Recently we had the pleasure of driving the fantastic Bentley Mulsanne.
The car, as you would expect, is utterly sublime. We could have given you a glowing road test discussing how you can travel across Europe in this car without ever breaking a sweat. We could mention the chilled champagne cooler, TVs, stunning sound system and the massage seats. We would also have told you how the huge 6.75-litre twin-turbocharged engine generates 1020 Nm of torque and will launch the 2685 kg palace to 100mph in just 5.1 seconds, and if you have the space to do so will go onto to a top speed of 184mph.
In the specification as you see it here the on the road price is £303,500 and that includes £75,300 of options. If you are going to buy a Bentley, you don’t just buy the base specification and that’s what makes one of these so special, they are all unique. So, there’s no road test, instead we decided to take the Bentley Mulsanne to meet an old relative. Built in 1929, this “Blower” Bentley you see here existed in the glorious age of the Bentley Boys.
Woolf ‘babe’ Barnato had bought Bentley in 1925 and went on to develop the supercharged “Blower” Bentley. At Le Mans, the car was an unbeatable package of speed and reliability and led Bentley to victory at Le Mans from 1927 to 1930. This particular car was first registered to Tate and Lyle sugar in 1929. The long wheelbase chassis has never been altered and the car to this day still bares it’s original chassis plate.
Parked together you start to notice similarities in the two cars, a kind of Bentley DNA. The large round headlights, the almost identical wheelbase and the simple, elegant bodywork. While our Mulsanne will lead a relatively relaxed life, this “Blower” has now raced at Le Mans Classic four times as well as many other historic races all over Europe.
Walking around the two cars the other main difference you will spot is the paint work. The Mulsanne is painted in a lovely subtle colour called Light Gazelle and is in fact the only Mulsanne currently in this colour. The paint is six layers thick and on a bright day you could have a shave in the reflections. The paint really is superb, unlike many other modern cars which suffer from an orange peel effect due to thinner coats of paint. In stark contrast, the “Blower” Bentley is glazed with a lovely patina.
Rightly so, the car looks its age and instantly your mind starts to daydream about all the people that have been in the car and where it has travelled to in the 85 years it has been on the road. In 1929 this car was no slouch. In cool and humid conditions the car could and still does hit 125mph. The 4.5-litre, 4 cylinder supercharged engine is impressively quick and when you are perched in the high seats the speed is a sensory overload. Driven flat out the car returns just 5mpg.
Thankfully the Mulsanne is a little more kind to us. Of course, it is thirsty and the temptation to indulge in that gorgeous silky smooth torque is not something to be ignored. We drive in convoy over to The Barley Mow, Mike Hawthorn’s old local and discuss Le Mans Classic with the Blowers owner Martin Overington. In 2012, Martin teamed up with Bentley brand ambassador and Le Mans legend Derek Bell to take on the grueling race. Sadly mechanical trouble hit during a stint in the night and the car had to be retired. In 2014 Martin returned to race in Grid 1 (1923-1939) and his combined finish position for the three races was 5th overall.
Frustratingly he missed his pit window for a driver change and was given a 2 lap penalty. This pushed the final position down to 22nd place, a sad end to a well fought race and even with the penalty, Martin was still one of the fasted Bentleys in the race. There’s no denying the history, beauty, importance and value of the “Blower” but come 2am and the end of the photo shoot I am somewhat glad to be driving the sublime Mulsanne the 100 miles back to home.
Le Mans and motor racing is part of Bentleys DNA and with a Le Mans victory in recent years and the success of the new Continental GT3 that history continues to unfold today. I wonder what articles will be written about Bentley in 85 years time…