The mighty Speed Six became the most successful racing Bentley of its time, winning Le Mans in 1929 and 1930 driven by the good old Bentley Boys – Tim Birkin, Glen Kidston and Woolf Barnato. And to mark its racing icon, Bentley is reintroducing the Speed Six name to its current line-up – not as a badge-engineered Continental GT or Flying Spur, but as another recreation series, announced on Friday at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Just like the Blower Continuation Series, this will be a twelve-car run. Our very own Mike Duff drove one of the Blowers around Millbrook last year and said, after a dose of double declutching, “You could own a barn full of supercars and not have anything remotely like this.” And, having seen those cars up close myself, when they were testing at Millbrook, I can tell you they were exquisite things behold. The same team that brought those Blowers back to life will be producing the Speed Sixes, so there’s no doubting their quality.
The Blower Continuations were based on the 1929 4½ litre ‘Blower’ Bentley Team Car #2 that raced alongside the Speed Six in 1930. With the original Blower reputedly the most famous and valuable Bentley in the world, perhaps it’s no surprise that all twelve of the continuations sold out – despite commanding a £1.5 price tag, plus taxes. The same thing has happened this time around – all twelve Speed Sixes have been snapped up, too.
The original Speed Six chassis was launched in 1928, and its 6½ litre engine represented W.O. Bentley’s faith in cubic inches over forced induction. To tease out the performance he was after, the Speed Six was fitted with twin SU carburettors, a higher compression ratio and a high-performance camshaft. The end result was 180hp. 182 examples were built, and they came in a range of wheelbases from 3,505mm to 3,874mm – the short chassis proving most popular.
The racing versions were 3,353mm between the axles, with an even higher compression ratio of 6.1:1 that produced 200hp. Enough for Birkin and Barnato to lead every lap of the 1929 event in a wholly dominant display that saw Birkin go 46-seconds quicker than the previous La Sarthe lap record, clocking an average speed of 83 mph.
As with the previous recreations, the team will be working from the original blueprints as well as producing detailed 3D CAD models from original cars. “Old Number 3” is one of those, which is part of a private collection and still raced today. The other car is from Bentley’s Heritage Collection – a 1929 road car with a four-seat Vanden Plas body. This is the car that’ll be used to benchmark the performance and handling of the continuation cars.
The first example, Car Zero, will assembled by the end of this year and become the engineering test bed for the rest. Eventually, it will join the original in the Heritage Collection, alongside Car Zero from the Blower recreations.
Speaking at Goodwood, Adrian Hallmark, Bentley’s Chairman and Chief Executive, said “After incredible levels of skill were acquired by the Mulliner team through the development of the Blower Continuation Series, and with the success of the cars with their customers, a chance to honour the Speed Six is a fantastic next step. The Speed Six is one of the most important Bentleys in our 103 year history, and the 12 cars of the Continuation Series will embody the same values as W.O. Bentley’s originals, crafted by hand with the same meticulous attention both to engineering quality and to fanatical attention to detail. The lucky owners will be able to race their cars around the world, and truly relive the exploits of the original Bentley Boys.”
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