BL17 FINAL - Page 61



PURSUITS
Clockwise from left:
Bentley Boy Woolf
‘Babe’ Barnato at the
1928 Le Mans 24 hours;
the newly-announced
Bentley Blower
continuation model
– Bentley is to
‘reverse-engineer’ 12
new versions of the
1929 4 ½-litre Blower;
Woolf Barnato and
Frank Clement (in car 2)
compete for Bentley at
Brooklands in 1929
Grosvenor Square
became known to
cabbies as ‘Bentley
Corner’ for the
battle-scarred, dark
green monsters
abandoned outside
to assemble. Although Le Mans was
their annual focus and the series of
wins they would record there was their
most tangible achievement, their benefit
to Bentley came as much from the
glamour that clung to them year-round.
They were the influencers and reality
stars of their generation, and although a
Victorian-born engineer in a tweed suit,
WO had a very modern understanding
of lifestyle and brand.
“The public liked to imagine them
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BOISDALELIFE .COM
AUTUMN 2019
ISSUE 17
living with several mistresses and, of
course, several very fast Bentleys,
drinking champagne in night clubs,
playing the horses and stock exchange,
and beating furiously around racing
tracks at the weekend,” he said of his
drivers. “Of several of them this was
not such an inaccurate picture. I would
have been perfectly content to see our
cars circulating round Le Mans in
inglorious solitude so long as the Daily
Mail gave us their front page on
Monday morning.”
T
he leader of the pack was Woolf
‘Babe’ Barnato, his nickname a
wry reference to his prize-fighter’s
physique. The heir to his family’s South
African gold and diamond-mining
fortune, he played first-class cricket for
Surrey and was an accomplished boxer,
powerboat racer and scratch golfer. As a
racing driver WO thought him flawless,
saying that he never made a mistake
and always took instructions from his
team principal. This despite becoming
WO’s boss in 1926 when he bought a
controlling stake in Bentley, continuing
to firehose cash into it as the Depression
approached.
Barnato did not have a modern
sportsman’s attitude to self-denial,
however. His parties at Ardenrun, his
Surrey estate, or at his apartment on
Grosvenor Square were epic, days-long
affairs. Other Bentley Boys took
apartments close by, and the southeastern corner of the square became
known to cabbies as ‘Bentley Corner’
for the battle-scarred dark green
monsters abandoned outside. But
Barnato did more in his cars than just
race at Le Mans. One was converted for
‘nocturnal’ use, the driver sequestered
in a sealed, single-seat booth, and the
rest of the car’s cabin laid out as an
L-shaped boudoir.
There were steadier Bentley Boys,
but not many. Dr Dudley ‘Benjy’
Benjafield was a Harley Street doctor
and SCH ‘Sammy’ Davis was my
forebear as a writer and road tester on
the magazine, Autocar. Despite lacking
the raw speed and talent (and cash) of
Babe, they scored Bentley’s most
famous Le Mans win in 1927. They
hastily repaired their ‘Old Number 7’
Bentley, driving it through the night to
victory with a torch strapped to its bent
windscreen frame.







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