It was the roaring twenties, the gap between the upper and lower classes was as strong as ever and for the upper classes there was no hobby more exhilarating than the thrill of motor racing. Europe was crazy about the sport and Britain were doing everything they could to be a part of it. The British Bentley brand became renowned for its reliability and a group of some of the nation’s best drivers, due to their efforts in the now infamous Le Mans 24 Heures race and preference of the brand, became affectionately known as ‘The Bentley Boys’.
W.O. Bentley was the founder of the brand; he was an excellent engineer of the times and was initially put to work with the engines for fighter planes during the First World War. Once the war had ended the need for fighter planes had naturally died down and instead he began to put his work to motor cars. He and his brother would become well known for creating luxury touring cars that were reliable and robust, perfect for long distance racing. Initially he believed that a 24-hour race was madness, though after a private Bentley car entered by John Duff and Frank Clement finished the race in fourth place in 1923 and then went on to win in 1924 he began to take the races seriously.
John duff was a test driver for Bentley and Frank Clement a Canadian who had held over 50 speed records and finished in the top ten during his first crack at the Indianapolis 500. With their efforts in the Le Mans 24 Heures Bentley began entering more cars, each driven by excellent motorists of the day. Their successes on the racecourse made the headlines back home, along with their “playboy” lifestyles, it was well known that these men would party as intensely as they drove.
Perhaps their most celebrated win was in 1927, achieved by Dr. Dudley (Benjy) Benjafield and Sammy Davis. During the final hour of the race a severe pile-up on Washington Corner which took out the majority of leading vehicles, including Bentley’s other entrants. Davis was driving the final car to hit the crash, he hit the others side on and slow enough to keep his vehicle intact. The two of them helped search the wreckage for their fellow racers then, taking their car back to the pits managed to repair it and defying the odds, make up the distance they had lost and went on to win the race. On their return home they were celebrated as national heroes.
The Bentley boys were a cultural phenomenon and are a huge part of British racing history, a history that the company is very proud of to this day. In a bid to honour the past Bentley has created and named a new group of drivers, appropriately named the ‘New Bentley Boys’. This list includes the likes of five-time Le Mans winner Derek Bell MBE, four-time World Rally Champion Juha Kankkunen, World Land Speed Record holder Andy Green and even famous actor Idris Elba who broke the ‘Flying Mile’ UK land speed record in 2015. Through the ‘New Bentley Boys’ the legend lives on.