In what is becoming a new trend among major automakers with a legendary past, Bentley Mulliner Classic, a new division within Bentley Motors, has built the first new Bentley Blower in 90 years.
“To drive the first new Blower in 90 years was a privilege,” said Adrian Hallmark, chairman and chief executive officer of Bentley Motors, in statement. “The craftsmanship is exquisite.”
Dubbed “Car Zero,” it is the prototype for a new Blower Continuation Series, which will consist of 12 cars, all of which are already sold, according to the company. Using the original design drawings and tooling, the company’s recreation took 1,846 hand-crafted parts and 40,000 hours to complete.
“Seeing Car Zero come together over the last weeks and months has been astonishing,” said Paul Williams, Bentley Mulliner’s director, who said the car was built using a combination of the latest digital design technology and 1920s manufacturing techniques.”
Of course, if you’re creating a new old car from scratch, you want suppliers who have the proper skills. So Israel Newton & Sons Ltd., a 200-year-old boiler manufacturer, forged the heavy-gauge steel chassis. The Vintage Car Radiator Company crafted formed the steel and copper fuel tank and solid nickel radiator shell. Leaf and springs and shackles came from Jones Springs Ltd., which started as a blacksmith shop.
But while any number of specialists were used, it was Mulliner’s own team in Crewe, England who did the finished the final carpentry of the car’s Ashwood frame, seeing to the completion of the car, including the Oxblood red bridge of Weir leather, which covered seats stuffed with 22 pounds of horsehair.
Other specialists helped Bentley create Car Zero’s new 4.5-liter engine, which after being assembled, will be tested using new software to ensure the engine’s performance. Bentley’s durability tests will run each mill the equivalent of 21,748 miles, including 4,971 miles of track driving; the figures being the equivalent of running the Paris to Peking rally, or the Mille Miglia.
Then again, Blower Bentleys could easily handle such a task; they were born racers.
Walter Owen Bentley’s engineering career started in the Navy during World War I designing rotary aircraft engines, where he learned of the benefits of aluminum-alloy pistons. By 1919, he was building sports car prototypes; production began in 1922, the same year a Bentley finished 20th in the Indianapolis 500. A year later came Bentley’s first Le Mans win, a trend that would continue throughout the decade.
But by 1928, Bentley’s 4.5-liter engine was feeling the heat of competition, and W.O. favored using more displacement. The result was the 160-bhp 6.5-liter Speed Six, which won Le Mans in 1929 and 1930. However, Sir Henry Birkin, one of the famous Bentley Boy race car drivers, preferred supercharging the 4.5-liter. W.O. didn’t approve, so Birkin persuaded Bentley Chairman Woolf Barnato to overrule him.
Birkin won; supercharger development work was carried out by independent engineer Amherst Villiers, with brake horsepower increasing to 175 from 110. The engine boasts the sort of technology that’s common today but rarified then: aluminum pistons, an overhead camshaft, four valves-per-cylinder and twin spark ignition. To meet racing rules, 50 production Blower Bentleys were built in 1929, and would go on to become the brand’s most famous model, one with a celebrated racing history.
Looking to tap its renowned heritage, Bentley joins Jaguar, who has recently built new versions of old D-types and E-types. The trend of building new versions of old cars started in England, when Rover Group began making replica bodies for MGs and Jaguars decades ago.
Since then, many European manufacturers have opened classic divisions to handle restorations, including Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Ferrari and others, but the trend of building new versions of old designs is a more recent phenomenon.
Still, current regulations say that modern replicas built to an original design and lack a Vehicle Identification Number can’t be sold stateside, even though restored vehicles, ones built when the car’s design was new, can.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
In 2015, President Obama signed the Replica Car Bill that would allow company to sell up to 5,000 vehicles annually, of which 325 could sold stateside. The law also called for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to create guidelines for companies producing new copies of old vehicles. And while the EPA has developed engine, transmission and emissions standards, NHTSA’s regulations concerning safety have yet to appear.
So, you have to wonder why any carmaker would go to so much trouble of reproducing a new car from a 90-year-old design in the first place.
“It boosts the image of the brand, increases the value of their older models, and secures the brand name to go forward into the future,” said Sam Fioroni, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions LLC. “It gets a lot of marketing for the brand; the company really gets to showcase where they came from over the last century, and hopefully you take that to meaning where they’re going to go for the next century.”
Still, you have to wonder why more OEMs, particularly American ones, don’t follow suit.
“American brands aren’t in this niche,” Fioroni said. “Bentley and Jaguar, relative to even the smallest U.S. brands, are small and have an image that has been coddled over the last, in Jaguars case 90 years, in Bentley’s case 100 years.”