Bentley Blower ‘continuation’ is happening and why the hell not?!
Almost a year ago, Iain Robertson received a whiff of a story about a short run of 12 handcrafted recreations of the original 1929 racing Bentleys that dominated at Le Mans and, with each example having been sold, the ambitious project is now underway.
Of a personal belief that classic cars should be used as they once used to be and not mothballed and mollycoddled in a remote and secret storage facility, somewhere in the Home Counties, however cynical may be the perceptions of such extravagant ‘continuation’ exercises, they can make sense. The classic car scene has suffered slightly in the wake of the pandemic, yet, with carefully curated auctions taking place, values of many classes of classics have continued to rise inexorably, in a ‘business-as-usual’ manner.
Of course, in some respects this is inevitable, as the rich continue to get richer, most especially during periods of tremendous upset and distress. However, life goes on and with major valuation houses, such as Hagertys, placing values as steep as £16m on the McLaren F1 road car, which was conceived as recently as the 1990s and was one of the first of the million Pound supercars of what has become a run in the modern era, the investment potential can only ever be described as phenomenal.
Original Minis and Range Rovers have been experiencing rapid escalations in their values, which have led to a growth in the new parts availability, remanufacturing components that could have become obsolete and simply unavailable, all the way to complete bodyshells. Yet, a burgeoning cottage industry of specialists, from grinders and honers, to carpenters and upholstery specialists has grown exponentially around the classic car scene, both in the UK and Europe, which helps to perpetuate those vehicles heading for a blend of rarity and iconic statuses.
Yet, returning to my opening gambit of this story, there are innumerable ‘specialists’ that exercise their classics and collectibles at events such as the annual Pomeroy Trophy races (held at Silverstone Circuit), the Goodwood Speed Hillclimb and several other classic car events. In some cases, they are putting exceedingly valuable machinery through their paces and, in several unfortunate circumstances, are even crashing them, which places their ‘originality’ in serious jeopardy. Bear in mind that classic cars are revered for the patination that they can display…replacements arising from severe damage may be injurious to their valuations.
Assembly of the first new Bentley Blower in more than nine decades has officially started in a bespoke Bentley Mulliner workshop. ‘Car Zero’ is the engineering prototype for the Blower Continuation Series, a run of 12 meticulously engineered, hand-crafted, supercharged 4½–litre Bentleys built to the unique design of the company’s own 1929 Team Car developed and raced by Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin. The 12 cars together form the world’s first continuation series for a pre-war car and each has been pre-sold.
The earliest parts in the workshop are some of the most vital. First to arrive was the chassis for the car, the backbone of the entire project, to which almost everything will be attached. The fuel tank and radiator were next, as work was completed on the ash frame for the body. The first pair of headlights was delivered, while the mechanical aspects of the first car have started to come together, with the very first engine (complete with remade Amherst Villiers supercharger), the front axle assembly and the leaf springs.
As the 12 lucky and very wealthy customers choose the colour and trim specifications for their cars (from an original palette), the engineering team is working hard on assembling the running prototype in time for its unveiling ahead of a development programme taking place later this year. Following a piece-by-piece disassembly of the #2 Team Car owned by Bentley (probably the most valuable Bentley in the world) and an exceptionally precise laser scanning of the frame and its components, new parts were ordered from a combination of fully digital CAD data and the original 1920s engineering drawings and drafts.
Bentley Mulliner’s, Tim Hannig, comments: “After almost a year of highly detailed engineering work, it is extremely rewarding to see the first parts coming together to form the first Bentley Blower in over 90 years. The skill of our engineers and technicians in completing hundreds of individual part specifications is equalled only by that of the artisans across the country that have handmade the components that we are now starting to bolt together. As we go, we are refining designs and fixing problems, which is exactly what a prototype build is for. We are incredibly excited to get this first car finished and then show it to the world later this year.”
The chassis has been created in heavy-gauge steel, hand-formed and hot riveted by the specialists at 200-year old Israel Newton & Sons Ltd. The Vintage Car Radiator Company, based at Bicester Heritage, has crafted exact recreations of the mirror-polished, nickel-plated radiator shell and the hand-beaten fuel tank formed in steel and copper. These parts will feed the first Blower’s brand-new 4½-litre engine, designed originally by W.O Bentley himself and now recreated by Bentley Mulliner with the expert support of specialists including NDR Ltd. Featuring innovations such as aluminium pistons, an overhead camshaft, four valves per cylinder and twin spark ignition, the renowned 4½-litre engine will meet a newly machined, exact recreation of an Amherst Villiers, Roots-type supercharger. When it runs on the testbed at the Bentley factory, in Crewe, the engine and supercharger should generate around 240bhp.
Leaf springs and shackles have been made to original specifications by Jones Springs Ltd, a specialist with nearly 75 years of experience and a history that started in a blacksmith’s forge. The Blower’s iconic headlamps have been re-established by Vintage Headlamp Restoration International Ltd, a father and son team based in Sheffield that is renowned for its silversmithing and ability to create vintage-design headlamps from original specifications. Meanwhile, in the Trim Shop at Crewe, a new ash frame created by Lomax Coachbuilders is going through the final stages of carpentry by Mulliner’s team of experts.
Conclusion: While Bentley is being coy about the final prices of each bespoke recreation, buyers are unlikely to receive much change from £2m. However, as official merchandise, each example will be worth its weight in gold!