After forty thousand hours of labour, you’d imagine that the team at Bentley responsible for completing the first meticulously recreated 1929 4 1/2 liter, supercharged Blower, would get the kettle on, treat themselves to a pack of Bourbon biscuits and put their feet up. However, there’s no time to relax – 12 more continuation Bentley Blower continuation cars need building.
If it were to take the same amount of time to build the next 12 Blowers, that would be a combined 480,000 hours of work, or 20,000 days, which is nearly 55 years. One rather hopes that lessons learned during the first build will speed up the process for the next cars – and perhaps allow for a tea break along the way.
The Bentley Blower continuation project was announced in September, 2019, in celebration of the company’s centenary. The milestones along the way of the continuation project have included the completion of the 3D CAD model in April, 2020; the official start of hands-on work in August; and the momentous moment the first 4.5-litre Blower engine roared to life in September.
That recreated inline-four now sits beneath the engine shroud of a completed continuation Blower Bentley – but there’s no customer in line for this first example. “Car Zero,” as it’s dubbed by Bentley, is a prototype built ahead of the 12 planned customer cars, each of which is already pre-sold to the tune of £1.5 million.
The 4.5-litre engine was designed by W.O. Bentley himself, but ‘Bentley Boy’ Tim Birkin craved more power than the 132bhp W.O. was offering. Birkin got financial backing from wealthy horse and motor racing enthusiast Dorothy Paget and turned to Clive Gallop and Amherst Villiers to build a supercharger. The Roots-type blower was mounted ahead of the engine and radiator and driven directly off the crankshaft. With reinforced internals, including con-rods and crank the Blower engine added just over 100bhp.
The gloss-black prototype will be subject to a rigorous testing regime before Bentley begins to build the other 12 cars: over 5000 on-track miles, and over 15,000 road miles to simulate “the undertaking of famous rallies such as Peking to Paris and Mille Miglia.” Car Zero will, for the sake of its successors, undergo a top-speed run. Now that’s a film we’d like to see.
Like the 12 cars that will follow it, Car Zero is manufactured using the original design drawings and created using the genuine tooling jigs for the four Blowers that stormed race circuits in the 1920s. The modern replica cars are built using an intriguing combination of old and new tech: they ride on painstakingly reproduced ash frames, but the dimensions for those pieces are derived from a 3D model of one of the first four Bentleys, chassis HB 3403.
There’s seemingly no limit to Bentley’s attention to detail. If you’re at all skeptical of the authenticity of a “rebuilt” Blower, consider the following. The heavy-gauge steel chassis is hand-formed and hot-riveted by Israel Newton & Sons Ltd, a 200-year-old company based in Derby. The fuel tank is hand-beaten steel and copper. The crankcase of the overhead-cam inline four – which boasts aluminium pistons, four valves per cylinder, and twin-spark ignition, like the original – uses magnesium to honour 1920s specifications. The radiator shell is composed of solid nickel. Inside each Oxblood red seat resides 10 kilograms of natural horsehair.
We applaud Bentley’s commitment to keeping the Blower legacy alive, and admire the company’s investment in highly talented craftspeople to support the effort. We can’t wait to hear Car Zero storm to its top speed, singing its supercharged tune through its signature flat-ended exhaust pipe.