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3-litre Bentley Speed

3-litre Bentley Speed Published: 25th Nov 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

3-litre Bentley Speed
3-litre Bentley Speed
3-litre Bentley Speed
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David Burgess-Wise remembers a trip to Le Mans with Galloping Gertie

Over the many years I’ve been writing about antique automobiles, I’ve been lucky enough to drive or ride in many wonderful cars, but an occasion I particularly remember occurred in 1998, when my late friend Victor Gauntlett – he who nursed Aston Martin through one of its many financial crises – found at the last minute that pressing business reasons prevented him from taking part in the pre-race cavalcade of classic Le Mans cars and elected me as last-minute stand-in driver of his newly-acquired 3-litre Bentley Speed Model.

Since 1998 happened to be the 75th anniversary of the first Le Mans 24-Hour Race, and since the first decade of that classic endurance race was dominated by Bentley, which won outright in 1924-27-28-29-30, I couldn’t have wanted for a better way to celebrate than by arriving at the track at the wheel of a sister car to the earliest Bentley winners.

Apart from a full mechanical checkover by the master restorer Tony Fabian, the Bentley was in its as-bought state. Tony told me, “Not everything works, but everything you need to work does work.”

I quickly found out that Tony hadn’t managed to eliminate an entertaining wheel-wobble that set in between a cruising 55-60 mph, a feature that quickly led to the Bentley being nicknamed “Galloping Gertie”.

I hadn’t laid eyes on the car until I arrived at the starting point at the sponsor’s HQ in Crawley, and there was no time for a detailed inspection before we were flagged away en route to the Newhaven ferry, with the result that the car spluttered and died for lack of petrol on the A23 north of Brighton.

Happily, I discovered that the Bentley boasted a reserve supply, easily accessed by a tap on the fuel tank, which thankfully enabled us to safely reach Newhaven to fill up before embarking.

The idea behind the cavalcade was to reprise the days when the Le Mans 24-hours really was a test of same-as-you-can-buy sports cars that were driven to the circuit, raced, and (hopefully) driven home again. That’s proper racing!

And testing was exactly what the first morning proved to be, for the weather changed dramatically, turning Northern France into the world’s longest drive-through car wash. It was time for a bit of hood-down, press-on driving in the best Bentley tradition. There was a gap in Galloping Gertie’s floorboards, we got wet from above and below – and enjoyed ourselves hugely!

When we reached the lunch halt in the little town of Gacé, the weather changed again, and the afternoon was glorious, bumbling through the lush French countryside on deserted roads.

In the parade, there were no race day heroics for Galloping Gertie. She went all round the famous 8.4-mile circuit in top gear, with just a touch of ignition retard at the sharp Mulsanne and Arnage bends, touched 70 on the Mulsanne Straight, and never missed a beat. In fact, she completed more laps in the parade than did the first competitor in the 24-hour race to fall by the trackside – a state-ofthe- racing-art Porsche 911GT2.

And Gertie had already covered some 200 miles by road – equivalent to a couple of dozen laps of Le Mans at 1920’s racing speeds – to get to the track before the three-lap parade…

The drive home was magical, too, for we found a fantastic singletrack road through the deserted Forest of Ecouves that emerged at the junction of eight roads where a World War Two Sherman tank honoured the French dead of a 1944 battle that defeated a German Panzer division after the D-Day landings.

Good old Gertie – she galloped a fair bit, but she never ever let us down!

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