W.O. Bentley’s Speed Six “Old Number 1” claimed Le Mans victory in 1929 and 1930.
As I sat quietly in a pleasant house in Woking, England, in the winter of 1970, I watched and listened. My friend Brian Robbins, editor of BBC TV’s motoring programs at the time, was interviewing an 81-year-old man about his illustrious career. The little man was obviously ill, as he was swathed in thick pajamas and a heavy dressing gown, and a blanket lay loosely over his shoulders as he sat with his legs resting on a stool in front of a roaring coal fire. His name was Walter Owen Bentley, and he was a genius. He designed and built the powerful and luxurious Bentley cars, the specially tuned versions of which won the 24 Hours of Le Mans five times, four of them in succession.
The feat inspired Ettore Bugatti to call W.O.’s long, open cars the world’s fastest trucks. Sour grapes from another genius, but one whose cars only won Le Mans twice, in 1937 and 1939.
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