Aston Martins are James Bond’s usual wheels of choice. At least, in the films. But in the original books, Bond drove a Bentley. Specifically, one of the sportiest pre-war (pre-WWII) cars the British automaker produced: the 4 ½ Litre Blower Bentley. And now, just like Jaguar and Aston Martin before it, Bentley is making some brand-new ones.
The original 4 ½ Litre Blower Bentley
Today, Bentley is known as a high-end luxury brand. But ‘luxury’ for pre-war antique cars is less about upholstery than engineering quality. And the best way to prove a car’s quality in those days, Automobile explains, was to go racing. So, using knowledge gained from developing WWI airplanes, W.O. Bentley set about doing just that.
By 1931, W.O. Bentley’s cars had won Le Mans 5 times since the inaugural 1924 race, Automobile reports, as well as many smaller races. Often, one of the ‘Bentley Boys,’ a group of well-off racers and enthusiasts, was behind the wheel. Each car—the 3 Litre, 4 ½ Litre, and 6 ½ Litre—was designed not around outright power, but reliability and strength. Hence why Ettore Bugatti christened them “the world’s fastest lorries [trucks]”: they were tough but quite heavy.
However, by 1929, the competition was catching up to the dated 4 ½ Litre. W.O.’s usual solution, Jalopnik reports, was more displacement. And the resulting 6 ½ Litre Bentley did win the 1929 and 1930 Le Mans races.
But one of the Bentley Boys, Sir Tim Birkin, had another idea: supercharging the 4 ½ Litre. W.O. didn’t like superchargers, preferring the reliability of natural aspiration. However, by this point, he didn’t have financial control over the company. So, Birkin simply bought a few cars, and had British engineer Amherst Villiers fit them with superchargers, Autoweek explains.
The resulting Blower Bentleys, sadly, weren’t successful. The supercharger did boost the 4.4-liter four-cylinder from 130 hp to 175 hp, and later to 240 hp, Hagerty reports. And the cars were fast: Birkin set a 1930 Brooklands speed record in his personal Blower Bentley. But they were plagued by mechanical failure and understeered horribly. They famously never won a single race.
The continuation Blower Bentley
From 1929-1931, the British automaker produced 55 supercharged 4 ½ Litre Bentleys for homologation purposes. The title ‘Blower Bentley’ is technically reserved for Birkin’s original 5 racers, of which only 4 still exist, Car and Driver explains. But soon, that number will increase significantly.
Bentley still owns Birkin’s 1929 #2 Blower Bentley, The Drive reports. And it’s carefully disassembled it and 3D-scanned each part, Motor1 reports, to create a limited run of continuation examples. Other luxury automakers, such as Jaguar and Aston Martin, have already produced continuation versions of their famous models. But this is the first time a pre-war car is receiving the honor.
Although the continuation Blower Bentleys’ parts are crafted and assembled in-house, Hagerty reports, the automaker is tapping several artisans to assist. It’s also using the same tooling jigs and molds as the original, and 1920s-era hand tools.
The hand-formed steel chassis comes from a company that restores steam locomotives’ boilers. The leaf springs are made by an honest-to-goodness blacksmith. Bentley’s in-house custom division, Mulliner, is hand-beating the aluminum body panels over a coach-built ash frame.
Like the original, the continuation Blower Bentleys each have a supercharged 4.4-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 240 hp. They also have drum brakes—a bit worrying, given the original car weighed 3583 pounds. And the 3D scans are so precise, Autocar reports, you can order your continuation Blower Bentley with floor wear marks matching Birkin’s heel impressions.
However, ordering one at this stage isn’t really possible.
Pricing and reception
For one, each continuation Blower Bentley costs about $2 million. And secondly, Bentley is only making 12, and they’ve all been sold.
However, that price is kind of a bargain. In 2012, an original Bentley Blower went for $7,907,530 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed auction, Hemmings reports. Plus, even the non-racing supercharged 4 ½ Litres can sometimes cost more than $2,000,000. In 2015, a 1931 example sold for $4,015,000 at an RM Sotheby’s auction.
Naturally, some supercharged 4 ½ Litre and Blower Bentley owners are concerned the continuation series will “dilute” the originals’ values, Autoblog reports. But these voices appear to be in the minority. The way I see it, it’s like Pur Sang’s Bugattis: a way to celebrate and enjoy the original craftsmanship without accidentally damaging it.
Now, how quickly can Bentley get one to the James Bond set?
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