Step forward Davis’s team-mate, the eminent bacteriologist Dudley Benjafield, a fine driver but one who hates racing at night even with the full complement of lights. How scared he must be heading out into the gloom almost blind in a car that now turns sharply left every time the brakes are applied. And the race appears hopeless: the main opposition, a 3-litre Aries is laps ahead, seemingly beyond reach.
But as the laps accrue, Benjafield and Davis discover that such is the innate strength of the severely wounded Bentley, it’s not going to collapse or shake itself to pieces. What’s more, once light returns they discover that with careful management it can be driven fast. Fast enough indeed to worry the Aries team into chivvying its car along just a little because by 1pm, the gap is down to just two laps. Which is when ace Bentley mechanic Nobby Clark becomes convinced he can hear a strange noise coming from the Aries’s engine. He tells WO Bentley and urges him to force the pace. He holds out the ‘Faster’ board and Benjafield and the battered, broken Bentley respond magnificently. The plan works beautifully: soon the Aries is hors de combat, and the Bentley sweeps to victory. A car that was presumed written off the previous evening wins Le Mans by a greater margin than that achieved by any car before. Or, more impressively, since.
Unsurprisingly, there is a party to celebrate the victory. Hosted by The Autocar and held at the Savoy with ‘Bentley’ cocktails, 1919 Cliquot and Courvoisier 1875, there is silence when Sir Edward Iliffe stands up to speak. Looking around the room he says, ‘I feel there is someone missing here this evening who ought to be present.’ At which moment and presumably to the considerable astonishment of the guests, an engine fires up and Old Number Seven drives into the room to the rapturous applause of all present.
Those who find this a familiar story will perhaps forgive its retelling. I’ve been reading and writing about it for almost as long as I’ve been able to read and write, and I still find inspiration in the courage, guts and indefatigable determination of those involved. At a time when I fear we’re about to see the very worst at one White House, from another on a different continent and at a different time, comes a tale of men at their very best. I hope you enjoyed it.
Lead image courtesy of TH.SCHNEIDER automobile register, rest courtesy of LAT.