Anyway, I loved ST3001 from a child even if its first significant act was to all but wipe out the entire Bentley team at Le Mans. The first 4.5-litre ever built and more correctly seen as a 3.0-litre with a 4.5-litre engine, it was driven at the 1927 race by Frank Clement (the only professional racing driver ever hired by Bentley) and one Leslie Callingham. The car was so quick that in Clement’s opening stint he lapped the entire field, including the two other factory 3.0-litre Bentleys. But then Callingham climbed aboard and, coming through White House corner found a Theophile Schneider spun across the road. He swerved clean off the road, tipping ST3001 onto its side in the ditch which was then collected by George Duller in one of the 3.0-litres and the SCH Davis in the other. Callingham had the rather ghoulish experience of, having gone to get help, returning to the car to find Duller and Davis searching the wreck for his body. Anyway, and as most will know, the Davis car struggled back to the pits, got lashed up and went on to record a famous victory.
The following year ST3001 won the race outright, but not before its chassis cracked in the final minutes of the race. The team knew what had happened because not only did Woolf Barnato drive past the pits with his thumbs down, they could see the bonnet overlapping the body. What they did not know was that the water pipes had fractured and it had already dropped all its coolant and Barnato was effectively driving an air-cooled Bentley. There can be few testaments to the engineering genius of W.O. Bentley that after almost 24 hours of racing the engine still survived without water for over 40 miles. The following year ST3001 enjoyed a rather less eventful run to second place, beaten only by Old Number One with an engine almost half as large again.
By the time I caught up with Mother Gun in 1997 it had had an incredible life, culminating in 1939 when it took the last 130mph lap badge on the last lap of the last meeting ever held at Brooklands. After the war its then owner Bill Short dismantled the car and never got around to putting it back together again. Vaughan Davis found it as a derelict wreck in 1967 for which he paid £145 and unable to afford to rebuild it, it would be 20 more years before it turned a wheel. But throughout that time, he had a dream that Mother Gun would lap a track at 130mph again. Even so it took the backing of Stanley Mann before the funds to restore the car became available.