Saturday 24 March 2012

Trust launched to preserve historic buses

A 1930 Albion PMA28, now part of FirstGroup's heritage fleet

FirstGroup creates trust for historic buses

FirstGroup happens to be my local bus service provider and they're not in my good books at the moment (although that's a rant for another time and place) so the news that they are going to set up a trust for vintage buses that once served as part of their (or their predecessors') fleet has gone some way towards improving my opinion of them.

It is good to see a bus company taking an interest in its heritage and hopefully this new trust will be able to work in conjunction with local transport museums, possibly providing displays on a rotated basis and maybe even assisting the many volunteers who work tirelessly to keep these old buses on the road. 

Trust launched to preserve historic buses

I'm sure there is much scope for expanding this project and although it is currently confined to First's Aberdeen headquarters it is planned to roll out across the company's network and I could easily see it proving very popular and useful in my neck of the woods (and elsewhere).  Anything that helps to preserve these classic vehicles is welcome and I'm pleased to see First taking such an active part in seeking out and restoring historic buses.

Hopefully we shall all see the fruits of these labours at nearby museums and rallies but in the meantime this is a promising start to a worthy scheme, which I hope meets with much success.

Friday 23 March 2012

Save Savile Row From Abercrombie & Fitch!

Save Savile Row From Abercrombie & Fitch

I don't normally use this blog as a platform for campaigns but this is a worthy exception that deserves to be spread far and wide and which is of interest to me and, I hope, at least some of my readers.

Some of you may already know about, or have read, the ongoing controversy surrounding the Burlington Arcade in Mayfair (scene of a dozen period film and TV shoots - chances are you've seen it on screen at one time or another, even if you haven't walked through it) which was recently bought by a conglomerate of American and European investment/hedge fund companies.  Some long-standing shops in the arcade have allegedly been forced out, with the very real threat of brands unsuited to the historic and refined nature of the arcade moving in, along with a proposed "redesign" which may or may not be appropriate.

Burlington Arcade

What has happened since November I can't say (I can only hope a suitable compromise has been reached, at best) but now a new threat has appeared on the horizon for another long-standing, traditional area of Westminster - Savile Row.

One of the last shopping streets anywhere in the country to contain purely tailors and justly famous the world over as the home of bespoke gentlemen's clothing, Savile Row's 200-year sartorial history is one of the [many] jewels in London's crown.  Names like Gieves & Hawkes, Huntsman and Henry Poole are synonymous with the Row and with top-quality men's tailoring.  Famous and historic gentlemen from Britain and abroad including Fred Astaire, Winston Churchill, Noël Coward and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales have all bought their clothes there.

The threat takes the form of American clothiers Abercrombie & Fitch, who already have their flagship store around the corner in Burlington Gardens.  They have put forward an application to open an Abercrombie Kids - yes, that's right, a children's clothes shop - in No. 3 Savile Row.

3 Savile Row

There is no place for Abercrombie & Fitch, or any of its offshoots but particularly a youth branch, in Savile Row.  It simply does not suit the area.  Savile Row is legendary for being the provider of top-notch bespoke menswear, refined over two centuries and admired throughout the world.  It's more than just a street full of tailors, it is - like the Burlington Arcade - an historic artery of the City.  It attracts tourists, it attracts well-heeled patrons whose families may have used the same tailor for generations and it is a source of aspiration for chaps like me.  All that could be lost if this application is approved.

From what little I know of Abercrombie & Fitch (having never been in one of their shops and, quite frankly, never likely to) I can think of fewer clothes stores less suited to the hallowed Row.  The thought of hoodies, t-shirts and jeans being sold alongside the best tweed, wool and cotton suits in the country turns my stomach even more than A&F's penchant for pumping their sickly cologne and overly loud pop music into their stores and so out into the street.

Established Savile Row tailors are naturally concerned about the effect this will have on the Row - and they should know!  One has even gone so far as to fear for the safety aspect of the street should an Abercrombie Kids set up shop at Number 3.  They have rightly made a formal complaint to Westminster Council and I urge you to do the same through the medium of this petition, set up by Mr Gustav Temple of The Chap magazine.

It has always been a source of pleasure and pride to see Savile Row spoken of with such admiration by so many of the vintage and sartorial blogs of which I am a follower and I hope you will join me now in opposing this application.

Biplane design could break the sound barrier

Biplane design could break the sound barrier

I've always said biplanes would have their day, but who would have thought they may be the answer to the future of supersonic flight?  A successor to the technological marvel that was Concorde is long overdue, and if it is to have two wings then so much the better!

It may not look like any biplane we are familiar with but the design that is suggested by MIT as mentioned in this article is basically a two-winged aircraft, which owes much of its layout to a 70-year-old concept.  Even back in the early days of aviation when biplanes were prevalent it seems that the theory of faster-than-sound flight was being explored.  At the time, though, technology was limited and the new-fangled monoplane was seen as the future of aircraft design.  The fastest biplane was, and remains, the 1938 Fiat CR.42DB (above) which had a top speed of 323mph.

Despite employing principles from as long ago as the 1930s the MIT design, whilst having shades of retro-futurism about it, is very much grounded in the 21st Century.  Although the idea of a "supersonic biplane" has the right ring to it, this is a particularly modern take on the layout.  So to end with and in keeping with the vintage feel of this blog here are some biplane airliners from the '20s and '30s which, while certainly not capable of exceeding the speed of sound, at least look like the sort of aircraft we would associate with double-winged aeroplanes.


The Armstrong Whitworth Argosy was Imperial Airways' (the precursor to British Airways) first multi-engined airliner, entering service in 1926.  Seven examples plied the European (and later the Empire links to South Africa and India) for ten years until 1936.  The luxury Croydon-Paris service was named the "Silver Wing" and boasted a bar with steward.  Seating was for twenty people and the cruising speed was a heady 90mph.

The Handley Page H.P.42 was introduced in 1930 to complement the Argosy and to extend Imperial Airways' long-distance routes.  Eight were built in all, 4 for the European flights and 4 for the Empire routes.  Capable of seating up to 24 passengers the H.P.42 enjoyed an enviable safety record - never losing a single life whilst in [civilian] service - unmatched by any other contemporary aircraft.  Its low cruising speed of 100mph may have had something to do with it; as one commentator of the time put it "it's as steady as the Rock of Gibraltar - and about as fast", adding that it had "built-in headwinds"!

The Short S.17 Kent was one of many early flying boat designs used by Imperial Airways on their Mediterranean routes during the 1920s and early 1930s, before the advent of the more well-known large monoplane Empire flying boats.  The four-engined Kent was a development of the three-engined Calcutta, designed to have a longer range and so eliminate the need to stop at Italy en route to Eygpt.  Only 3 were built (although a couple of land-based versions known as the Short Scylla, were also used on the European routes), capable of carrying 16 passengers at a cruising speed of 105mph.

Sadly none of these amazing aircraft made it through the Second World War (although they were not all lost to enemy action - three of the H.P.42s, for example, were destroyed in incidents where they were blown over or against other aircraft in strong winds).  An attempt to build a replica of an H.P.42 foundered a few years ago, so all that remain of these giants are photographs and cine footage.  But their legacy will live on, perhaps to find a new lease of life in this potential supersonic biplane of the future.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Old-time radio and comics heroes burst back onto the scene

The Shadow Exclusive Preview

Old-time radio and comics heroes burst back onto the scene

Last year I blogged about one of my favourite pulp-fiction heroes, the Rocketeer, and the news that a new series of comics featuring the character had been commissioned.  At the time I was delighted to hear of the new Rocketeer adventures and now it looks as though some more pulp heroes from the golden age of radio and comic-strips are about to get a new lease of life.

An unsuccessful attempt to reintroduce a few of the more famous pulp crimefighters resulted in a series of live-action films being made in the early 1990s, beginning with the Rocketeer in 1991 through The Shadow (starring Alec Baldwin) in 1994 and ending with The Phantom (Billy Zane) in 1996.  All part of my DVD collection, of course!  Alas cinema audiences at the time were just not in the mood for these classic characters, the films performed poorly at the box office and pulp's breakthrough into the mainstream proved abortive.  I've always said they were simply made 20 years too soon(!).

Now, as the accompanying article touches upon, the early radio and comic-strip characters are proving to be more popular again as the fashion for all things vintage continues and public affinity with the tough times of the 1930s grows.  The new Shadow strips aim to take advantage of this renewed interest and hopefully introduce a new generation to the thrills of these early superheroes.

There are some interesting thoughts and ideas put forward by the interviewees in the piece and those held by the writers and artists involved in reviving these well-known characters, as well as the new strip itself, shows that there is a very good chance of fresh success for The Shadow at least, and maybe others too.  Director of the first three Spider-Man films, Sam Raimi, has long been a fan of The Shadow and is rumoured to be working on a new Shadow film having been trying to obtain the rights to the character since the late Eighties (which resulted in him making the 1990 film Darkman, starring Liam Neeson).  The Shadow given the Spider-Man treatment?  Sounds good to me!

Last year's The Green Hornet film, while not a period film and critically unsuccessful, at least shows that Hollywood hasn't lost its appetite for classic pulp fiction.  Next year's The Lone Ranger starring Johnny Depp has, going by available details, received mixed reactions so far but may be one to watch (although I've never really considered The Lone Ranger as a pulp character).  The Phantom continues to appear as a comic strip, was recently adapted for television and is also mooted for a film "reboot".  Likewise a new Doc Savage picture is said to be in the pipeline too.  While only some of these have or will remain rooted in their original time periods they should all remain true to their roots and will hopefully continue the revitalisation of these classic characters.

In the meantime, this all-new Shadow comic-strip looks like a promising start.  Fans of "old-time" radio serials like those of The Shadow, Flash Gordon and the like can also listen and download a wide selection of original broadcasts from this splendid website

Tuesday 20 March 2012

The world's biggest collection of airship memorabilia goes on sale


The world's biggest collection of airship memorabilia goes on sale

Some Zeppelin news now, featuring the largest selection of airship memorabilia valued at potentially £1,000,000 and which is due to be sold off in four auctions over the coming eight months.

Rare Zeppelin items for auction for the first time

The result of 40 years of collecting by a Jersey businessman who had intended to set up an airship museum but who through a combination of old age and other business commitments never managed to, the collection contains many hundreds of photographs, some of which are reproduced here.

These pictures (and the above footage from Youtube, which I make no apology for including every time I blog about airships) give a fantastic idea of the sheer majestic size of the Zeppelins and the wonderful sense of occasion they would have provided.  Not only in seeing them at ground level, from within, in flight and - sadly - at war but also the views they provided to the lucky passengers privileged enough to fly in them.  Never was the advantage of all-round vision as afforded by a gondola more perfectly illustrated than in a number of these photos.


Comprised quite literally of tons of Zeppelin-related artefacts the collection would have made a wonderful museum, all the more so considering the seller had even bought one of the massive hangars at Cardington Aerodrome in Bedfordshire (home of the British airship industry and the ill-fated R.101) to store it all in and in which he had intended to base his extensive display.  What a gem it would have been - a real counterpart to the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany.  Sadly it was not to be and now this incredible collection is about to be broken up.  At least the profits will be given to charity, which is a good thing.  One can only hope that the pieces find their way to the Zeppelin Museum or to collectors who will equally appreciate it and, who knows, maybe even use it to help open up a British airship museum in the future.

One of the Cardington airship hangers

Monday 19 March 2012

Telephone tweets and Facebook telegraph

At the end of last year I blogged about Little Printer, a miniature printer that I felt owed much to the tickertape machines of the early 20th Century and which can run off strips containing news items, lists, addresses and tweets.  At the time I wondered to myself why someone had not taken the idea a step further, or a step backwards rather, and rigged up a proper piece of vintage kit to work with the likes of Twitter.  It surely wasn't beyond the wit of the technically-minded vintagista - no doubt we would see something before too long, I thought.

Well, I was right.  Doubly so, as it happens.  Firstly - and just yesterday - I came across the Tweephone, the product of young minds from the Ukraine who have come up with the wizard idea of converting an old rotary-dial telephone to be able to send tweets over the Internet.  Even today telephone keypads still have corresponding letters assigned to each number - now only used for text-messaging (so at least the concept should be familiar) and those funny aide-memoires more popular in the United States, "'phone 1-800 CONTRIVED" - so the principle is exactly the same.  Digital meets analogue!  At the moment merely a one-off design study, but with enough interest - who knows?  Even the oldest rotary-dialler could send tweets!  (I should mention at this point that I don't tweet and to be honest find the whole thing a bit silly, but if you're going to do it best do it properly - and tweeting from an old GPO 200 series would seem about right!).

The unseen chap in this next clip has gone one better, though, and produced almost exactly what I was thinking of when first I saw the Little Printer - an actual tickertape machine wired up to tap out tweets!

The Twittertape Machine is also in the prototype stage but simply uses an old tickertape machine rigged up to the Internet and which will tap out your tweets in much the same way as it would have spewed out important stock movements a century ago.  The Mark II will apparently go one better - wi-fi and Farcebook-compatible (again, if that's your sort of thing - it isn't mine, I don't even have an account - then again this seems like the proper way to go about it: if I got my hands on one even I would reconsider my stance on social networking!).

Nevertheless, these vintage takes on modern communication are most welcome and a wonderful way to indulge in 21st Century correspondence while adding a decidedly 20th Century flavour.  As I said with the Little Printer it even adds more of a personal and tangible touch to messaging.  I also happen to love the way it makes a mockery of Twitter's USPs - speed and compactness.  But as I've said before, anything that gives these old devices a new lease of life is OK in my book and I hope success attends both enterprises as I would really like to see more of the two in the future.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Atalanta sports car revived after a gap of 75 years

Atalanta sports car revived after a gap of 75 years

Following the relaunched 1936 Alvis 4.3-litre that featured on this blog back in 2010, my hope that others would take up the idea has been realised with this latest news that little-known pre-war British sports car manufacturer Atalanta is to make a return with an update of one of their original models - the 1937 Sports Tourer.

Like the Alvis the Atalanta appears to be externally exactly the same as its forebear, retaining its period design and high quality hand-built coach lines.  Beneath the skin, however, will sit many modern safety advancements, mechanical efficiencies and up-to-date technology; once again the best of the 1930s meets the best of 2012.

This "new" Atalanta, coming so soon after the revived Alvis, is not only another fine example of British entrepreneurship but also a great testament to classic automotive design.  It is wonderful too to see that others share my (our) wish to see the best of both worlds and more importantly that they are in a position to make it happen.

Although I am sadly not in the position to take advantage of these cars I very much welcome them and while their exclusive nature will not make them a common sight on our roads (the fleets of "modern" 1930s cars I envision will just have to wait, I suppose!) any such car is a good car in my opinion and hopefully they will encourage others to try their luck.  Those roads full of Alvis, Atalantas and others may happen yet!  In the meantime I am pleased to see another marque joining the ranks and wish Atalanta every success with their "new" Sports Tourer.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Women pilots celebrate first English Channel flight

Women pilots celebrate first English Channel flight

Oddly enough I was thinking just the other day, after reading several blogs celebrating International Women's Day on the 8th, who my heroines are.  Then I remembered all the female pilots of the early 20th Century and the pioneering flights they undertook - a microcosm of women's general battle for equality.  Names like Amy Johnson, Amelia Earhart and Diana Barnato-Walker sprang to mind; now this commemoration and accompanying article from the B.B.C. adds another woman to that list - Harriet Quimby.

Even before she became the first woman in the United States to have a pilot's licence Harriet Quimby was already doing what was, at the time, still a very male-orientated job - journalism.  As a theatre critic for various San Franciscan and New York newspapers and later an author of several early Hollywood screenplays Quimby was obviously possessed of an imaginative and enquiring mind so perhaps it should come as little surprise that she became interested in aviation, particularly with her links to the media which was so enamoured with powered flight in the years following Kitty Hawk.

After learning to fly in 1910 Quimby continued to work in between aviating and even used the latter as an advertising gimmick when she appeared in a unique purple aviatrix outfit to promote a new soda drink.

On the 16th April 1912 Harriet Quimby performed another flying first by becoming the first woman to fly across the English Channel and it is the centenary of this feat that female pilots from around the world commemorated in Kent yesterday - as well as the wider-ranging Women of Aviation Worldwide Week - and which is reported in the accompanying article.

Sadly less than three months later aged only 37 Harriet Quimby was killed in a flying accident in Massachusetts when for some unknown reason her aeroplane suddenly pitched forward at 3,000 feet and threw Quimby and her passenger out.  With no parachutes at that time, there was no hope of survival.

It is only right therefore that this lady and her inspiring first flight is celebrated as part of the wider acknowledgement of the history of women in aviation and it is wonderful to see so many female pilots having turned up to commemorate both this remarkable event and worthy cause.  Here's to many more flying femmes and the memory of the first few aviatrices who paved the way.

Harriet Quimby in the Moisant monoplane in which she learned to fly

Saturday 10 March 2012

Forties Fashion #5: Evening Wear 1941

Apologies for the dearth of posts this last week but a lack of blogworthy news was compounded by me feeling a little under the weather.  There's still a lack of blogworthy news but as I'm in the right frame of mind for a bit of writing I think it's about time I turned my attention to doing another excerpt from my 1940s Fashion sourcebook.  So without further ado, we find ourselves in 1941 about to don some evening wear.

These first two ladies are wearing quite contrasting gowns, possibly for different "classes" of "social" event.   

Top: a fine grey wool-crepe dinner dress with bloused bodice; button fastening from above waist level to under low V-shaped neckline; self-fabric covered buttons; small beaded patch pockets; short inset sleeves and padded shoulders; floor-length flared skirt gathered at front in decorative pinafore panel; self-fabric belt tied into a bow; silver kid-strap sandals.

Bottom: a floor-length red velvet evening cape with wide padded shoulders; embroidered and beaded stand collar matches large patch pockets at hip level; floor-length black taffeta evening dress; elbow-length black silk gloves and black satin strap sandals.

The next two gals sport more "informal" evening wear, as follows:

Left: a blue, pink and silver flower-patterned fine silk brocade evening dress with a fitted and ruched bodice from low neckline to hip level; shaped epaulette shoulder straps (already there's a military theme creeping in!); floor-length flared skirt; silver kid shoes with peep toes.

Right: a dinner ensemble - bright pink silk-taffeta blouse with wide padded shoulders and shaped epaulette extensions; self-covered button trim and roll collar; full-length black silk-crepe skirt draped around high waist and over hips, front panel of unpressed pleats; black satin shoes.

Finally, the solitary chap.  We men don't get two male fashion models until midway through 1942 I'm afraid!  For now though, this dashing fellow wears:

Two-piece black wool evening suit comprising a single-breasted fitted jacket with linked-button fastening, wide lapels faced in black satin, hip level piped pockets; breast pocket with folded white silk handkerchief (see here for various ways to fold a handkerchief for the breast pocket); straight-cut trousers with no turn-ups and satin ribbon on outside seams; white cotton shirt worn with wing collar (available here) and black satin bow tie (self-tied of course); black patent leather lace-up shoes.

That's it for another Forties Fashion phase.  Have a wonderful weekend, all, whether you'll be in evening wear or not!

Friday 2 March 2012

1929 Bentley 4½ Litre Supercharged set to be the most expensive Bentley ever

Image courtesy of
1929 Bentley 4½ Litre Supercharged set to be the most expensive Bentley ever

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.

Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin was one of the famous "Bentley Boys" who drove during the golden age of motor racing and which included such daredevil sophisticates as South African diamond magnate 'Woolf' Barnato, record-breaking aviator Glen Kidston and pearl-collector Bernard Rubin among many others.  The life stories of all these men would fill many books, but it is Birkin on whom I shall focus the attention of this post.

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
(I was fortunate enough about 10 years ago to obtain a 1950s reprint through an inter-library loan from Maidstone, Kent, after first reading about Birkin in an article from Autocar.  So enthralled was I that I wrote to the journalist asking if he would point me in the direction of a bookshop that might have a copy to buy - it being rare and out of print for many years.  Imagine my surprise when the very next week he used his Autocar column to plead for a copy for me!  A splendid old boy who lived literally around the corner from me responded saying that I could have his 1934 fourth edition for free and I spent a lovely hour chatting with him about the early years of motorsport and his hobby of marshalling at GPs in the '50s where he saw the likes of Fangio and Moss race.  I will always fondly remember the wonderful concatenation of events that led to my coming in to possession of that book!).  Full Throttle was also made into a 60-minute drama for the B.B.C. in 1995, with Rowan Atkinson as Birkin.  To the best of my knowledge it has never been repeated and although available on DVD is, like the book, almost impossible to track down.  I was extremely fortunate to record the original broadcast and then later transfer it to disc.  

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

Outside of racing Birkin was every inch the playboy, living in a Mayfair flat in an area that became known as "Bentley Corner" due to the high density of Bentley drivers living locally.  W.O. Bentley recalled that "he [Tim] lived equally furiously off the track, his fondness for the dramatic and unexpected having surprising and often excruciatingly funny results.  Life was never dull with Tim around, if only because of the abundance and wide variety of his girlfriends."  (Birkin was married once between 1921 and 1927, and had two daughters).  Birkin himself was very self-deprecating and wrote little about himself in his autobiography, stating that "I have very seldom spoken in public; it bores me as much as my audience, I cannot remember what I was going to say, and when I can, forget how to say it; nor is my confusion aided by a stammer.  If this information disappoints my younger readers, if they had pictured me as tall and broad and clear-cut, barking out instructions in a voice like a knife, I am heartily sorry; I am quite small, and I do stammer."  As befitted a man of his social stature, though, he dressed well as can be seen in the few contemporary photographs that exist of him out of overalls.

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)
The Bentley bow may boast a Petersham adjuster and foulard silk but for my money the examples at Darcy Clothing are the equal of it, and for almost half the price!

John Comfort Classic Polka Dot silk cravat, £20 from Country Clothing
Likewise the official Bentley cravat may have top-quality folded silk and the exclusive Birkin Spot, but this John Comfort Classic from Country Clothing is a decent alternative.

Spotted silk scarf, £24 from Darcy Clothing
In one of his few notes about clothing, Birkin states "I cling to idiosyncrasies of dress, and should not like to drive without my blue and white scarf, or the crash helmet with my old St. Christopher in it, that I have had since 1927."  So it's surprising to see that the Bentley Collection [currently] doesn't include a polka dot scarf.  Luckily, Darcy Clothing does.

Leather flying/driving helmet £56, goggles £54 from Darcy Clothing
Finally, no racing driver would be complete without helmet and goggles.  While you are undoubtedly paying for the brand provenance with those in the Bentley Collection, the ones available at Darcy Clothing look to be no poor relation even at less than half the price.

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
Despite W.O. Bentley's scathing opinion and the fact that it never won a race due to its mechanical fragility, the racing pedigree surrounding this model has led to it becoming the most sought-after and valuable Bentley in the history of the company, of which this particular example may soon become the most expensive ever sold.

Months Before Auction, a 1929 Bentley Strikes an Aristocratic Pose in Midtown

Image couresy of

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.


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