A few months ago, ten historic Bentleys successfully complete the famous Jochpass Oldtimer Memorial race. One among them was the Bentley Blower—the iconic racing Bentley of the pre-war years, forever linked with the image of its driver, the dashing Bentley Boy Sir Henry (Tim) Birkin.
Ironically, the 4 ½ litre supercharged was the least successful of all the Cricklewood Bentleys in competition – and founder W.O. Bentley bitterly opposed its development. But while it lasted, the 4 ½ litre supercharged went like a rocket, earning Bentley a legion of fans at every race it entered.
The quest for more power
By 1928, it had become clear that the 4 ½ litre car was reaching the end of its development and that competitors were closing the gap fast on Bentley’s racing supremacy. For W.O. Bentley, the answer was simple— increase engine capacity. And the result was a highly successful 6 ½ litre speed six that went on to win the Le Mans in 1929 and 1939. But Tim Birkin preferred the supercharging option, based on the four-cylinder 4 ½ litre.
In 1929 Birkin commissioned the production of a series of 4 ½ litre Bentleys, powered by a supercharger developed by independent engineer Amherst Villiers. Power increased from around 110bhp to 175bhp with the supercharger installation.
The Birkin ‘Blower’
One of just five ever made for racing, the Blower was used by the original Bentley racing team – the Bentley Boys – of the late 1920s.
This year marks the 87thanniversary of its Le Mans victory from 1930. While the supercharged Blower wasn’t the winning car that day, with Tim Birkin at the wheel its heroic performance embodies the true spirit of the vintage racing era.
In the 1930 race, Birkin and his Blower diced for the lead with Mercedes ace Rudi Carracciola, passing him flat out down the Hunaudières straight with his nearside wheels on the grass. Birkin successfully pushed the Mercedes to breaking point, but also had to retire with six hours to go, and the race was eventually won by Barnato and Kidston in their Speed Sixes.
The Blower was described by Autocar magazine in September 1930 as having ‘the appeal of immense power, linked with great docility’.