|Image courtesy of Supercars.net|
One of the cars driven by a true hero of mine (and not just as a racing driver) is due to go to auction at Goodwood during the Festival Of Speed in June, according to these reports.
Twice winner of the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race, first in 1929 and again in 1931, Birkin's name has remained inexorably linked to Bentley Motors. His racing escapades are the stuff of legend and if you can track down his autobiography Full Throttle I heartily recommend you read it.
|A 1948 edition, the spread otherwise identical to my '34 edition|
Birkin raced extensively for Bentley at such tracks as Le Mans, Ulster and Brooklands, which is where in 1932 he set a lap record of 137mph in Monoposto - the very car that will be auctioned later this year. Fiercely patriotic (a fact that readily comes across in his autobiography) Birkin was always keen to push to the limit of his cars and beyond. W.O. Bentley himself noted that there was "nobody before or since who could tear up a piece of machinery so swiftly and completely as Tim." However Bentley would go on to say that "he [Tim] was a magnificent driver, absolutely without fear and with an iron determination who - while there was anything left of his car - continued to drive it flat out and with only one end in view."
|Birkin (left) with Woolf Barnato|
His characteristic polka dot tie has become known as the "Birkin Spot" and Bentley, keen to cash in on its heritage, continues to offer accessories in this style. The silk cravat and bow tie, not to mention flying helmet and goggles, are still available from the Bentley Collection but at prices only the likes of Tim could afford. Of course, if you can stretch to a Bentley and want the authentic Winged B emblem on your clothing then you're probably not going to baulk at the cost but if your steed is more lawnmower than Bentley Blower I can point you to some more affordable equivalents that would still allow you to satisfy the inner Bentley Boy (or Girl).
|Spotted silk bow tie, £16 from Darcy Clothing (Navy/White currently unavailable)|
|John Comfort Classic Polka Dot silk cravat, £20 from Country Clothing|
|Spotted silk scarf, £24 from Darcy Clothing|
|Leather flying/driving helmet £56, goggles £54 from Darcy Clothing|
Will 1929 ‘Birkin’ Bentley Fetch $6 Million at Auction?
|Tim Birkin in the single-seat Blower Bentley, Brooklands 1932|
As it happens it was the 4½-litre Supercharged Bentley that created something of a rift between Bentley and Birkin. W.O. was entirely against supercharging his engines, being of the opinion that "to supercharge a Bentley engine was to pervert its design and corrupt its performance" and that it "was against all my engineering principles." Birkin remained convinced that it was the better way to obtain more power from an engine (as opposed to Bentley's preference which was to increase the displacement). Birkin struck out on his own and, with racehorse owner and philanthropist Dorothy Paget, co-financed the building of five "Blower" Bentleys before convincing Woolf Barnato (who was by that time Chairman and de facto owner of Bentley Motors) to build a run of 50 in order for the model to be eligible for Le Mans. Going up against German driver Rudolf Carraciola in the supercharged 7-litre Mercedes SSK the 1930 event has gone down in the annals of racing history as an epic race, with Birkin in one of two Blowers harrying the Mercedes until it retired - at the cost of both his cars - allowing the remaining Speed Six Bentleys to win.
1929-'32 Bentley Poised To Become Most Expensive Bentley Sold at Auction
|Image courtesy of Supercars.net|
Months Before Auction, a 1929 Bentley Strikes an Aristocratic Pose in Midtown
|Image couresy of Supercars.net|
Like many of his contemporaries, 'Tim' Birkin lived fast and died young. By 1933 Bentley had been taken over by Rolls-Royce and no longer raced. Birkin, already practically bankrupt from funding the Blower, was forced to race for Alfa Romeo and later Maserati. It was while driving the latter at the Tripoli Grand Prix in 1933 that, in a moment of absentmindedness he reached for his cigarette lighter and burnt his arm on the open side exhaust of his car, thinking that he was still in his beloved Bentley. He played the injury down, to such an extent that it turned septic. This combined with a flare-up of malaria, which he had first contracted during the First World War when he served with the RFC (RAF) in the Middle East, left him seriously ill and he died in London on the 22nd June 1933 aged thirty-seven.
|The Legacy of Sir Tim Birkin. Taken at Brooklands in 2007 by yours truly|
Thankfully the exploits and achievements of Tim and his colleagues are still remembered to this day, thanks in no small part to the continued existence of the cars they drove. It will be worth every penny of whatever this Bentley ends up going for if it helps to propagate the thrilling escapades of Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin.