One hundred years of Bentley Motors was a major milestone celebrated at the Silverstone Classic. Owners of the majority of early cars still racing – including, fantastically, the ex-Oliver Bertram Barnato Hassan Special, last raced by Georg Lemburg at Goodwood in 2007 – grasped the opportunity to be part of it within a very special Motor Racing Legends Pre-War Sportscar race on the Saturday evening. Fittingly, Tim Llewellyn – steeped in Bentley lore from childhood through his late father David’s passion for the marque – and his son Oliver won it in their thunderous 3/8, but earned it in a titanic struggle with German Rudi Friedrich’s superbly driven Alvis Firefly 4.3 SA Special. Guests and celebrities will long remember the occasion, sure to be a highlight of the pre-War racing season.
Friedrichs planted the supercharged Alvis on pole during Friday’s qualifying session with a 2m51.737s (76.73mph) best lap on the current Grand Prix circuit – the long-used Historic version, with eased approach to Club corner, friendlier to brakes and transmissions, particularly on elderly cars, is no longer licensed and this caught out a few – however it didn’t deter the quickest drivers from pressing on. The top six teams all managed sub three-minute laps.
The omni-present Fred Wakeman/Patrick Blakeney-Edwards pairing, winners in 2015, gridded the Californian’s Frazer Nash Super Sports second on 2:52.228. Ulsterman Gareth Burnett (Alta Sports) and Michael Birch – wearing a Rubens Barrichello-esque helmet aboard his Brooklands veteran Talbot AV105 – were next up, ahead of the Llewellyns and Ross Keeling/Calum Lockie in the former’s Delahaye 135.
Robert Barrie and Andy Prill headed row four in a very pretty pond green BMW 328, with Austrian Niklas Halusa’s Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Zagato Spyder heading the second Bentley, Richard Hudson’s 3/4½ shared with Stuart Morley. In marked contrast, the diminutive three-wheeler Morgan Super Aero of Sue Darbyshire/Ewan Cameron rounded out the top 10. A trio of Aston Martins – the John Briggs/Stephen Archer Ulster LM15, Alan Middleton’s ‘Red Dragon’ and Richard Bradley in father Edward’s Ulster – surrounded Till Bechtolsheimer’s famous Talbot Lago T150 in their wake.
Clive and James Morley’s 3/4½ was third of the Bentleys in 15th place, in the exquisite company of Gregor Fisken’s beloved Vauxhall 30/98 Hughes Special (shared with rapid Lea Francis preparer/pedaller Jeremy Brewster), David Cooke’s Alfa Romeo 8C Monza, Matt Walton’s Bentley 3/8.
Peter Dubsky’s well-travelled red Aston Martin and the Invicta S-type of Chris and Nick Ball headed a magnificent trio of Astons, the Speed Models of Robert Blakemore and Heinz Stamm and Ulster LM17 driven by Holly Mason Franchitti and James Wood in the thick of the pack. Other Astons were driven by Channel Islander David Ozanne, Christopher Scott MacKirdy, Teifion Salisbury and Ben Mellors and Polish duo Marian Stoch/Jan Potocki in their 1930 International model, a Brooklands veteran originally sold to American Ronald Yalop.
The Littlewoods’ 3/4½ was fifth of the Bentleys, with David Ayre a bold sixth in Barnato Hassan monster, stunning in pale blue alongside Robert Lewis’ V12 Lagonda – a different take on sleek mass. Martin Overington’s Bentley 4½ Blower headed a marque quintet split by Alan Brown’s Invicta. Further down, Simon Edwards’ Morgan Super Aero, and the flat rad 4/4s of Simon King/Richard Plant and Leigh Sebba/Peter Cole took onlookers back to the Malvern company’s Le Mans efforts in the 1930s.
Martin Halusa’s Bugatti T35C/B did not set a time, but came out for the race. Less fortunate was Duncan Wiltshire, whose Bentley 3-Litre’s engine dropped a valve with Sue Shoosmith up. Sue’s weekend had started badly when her own car was sideswiped by a careless van driver (who did not stop!) en route to Silverstone.
Tim Llewellyn and Friedrichs set off at quite a lick, the Bentley opening a three second gap which his rival eagerly eroded in traffic before dashing in for his mandatory stop, a lightning 15 second affair, after six laps. One circuit later the Llewellyn driver change took only a little longer, promoting Birch’s pale green Talbot, Barrie’s BMW and Wakeman’s Nash, yet to stop, to the top three positions.
Llewellyn Jr (who cut his teeth in Ginetta racing) found himself with an enhanced lead of almost seven seconds however but, having respectfully lapped the Barnato Hassan at Village, was conscious that Friedrichs was coming after him. Rudi halved the gap, then halved it again with elbows out as they encountered a pair of Bentleys at the Becketts flick-flack, which favoured the nimbler Alvis. The German could get alongside, even nose ahead of his rival momentarily, but power told in what the Llewellyns described as a “fantastically exciting race.” Friedrichs agreed, “and in the 100th Anniversary of Bentley the result was just as it should be,” he said after the handshakes.
Birch clung on to third with Burnett’s Alta closing until the final sequence of corners, Vale into Club, where amid slower cars, Gareth used his vast experience of both types of car to zap inside the lofty Talbot and nab the fine podium step. Behind them, Lockie in the Delahaye and Prill in the BMW were half a minute apart, and Niklas Halusa’s seventh-placed Alfa also completed the full 14 tours.
Hudson/Morley in the second Bentley, Middleton and Bechtolsheimer claimed the remaining top 10 spots, but Till had Sue Darbyshire’s Morgan on his tail. Thirty nine of the 48 starters reached the chequered flag, a superb effort all round.