Birkin Blower - YU3250
In 1928 supercharging was a popular way to produce a more powerful engine. Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin, Bart., was a very successful racing driver and playboy, one of whose friends was the equally successful Woolf Barnato, chairman of Bentley Motors. Birkin was a great exponent of supercharging, and he convinced Barnato to approve a project to supercharge a 4-1/2 Litre Bentley. Birkin’s idea was that a team of supercharged, or “blown,” Bentleys would be built to run at Le Mans as a separate unit from the Bentley factory team. Birkin would lead the effort; his friend and admirer the Hon. Dorothy Paget would finance the whole thing; and his friend Amherst Villiers would do the development work and installation of the Roots-type supercharger. The effort started in January 1929, and the Birkin team planned to be ready for Le Mans six months later. As it happened, Birkin entered two “Blowers” but withdrew them before the race because of oil pressure problems. Then the story got complicated. Bentley Motors had to build 50 Blowers in order to run them as production cars at Le Mans in 1930, and W.O. grudgingly went along with the plan. He hated the idea of supercharging, preferring to supply more power with a bigger engine, and felt that having to divert resources to build those 50 cars helped hasten the demise of Bentley Motors. Even as late as 1969, when a reunion of the Birkin-built Blowers was held at Silverstone, W.O. stood watching them and looking glum about the whole thing! Still, the 50 production cars were built, and they captured the public’s imagination as few other cars ever have. They were introduced at the Olympia Show in the autumn of 1929. The great moment for the Blowers was at the 1930 Le Mans, when Birkin engaged Caracciola in his 7 litre Mercedes-Benz in a furious duel and eventually caused the Mercedes’ engine to become overstressed and “fail to proceed.” None of the Blower cars finished the race – the Speed Sixes did finish and came in 1st (Barnato/Kidston) and 2nd (Clement/Watney). The Blowers often raced well, though the best racing performance of all the cars was at the Pau Grand Prix in 1930, when Birkin finished 2nd. The Blowers were very fast cars, and Birkin set a Brooklands Outer Circuit record in 1932 of nearly 138 mph.
4-1/2 Litre Blower Bentleys were built as follows:
- Birkin-built cars - 5 built
- Factory cars - 50 built