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Bentley Speed Six

Walter Owen Bentley (commonly known as W.O.), the founder of the car manufacturer that bore his name, first picked up his engineering skills on locomotives. Was it therefore quite appropriate that his car creations should be as big as railway engines? They were certainly huge beasts, and very fast. A perhaps envious Ettore Bugatti call them the fastest lorries in the universe.

This was of course sour grapes. They may not have been elegant looking machines but Bentleys ruled the roost as the foremost British racing/sports cars of the 20s, regularly demolishing the continental competition in the Le Mans 24-hour race. Indeed they had five straight wins between 1924 and 1930. Some jealousy by other car manufacturers was quite justified.

Bentley didn't just build fast cars; he built them tough and reliable, too, with superb engineering standards. There was nothing to touch them in endurance races.

The market for racing cars, though, is extremely limited. Whilst many Bentleys were finished off with sports style bodywork, the main market was for coach built cars. This can add a lot of extra weight to the vehicle and it wasn't long before W.O.came across a prototype Rolls-Royce Phantom, and realise that a larger engine than the three litre ones he had been making was necessary. This led to the birth of the 6.5 litre straight six, which produced 147 brake horsepower at a leisurely 3500 rpm, and massive low-down torque.

This engine differed from those on other cars of the day in that it had four valves per cylinder, and they were sold with wheelbases that varied from 11 foot to 12 foot six inches. In common with many other luxury car manufacturers, the company almost invariably provided just a rolling chassis (in other words everything except the bodywork) and the large size chassis plus the big powerful engine gave adequate room for coachbuilders to add sumptuous bodies without any worries about exceeding weight limits.

In sports form, the two seater Speed Six was a truly formidable machine which won enormous prestige for Britain during the late 1920s.

It may not have had the refinement of some of the competitors of the day, but the Bentley scored on sheer size, power and reliability. Never a lover of superchargers, W.O. retained his conviction that bigger was best.

Production of the 6.5 litre continued right into the 1930s, and a total of 545 cars were sold in all, 182 of them two seater Speed Sixes.

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