Bentley Speed Six Le Mans Style Tourer
As with all the great W.O. Bentley-era cars, the legendary Speed Six owes its existence to the original three-litre engine design. Lithe and maneuverable, these early Bentleys offered exceptional power-to-weight ratios, and sporting drivers quickly discovered their racing potential. However, as racing success begat robust sales, buyers demanded ever-more luxurious and heavy coachwork.
Clearly, more power was required; the resulting much more-powerful 4½-Litre, introduced in 1925, proved quite successful and enhanced Bentley’s carriage-trade business. Even though a crash at the 1927 Le Mans 24 Hours involved all three Bentleys entered, a 3-Litre Bentley remained in the race and defended Bentley’s honor by taking the marquee’s second Le Mans victory. One of the crashed Bentleys, the 4½-Litre “Old Mother Gun,” was repaired and captured Bentley’s third Le Mans title in 1928, with Woolf Barnato and Bernard Rubin co-driving.
Despite these brilliant triumphs, continued racing success and increasingly elaborate custom coachwork dictated even more power output. Two cylinders were added to the 4½-Litre engine, increasing displacement to 6½ litres. Debate among the famed “Bentley Boys” led to two divergent paths for the racing program, with “Tim” Birkin supporting a supercharged 4½-Litre while Barnato encouraged development of a racing 6½-Litre, the “Speed Six.”
Several months of development culminated in the first “Speed Six” demonstration chassis in late 1928, with the first delivery in May 1929 to Barnato. Although similar to the standard 6½-Litre, the “Speed Six” benefitted from a host of upgrades, including twin SU carburetors on a new square-section intake manifold. Horsepower was up by 20 bhp to 180 and ultimately reached 200 bhp in racing tune.
A Le Mans-specification Speed Six is arguably the most desirable of all Bentleys. A recent sale of the second-place car from the 1930 24 Hours of Le Mans sold for well over $5 million, an exceptional result for an exceptional car.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in June of 2011 at the Syon House, London.
180 bhp, 6,597 cc “Speed Six” SOHC inline six-cylinder engine, twin carburettors, four-speed manual gearbox, front and rear leaf-spring suspension, and four-wheel mechanical drum brakes.
Source: RM Auctions
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