birkin lapping at a – for him - measly 126.73mph. The car ran poorly again in that day's Racing Long Handicap before retreating to Welwyn after a poor day out.

    Kaye Don first equaled the new Birkin Bentley record in his V12 Sunbeam at Brooklands' Whitsun Meeting, and then shattered it by lapping at 137.58mph, a 2.25mph improvement.

    The Hon. Dorothy Paget then entered Birkin to drive the Single-Seater again in the Brooklands August Bank Holiday meeting, only for the fuel tank to split, causing his retirement from the feature 'Gold Star' Handicap.

    High winds and the threat of rain then made high speeds impossible in the Brooklands Autumn meeting – but Birkin and the Single-Seater reappeared for the BRDC 500-Miles on October 4. A front tyre burst at top speed during practice, which both car and driver survived despite "some astonishing subsequent gyrations". Birkin shared the drive with George Duller but the car ran badly and neither enjoyed the experience, their car "sounding like a motor cycle" and finishing a tardy ninth. So the 1930 Brooklands season closed, with Kaye Don and his V12 Sunbeam holding the Outer Circuit lap record...

    The Hon. Dorothy Paget loved being involved with competition, but only if she was on the winning side. That winter she withdrew her backing from the 'Blower' Bentley endurance racing team, but retained the successful Single-Seater. The BARC Whitsun Meeting in 1931 saw the great car's return to Brooklands, but again Birkin's best efforts with it were overshadowed, lapping at a best of 128.69mph in the Gold Star Handicap, then 131.06 in the Somerset Senior Long before retiring.

    Birkin consulted George Eyston, and at his suggestion fitted a PowerPlus vane-type supercharger in place of the Villiers' Roots-Type. Not until that year's August meeting would the Single-Seater return to the historic Motor Course, but a gusty wind hampered attempts by both Birkin and Gwenda Stewart in the 2-litre Derby Miller to attack the Kaye Don lap record. Birkin's best attempt running alone as part of a special record attempt feature within that August meeting was clocked at 134.97mph, but later that afternoon in the London Lightning Long Handicap race he clocked an improved 136.45mph despite the gusty wind.

    'Tiger Tim's great friend and fellow 'Bentley Boy' Dr J.D. Benjafield was then entrusted with the Single-Seater for the 1931 BRDC 500-Miles, only for its engine to break a valve and the great car to be retired. Birkin wrote: "The few days before this race were not without their thrills...when I was coming off the Byfleet Banking at about 130, the auxiliary petrol tank caught fire and flames began to lick the legs of my overalls.... the cockpit certainly did become rather hot. So I switched off the engine and put on the brakes; but before the car stopped, I had to climb out of the seat and, perched on the back of the car, steer as best I could from a crouching position. I jumped off once it was safe and put out the fire. But the cockpit and my hands were both burnt...". The original Villiers supercharger then replaced the PowerPlus.

    Come that year's Autumn Meeting and in the Cumberland Senior Long Handicap Birkin finished third after starting from scratch, after which he continued for two extra laps to attack Don's 137mph lap record, yet again falling just short at 136.82mph.

    For 1932, the Single-Seater was re-sprayed red in place of its original blue and its engine was re-bored to 100.5mm, providing a capacity of 4,442cc. The new season opened on Easter Monday, but four days prior to that meeting Birkin attacked the Kay Don Outer Circuit lap record and broke it at last – raising the mark to 137.96mph.

    In the subsequent Easter meeting, John Cobb's V12 Delage just edged out the now re-handicapped Lap Record-holding Single-Seater to win by 0.2 sec from Birkin, whose best lap was at 134.24mph compared to Cobb's best of only 128.36.

    Out again in the Norfolk Lightning Long Handicap, Birkin nearly lost control of the great car on his second lap, as it skidded viciously under the gusty wind as it shot out from beneath the Members' Bridge. Birkin and the Bentley then won for their third time at Brooklands, averaging 122.07mph and lapping at 134.26.

    The BRDC later held a 100-mile Outer Circuit race, in which Birkin held the advantage in his heat until the Single-Seater's right-front tyre stripped and he made a pit stop, finishing fourth. He then led the Final at half-distance but only until "...the long red car came round misfiring and spluttering, took on water, boiled and retired a lap later with the cylinder block cracked". Another retirement was then posted in the 1932 Whitsun Meeting,

    At a special Brooklands day organised in aid of Guy's Hospital, Birkin subsequently won the Gala Long Handicap and equaled his former lap record of 137.96mph. In the six-lap Duke of York's race the Bentley threw the tread from its right-rear tyre which flailed high over the heads of spectators round the Members' Banking...

    The threat of rain at the August Meeting persuaded Birkin not to run the Single-Seater in one race, but in the 3-lap invitation event for 100 Sovereigns, Birkin in the Bentley confronted John Cobb in the V12 Delage. The French car was the faster starter, leading by 3.8 seconds completing the opening lap. But on lap 2 'Tiger Tim' flashed round at 135.70mph and was just 1.2 seconds off Cobb's tail.

    Bill Boddy: "The crowd was on its toes... And round they came, the Bentley gaining, yard by yard, on the Delage. As Birkin hurtled off the banking the 'bump' shot his car well clear of the Track and the padded rest on the fairing behind his head came adrift, to fly, a small dark object, high into the air. In a supreme effort, Birkin caught Cobb and drew ahead, winning one of Brooklands' most intense races by a mere one-fifth of a second, or about 25 yards. He averaged 125.14mph and that glorious last lap was run at 137.58mph (0.28mph below the record)." Out again in the Hereford Lightning Long Handicap, Birkin swept around at 136.45mph, being classified second at the finish."

    Despite his Brooklands heroics, in 1932, Birkin wrote of the Motor Course: "I think that it is, without exception, the most out-of-date, inadequate and dangerous track in the world...Brooklands was built for speeds of no greater than 120mph, and for anyone to go over 130, without knowing the track better than his own self, is to court disaster... The surface is abominable. There are bumps which jolt the driver up and down in his seat and make the car leave the road and travel through the air". He concluded this onslaught with the line "If I could find anything true to shed an attractive blur over all Brooklands' diseases, I would make use of it at once; but there is nothing at all..." He was a brave man, then, to unleash this 'Blower' Bentley Single-Seater there as fearlessly as he did...

    In the sports-racing 'Blower' Bentleys, Sir Henry had already set a record-breaking pace at Le Mans in 1930, and that same year ran his 'Blower' in the French Grand Prix at Pau in southern France – describing it as being akin to "a large Sealyham surrounded by greyhounds", yet finishing an astonishing second overall. But by 1931 Bentley Motors and the 'Blower' project were in collapse and Sir Henry was instead racing private Alfa Romeo 8C-2300s shared with his friend Earl Howe, actually winning the prestigious Le Mans 24-Hour race for the Italian marque. But early in the 1933 racing season 'Tiger Tim' burned his arm at Tripoli in Libya while running a Maserati 8C at Tripoli in the Lottery Grand Prix. Already ailing with recurrent malaria – first contracted during his World War 1 service – this British hero was quickly overwhelmed by septicaemia, despite tremendous efforts to save him by his friend and loyal supporter Dr Benjafield. And Sir Henry died in a London hospital three weeks after the Libyan incident, on June 22, 1933 – aged just 36.

    His former backer, the Hon. Dorothy Paget, retained the Single-Seater, unused, until 1939, resisting all offers from would-be buyers until Bentley enthusiast Peter Robertson-Rodger blew-up the engine of his ex-Birkin French GP 'Blower' Bentley at Donington Park, and he managed to charm her into selling him the track car, to use its engine in the sister Birkin car. Then came World War 2. The number one 'Blower' engine was then returned to the single-seater, which Robertson-Rodger decided to convert into a two-seat roadster.

    Bentley mechanic Bill Short did the conversion work during the war, and the project was finally completed in the late 1940s using a two-seat body designed by Robertson-Rodger and made by Chalmers of Redhill. This new body retained the single-seater's appearance in side profile, complete with pointed tail. Bentley specialist and VSCC luminary John Morley subsequently worked on the great car, and when Peter Robertson-Rodger died in 1958 he bequeathed the Single-Seater in his will to Mr Morley.

    Meanwhile, boyhood Birkin fan and Bentley enthusiast 'Rusty' Russ-Turner had been a long-term admirer of the car. He recalled: "I had never lost my fascination for that car and one day I was at the Bentley Drivers' Club Hendon driving tests meeting when a fellow member mentioned rumours that the Birkin single-seater was going to be sold to America.

    "I went to see John Morley who said that nobody in England seemed to want it. In fact, they all seemed afraid of it. So after long negotiations we came to an agreement and in the summer of 1964 I collected it from his garage at Colnbrook, west of London, and drove it home to Leatherhead. It carried the 2-seat body but Morley had also sold me the original track body as part of the deal. When I climbed behind that wheel it was the realization of a dream. Ha, I was wearing a white silk shirt, and by the time I got home I was soaked in oil from head to foot!"

    He described how he had found that the great car's engine bearings were badly worn and its dry-sump system scavenge pump on the nose of the supercharger had been re-piped to feed an oil-cooler under such pressure that the excess oil squirted everywhere. He painstakingly rebuilt the car and ran it for several years with its Robertson-Rodger 2-seat body in place while the single-seater aluminium shell sat on the floor of his garage.

    "Its cockpit was just too tight for me..." he recalled, "... and one day I climbed into it, there on the floor, and couldn't get out – I had to stand up, wearing the thing like a skirt. Eventually we found that by making a minor modification and cutting out just one spar behind the seat we could gain about four inches, and that was just enough for me to squeeze in".

    With this unobtrusively modified original body remounted on the famous old chassis, front wheel brakes replaced by Robertson-Rodger and some other minor concessions to road equipment, the Birkin single-seater emerged as a splendidly long-legged vintage motor car of the most colossal distinction.

    It remained quite tricky for many would-be drivers to enter, and cramped once seated within. 'Rusty' Russ-Turner found the pedals demandingly confined with the centre throttle and right-side brake, while cockpit heat was always high as hot air wafted back from the engine compartment. The aluminium body paneling "...warms up nicely in sympathy with the massive exhaust and Brooklands silencer along the left-hand side. He found the brakes excellent although "...one does have to make arrangements when approaching a corner". The car was absolutely at home at anything above 70mph at which it became "delightfully stable". The standard D-Type Bentley gearbox he rated as being "as good as any" while he also owned the original track-racing gearbox which he found contained the "rounded-off straight-cut gears preferred by Birkin...". 'Tiger Tim' either could not or would not double de-clutch and he liked to snatch the gears straight through. "They called them Mangle Gears and this explains the fantastic background gear noise which was so characteristic of the car when it was being raced", he explained.

    Gearing represented 36mph per 1,000rpm, and the rev limit was set at 4,000rpm.. "...although it can get very expensive around there", he warned.

    'Rusty' Russ-Turner suffered a fatal heart attack at Silverstone while racing the car, after which it was acquired by George Daniels, enjoying his protection and preservation ever since. Mr Daniels recalled how he came to buy the car: "Jack Sears telephoned and told me the Birkin Single-Seater was for sale and he thought it would suit me. I knew I was going to have to make a hard decision so I eventually went down to see it and there it was in all its glory. I told Jack I couldn't afford his price but made him an offer, and eventually he came back to me to say that Rusty's widow Audrey had told him she wanted me to have the car and I've been racing it ever since..."

    It is now offered here as an exceedingly potent reminder of a magisterial period of British racing history, a machine with a unique place in racing history, and the exception to the W.O. Bentley 'rule' that "...the supercharged 4½ never won a race".

    The Bentley comes with road equipment including wings, an extensive history file including correspondence, road-registration documents and large format photo album.

    For history to be valuable it must be examined in proper perspective, and the Brooklands 'Blower' Bentley Single-Seater is one 'Blower' that suffers not at all under closer scrutiny.

    This car is absolutely a British, and a Brooklands, icon.
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25% on the first £50,000 of the Hammer Price
20% from £50,001 to £1,000,000 the Hammer Price
12% from £1,000,001 of the Hammer Price

VAT at the current rate of 20% will be added to the Buyer's Premium and charges excluding Artists Resale Right.

Payment Notices

Payment in advance: by cash, check with banker's card, credit card, bank draft or traveler's cheque.

Payment at collection: by credit or debit card.

Credit card charges: a surcharge of 2% is applicable when using Mastercard, Visa and overseas debit cards.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licenses please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

Contacts
  1. Tim Schofield
    Specialist - Motor Cars
    Bonhams
    Work
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 5804
    FaxFax: +44 20 7468 5802
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