I’ve been fortunate to race Bentleys for 25 years. Indeed, most of my earliest memories involve sitting in the back of Bentleys going to events. My father, Ray Wiltshire, was the Bentley Drivers Club President for many years, and everything in our household revolved around Bentleys. This is an upbringing for which I’m very grateful, as most of my social life, and indeed my livelihood, revolve around the car world.
I’ve had many memorable races in my 3-liter Bentley over the years. I’m a big fan of pre-war racing, which was why my company, Motor Racing Legends, started a series dedicated to them back in 2004. Our various race series have become so popular that now I seldom have time to put a helmet on! When I do, thoough, there is little to beat the sound and raw grunt of a Bentley; and there’s a definite skill to driving a Bentley quickly.
The 3-liter was where it all began for W. O. Bentley and his eponymous marque and I confess, although I may be biased, it is a hard car to beat in terms of a consuming driving experience. I’ve raced the car at Silverstone, Le Mans, Spa-Francorchamps, Brands Hatch and on numerous other circuits around the continent. Every moment on the racetrack is a privilege—even those rare moments when the car decides to let you down. However, those few occasions are inevitably the result of shoddy preparation.
The car is heavy to maneuver at low speeds, and the steering isn’t the lightest thing in the world. However, once rolling, it is spectacularly direct. The gearbox of my 3-liter is like all Bentleys, fierce and strong-minded, but you soon learn to master it and the feeling of satisfaction when you make a perfect gear change is what makes the car such a challenge and pleasure to drive.
Typical of its era, the car is short on power, but has massive amounts of torque —so momentum is everything. Although the car is heavy, if you know it well enough, you can powerslide it into a corner to negate any slight understeer. The engine is a really clever design (overhead camshaft and four valves per cylinder) and, ultimately, it’s an engineer’s car. As an owner, expect to get your hands dirty trying to keep the car in top form, but that is a big part of the pleasure of ownership. Vintage cars reward regular care and maintenance, and will punish neglect, as mine did recently at the Donington Historic Festival.
I’m going to be running the car over the first weekend of July at Flywheel, which takes place at Bicester Heritage. It’s not a race as such, but I am going to give it a proper go around the demonstration track. I expect quite a few other Bentleys will join me. Whether it’s racing around Le Mans, running the 1000-mile trial, holidaying in France, or just going to the pub for a bloody good lunch, you can’t beat the sound of Bentleys driving together. I can’t help thinking that’s what life is all about.