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The original Bentley Boys and Girls

Along with founder W.O. Bentley, the Bentley Boys and their inspirational stories shaped the public image of the marque from the very beginning. Even today, their spirit lives on with the new Bentley Boys.

Inspiring generations. Relentlessly.

Always ready for a race, a challenge or a glass of champagne, the first generation of Bentley Boys were a close-knit group of extraordinary playboys, racers and adventurers who achieved global fame during the 1920s and 30s. They inspired a whole generation of Bentley drivers and admirers, with their passion for driving and deep love of a challenge. And behind the wheel of Bentley motorcars, they dominated Le Mans with five wins in just eight years.


“I don’t think many companies can have built up during such a short period a comparable font of legend and myth, story and anecdote. The company’s activities attracted the public’s fancy and added a touch of colour, of vicarious glamour and excitement to drab lives.”


W.O. Bentley’s words sum up the appeal of the Bentley Boys and their cars to perfection.


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The Bentley Boys

An extraordinary team
The Hon. Sir 'Tim' Birkin
Glen Kidston
DR J.D. 'Benjy' Benjafield'
John Duff
The Bentley Boys included former fighter pilot Sir HRS ‘Tim’ Birkin, Harley Street specialist J.D. ‘Benjy’ Benjafield, racing journalist SCH ‘Sammy’ Davis, ‘born adventurer’ Glen Kidston, led by Woolf ‘Babe’ Barnato – all men of independent means. They lived life to the limit, hitting the headlines for their exploits off the racetrack as often as for their performance on it.
With his blue and white polka dot scarf and neatly trimmed moustache, ex-fighter pilot and baronet Sir Henry ‘Tim’ Birkin was every inch the British sporting hero. Obsessed with speed, he was notorious for being hard on his cars. He persuaded the wealthy heiress Dorothy Paget to finance a team of supercharged 4 ½ Litre Bentleys that became known as the ‘Blowers’. Too fragile for endurance racing, they were unbeatable in sprints with Birkin at the wheel and in 1932 he set an impressive record at Brooklands of 137.96mph.
Kidston, who won Le Mans in 1930 with Barnato, seemed to thrive on danger. As a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy, he survived two torpedo attacks; as a submariner he escaped after his sub became stuck on the sea bed. He was the sole survivor of a civil airline crash on a flight from Croydon to Amsterdam, re-entering the burning wreckage twice in a brave attempt to save others. Barnato described him as “… the beau ideal of a sportsman. The word fear had been expunged from his dictionary …a man about town when in the mood, a man of action in another.” Kidson’s luck ran out shortly after he’d set an aviation record from England to Cape Town when his borrowed de Havilland Puss Moth broke up in mid-air.
Every group of friends has its quiet figure, teased yet regarded with huge affection by the others. Harley Street specialist ‘Benjy’ played this role to perfection alongside his high-spirited teammates. Modest, thoughtful and deceptively skilful, Benjafield wasn’t the fastest of the Bentley Boys, but he had the discipline to follow team orders to get a result. He and Sammy Davis gave Bentley their most celebrated Le Mans win of all in 1927, bringing home ‘Old Number 7’ after the rest of the team had been eliminated in the infamous White House corner crash. In 1928 Benjafield made an equally significant contribution to British motor sport when he set up the British Racing Drivers’ Club.
John Duff was the first Bentley driver to win the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1924. At the outbreak of war in 1914 he made his way from Lushan in China across pre-revolutionary Russia to enlist. He was wounded at Ypres. After the war ended he took up motor racing and was responsible for persuading W.O. Bentley to take the marque to Le Mans; Duff finished 4th in 1923 with Bentley works driver Frank Clement and won the following year. He retired from motor racing after a serious accident in the 1926 Indianapolis 500. An Olympic swordsman, he taught fencing to Hollywood stars in Santa Monica, USA and doubled for his friend Gary Cooper in sword fighting scenes. In later life he took up competitive show jumping and died after a riding accident in 1958.
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Living legends

Four of the Bentley Boys lived in adjacent apartments in Mayfair’s exclusive Grosvenor Square, where their parties that went on for days became legendary. It was common to see their Bentleys lined up in the south-east corner of the square, leading London cab drivers to refer to it as ‘Bentley Corner’.

Their fame and exploits meant they were recognised and celebrated wherever they went – even inspiring Harry Craddock, the famous barman at the Savoy, to create The Bentley Cocktail. In 2003, the head barman of the American Bar at the Savoy mixed the Woolf Barnato cocktail in honour of the chief Bentley Boy.

The Savoy was also the location 
of one of their most renowned celebrations. Following the triumph of a 4 ½ Litre Bentley at Le Mans in 1927, the Bentley Boys were invited to a special dinner at the hotel, hosted by The Autocar magazine. The guest of honour was, of course, the car itself, which became known as Old No. 7 – still dirty and battle-scarred from the race. The Boys sat down to an eleven-course banquet around a horseshoe-shaped table with the car in pride of place in the centre.


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The Bentley Girls

Bentley's flying legend
Mary Petre Bruce: born for speed
An unusual request
Record breaker on land, sea and air
The Bentley Boys may have set the pace, but Bentley Girls refused to take a back seat, making their mark in inimitable Bentley Style. Mary Petre Bruce, Dorothy Paget and Diana Barnato – Bentley’s Flying Lady – each played an extraordinary part in building the Bentley legend.

Mary Petre was born with an appetite for speed. A match for any of Bentley’s racing drivers she was the first woman to be fined for speeding in the UK, aged just 15. In 1926 she married the Hon. Victor Bruce, the winner of that year’s Monte Carlo Rally. Fiercely competitive, she entered the Rally the following year. Covering 1,700 miles in 72 hours without sleep, she finished sixth overall, winning the Coupé  des Dames. Not content to rest on her laurels, in 1928 she came second. Over the next few years, Mary and her husband the Honourable Victor Bruce, also set numerous distance records, from 4,000 to 15,000 miles.

In 1929 Mrs Victor Bruce decided to attempt the coveted Class C 24 hour record at the banked Montlhéry track near Paris. But her AC was simply not powerful enough. She promptly made an appointment to see W.O. Bentley and asked to borrow a team Bentley 4 ½ Litre. When W.O. asked, ‘Who is your co-driver?’ she replied, ‘I’ve no co-driver. I’m going alone’. There was a long silence. Finally, W.O. turned to Woolf Barnato and said, “I believe she may do it”. He lent her Tim Birkin’s 4 ½ Litre Bentley.
Mary had never driven a Bentley until the day of the record attempt and had to borrow cushions from the official timekeepers so she could reach the pedals. Despite fog, cold and treacherous track conditions she covered 2,164 miles in 24 hours at an average speed of almost 90mph to take the record. That achievement won her life membership of the British Racing Drivers’ Club. In the same year she set a powerboat record for the fastest double-crossing of the Channel before buying herself an aircraft and learning to fly in just six weeks. Then she set off on a solo round the world flight, breaking record after record on her way – becoming the first woman to circumnavigate the world alone. At the age of 81 she took a refresher course and during her first flight for 37 years looped the loop. Back on land, she exclaimed, “What a lark! It has knocked 50 years off my life!”
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The birth of The Blower

Dorothy Paget and the Blower Bentley
Eccentric and talented
Like father, like daughter
Bentley’s flying lady
The fastest woman in the world
Bentley through and through
The Hon. Dorothy Paget was both fabulously wealthy and deeply eccentric. And she played a vital role in the creation of one of the most iconic Bentleys; the 4 ½ Litre Supercharged, known as the Blower Bentley.

Among other foibles Paget renamed her personal servants after the colours of the rainbow. She was known for gambling all night, sleeping all day and had a reputation as a no-nonsense woman who knew her own mind. It was as a debutante in the 1920s, while other young ladies prioritised finding a suitor, Paget prioritised her passion for speed and power. Her interest in motor racing first developed on a visit to Brooklands, where she took driving lessons from Bentley Boy and racing driver Sir Tim Birkin. He described her as one of the finest women drivers he had ever come across, ‘capable of handling any make of racing car produced in this country or abroad’. By 1929, Birkin had become obsessed with driving more performance from the Bentley 4 ½ Litre. He was convinced that Amherst Villiers’ supercharger was the way to do it. Despite the opposition of W.O., Birkin persuaded Dorothy Paget to sponsor a racing team of supercharged Blowers. Four 4 ½ Litre Supercharged Blowers were built and Birkin’s team competed alongside Bentley’s team at Brooklands and Le Mans.

Daughter of three-time Le Mans winner Woolf Barnato, Diana Barnato Walker inherited her father’s flair and courageous spirit. She was an accomplished horsewoman and keen motorist, driving a silver-grey Bentley 4 ¼ Litre Park Ward saloon given to her by her father on her 21st birthday.
Like Mary Petre Bruce, flying became Diana’s lifelong passion. She flew solo at the Brooklands Flying Club in 1938 after only six hours’ instruction and joined the Air Transport Auxiliary in 1941, delivering aircraft from the factories to front-line squadrons. It was a dangerous job – she had to navigate herself without any ground contact, as the radio frequencies were reserved for the frontline squadrons. Famous for her glamorous appearance and exceptional flying skills, by the end of the war she had delivered 260 Spitfires and numerous other aircraft to their squadrons.
In 1962 she was awarded the Jean Lennox Bird Trophy for achievements in aviation and in 1963 she flew an English Electric Lightning T14 fighter at a breathtaking 1,262 mph – that’s almost Mach 2 or twice the speed of sound.
When Team Bentley won Le Mans in 2003, Diana Barnato was one of the few people alive with personal memories of the original Bentley Boys era. At the celebration dinner - held, as part of Bentley tradition, at the Savoy - an impromptu ‘pit stop’ challenge was set to see who could climb into the cockpit of the winning Speed 8 and slam the door shut in the shortest time. 85-year-old Diana Barnato Walker kicked off her shoes, ran across the floor and wriggled her way into the car to thunderous applause. Her father would have been proud.