The Concours d’Elegance will be open throughout the weekend at the Chateau Impney Hill Climb and will offer spectators the opportunity to see an incredible display of some of the most amazing cars produced both here in the UK and further afield. The No. 5 Birkin Bentley Blower is certainly no exception with its connection to one of the famed 1920s high society ‘Bentley Boys’, Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin.
Birkin takes full credit for the creation of the 4.5 litre Blower Bentley. He commenced racing at Brooklands in 1921 with a D.F.P. and graduated to Bentleys in 1927, his first drive being in the Six Hour Race at Brooklands.
In October 1928, Birkin persuaded Amherst Villiers to build a special supercharger for a 4.5 litre Bentley. Woolf Barnato, racing driver and chairman of Bentley Motors, supported the experiment. Tim also sufficiently impressed motorsport sponsor Dorothy Paget with the speed and excitement of the Blower car to obtain her financial support. She bought the three completed cars from Birkin, including a single-seater car which broke the outer circuit lap record at Brooklands at 137.96 mph.
Birkin, having won the 1929 Le Mans Race with Barnato in a Speed 6 car, persuaded him to enter a team of supercharged Bentleys in the 1930 Le Mans Race and this meant that the factory had to produce 50 Bentleys to meet the race regulations.
Although Birkin led at times during the 1930 race and broke the lap record at 89.69 mph, the car suffered a con rod failure and retired. Dorothy Paget withdrew her support in October 1930 and the team cars were subsequently sold off save for the single seater.
A total of five Birkin Blowers were built but the fifth car never had the opportunity to be raced by the team before its disposal. It was constructed largely from parts of the No. 1 car when it was rebuilt as a single-seater and the No. 2 car when it received a short chassis.
The No. 5 car was registered for the road as UR9155, a Hertfordshire registration, and sold to David Cuthbert, a personal shooting friend of Birkin who lived at Beaufront Castle in Northumberland. The car was fitted with a revolutionary spring steel skeleton framed two-seater body, built by Vanden Plas, which had been fitted to the No. 1 team car for the 1929 500 Mile Race at Brooklands.
UR9155 was then sold to Mark Strutt of London Estate Agents, Strutt & Parker, in 1940 who was later timed at 137mph on the Thetford to Newmarket road which was unofficially closed for the occasion by the army. The attempt was also timed from the air by a bomber pilot friend of Strutt. The car then passed on to Grand Prix racing driver, Jack Fairman in 1946 who competed with the car in April of that year, including in two VSCC events at Elstree when he achieved a 1st and a 2nd place award. The car was owned by another Grand Prix driver, Geoff Richardson, between 1946 and 1948 before passing to Alick Pitts in 1948.
Pitts was a real character - small in stature with only one working eye – but always wore a broad and mischievous grin under his deerstalker hat. He and the Blower Bentley became a legendary pair in racing circles during the post-war years when he raced the car extensively with some success, including becoming the first winner of the BDC Rolls Royce Trophy and the VSCC Vintage Seaman Trophy. He later gave up circuit racing and instead competed in sprints, hill climbs and rallies at venues including Prescott, Shelsley Walsh and Goodwood. He regularly took part in the Brighton Speed Trials where the No. 5 car was the first vintage car to beat the 30 second barrier.
The Bentley changed ownership a further three times from the mid-sixties until 1999, competing in various VSCC and BDC events before it was bought by the late Bruce Spollon, who finally achieved his dream of owning the car after 50 years of admiring it. The car was last driven at a public event by his son, Guy, in the Brooklands Society Reunion in July 2001 and at the Shelsley Walsh Centenary in 2005.
The Bentley has undergone extensive restoration work in the last two years including a full re-spray to return it to black as it was in its heyday.
No. 5’s inclusion in the Concours d’Elegance at Chateau Impney will mark the first time the car has been seen in public for almost a decade, making its appearance all the more special.