Hot on the heels of its 100-year anniversary Bentley announced it will rebuild 12 exacting, period-correct replicas of one of its most famous cars, Tim Birkin’s 1929 4 1/2-litre Blower. That’s three times as many as the original production number. Bentley says the dozen cars represent the 12 races the Team Blowers competed in.
The 4 1/2-litre is famous for a number of reasons, the most notable being that it achieved fame despite never winning a major race. It did, however, set two speeds records at Brooklands, helping intertwine Bentley’s history with the racing circuit. The first attempt in 1930 managed a speed a 137.58 mph. A follow up in 1932 with increased the record to 137.96 mph, reinstating the Bentley at the top of the British racing world.
Company founder W.O. Bentley was reportedly not a fan of using forced induction to generate power, but Birkin convinced Chairman Woolf Barnato (who had effective control due to his ownership stake) to approve building 55 cars to satisfy the homologation rules for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. 50 of those cars were road-going customer cars, while the other five were destined for racing. Four racers were actually built; one car changed chassis numbers to count twice.
The new cars are based on the team car that Bentley acquired in 2000, the second of the four, UU 5872, which will be torn down, documented, and 3D scanned to create a digital reference. Afterwards the template car will receive a sympathetic restoration. Bentley will use original 1920s tools and jigs and “The 12 continuations will be identical wherever possible to the original – mechanically, aesthetically and spiritually – with only minimal hidden changes dictated by modern safety concerns.”
The identical spec includes the four-cylinder engine displacing 4398 cc with the cylinder head cast together with the block. All 12 continuation engines will be built to the racing specification of 240 horsepower, compared to the 175 hp found in the road cars and 130 hp in the non-supercharged 4 1/2-Liter Bentley. Mechanical drum brakes are part of the deal as well, a reminder that drivers of Birkin’s generation were brave not just for achieving speed, but also for managing to slow down without incident.
Bentley says “prices will be on application” for the continuation cars, a nice way of saying the old adage “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” One of the Le Mans racers sold in 2013 for $4.6 million, while Birkin’s own single-seater went for $6.2 million in 2012. The recreation cars will probably cost less that that, but not by much. Similar new editions of old cars from Aston Martin and Jaguar each cost millions of dollars, but still less than the real deal. It also raises the question of what purpose continuation cars serve. It is a fitting tribute, or does it make the original less special?