Automotive history is absolutely wonderful, especially this type. At Crewe in the United Kingdom, the hallowed home of Bentley, there’s an effort underway as part of its eternal 100th birthday to recreate one of the marque’s most fabled automobiles. It’s a continuation series of exactly 12 modern copies of the supercharged, 4 1/2-liter “Blower” Bentley automobiles, the huge, ponderous creations that captivated England when they competed in sports car races on the Continent beginning in the late 1920s. The supercharged Bentleys never scored an outright win in the 12 races they contested – it was up to a normally aspirated 4 1/2-liter Bentley to win Le Mans in 1928 – but the Blower Bentleys are consider British motoring icons, and draw enormous prices at auctions.
Those auction prices probably help explain why Bentley is undertaking the re-creation effort, under which a prototype is now under construction and all 12 continuation examples have already been snapped up by wealthy collectors. The re-created supercharged Bentley straight-six is seen here being tested at Crewe on an engine stand that’s been in use since 1938, initially for evaluation Rolls-Royce Merlin aero engines. Each continuation engine will be run on the test stand through a 20-hour cycle, on a power curve ranging up to 3,500 RPM, which was a crankshaft-shearing redline back when the 4 1/2-liter was first developed in the 1920s. It’s a precision-assembled salute to one of the original Bentley Boys of British motorsport, Tim Birkin, the aristocrat who invented the Blower Bentley by having a Villiers pulley-driven supercharger fitted to the big Bentley six, over the strenuous objections of founder W.O. Bentley, who believed the only way to get reliable horsepower out of his engine was to increase their displacement, not pressurize the combustion chambers. W.O.’s solution was to enlarge the big Bentley OHC straight-six to 6.5 liters, and the Speed Six, as it became known, won Le Mans in 1929 and 1930, once teaming Birkin with Bentley’s financial savior, Woolf Barnato, before Bentley pulled out of international racing.