GRR

This Bentley is the world's craziest safety car

19th October 2017
Ethan Jupp

One-hundred-and-thirty miles an hour – today, that’s comfortably licence-losing territory on our quaint little island off the coast of Europe. What must it have felt like over 81 years ago? The mind boggles, as it does when you take a walk around the slight taught and muscular Pacey-Hassan Special Bentley whose sole purpose in 1936 was to set banking ablaze at Brooklands.

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It was born, like many miraculously demonic monstrosities of the era, out of the fevered passions of a handful of gentleman for speed and for racing. Bentley boy, racer, military force and all-around legend Woolf Bernato had ace Bentley mechanic Wally Hassan build him a sleek 8-litre single-seater for service on the Brooklands outer circuit. Taking rather a fancy to their creation, fellow racer Bill Pacey wanted a Hassan-flavoured single-seater of his own. Featuring a bespoke low-slung chassis and unique slippery body, the Pacey-Hassan with its modified 4.5-litre Bentley motor was ready for battle.

Hassan’s masterstroke was not to be found upon a visual inspection, however – much to his and Pacey’s fortune. Compression plates in the engine would limit power when being judged for handicapping. Hassan’s trick was to remove them during his routine pre-race engine strip-down, thus improving the car’s performance dramatically. 

During the Second Easter Short Handicap at Brooklands, the car would take first and again at the First Whitsun Long Handicap, cracking a best top speed of 128mph, thus earning the prestigious ‘120mph badge’. The rule-makers were stumped by the car’s turns of speed and continued competitiveness and it would not be until years later than Hassan would admit his scheme.

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For 1937, the car would utilise a 3-litre blown engine in a bid for higher speeds but would not see the successes of the previous year. Post-war the car would be stripped and refitted with two-seater coachwork but by the 1970s this would be replaced by a faithful recreation of the Brooklands bruiser's original look.

It’s been regularly raced ever since, with current-owner William Medcalf putting it to good use. It’s in safe and knowledgeable hands too, given this is the very same William Medcalf of the leading vintage Bentley preparer. Peking to Paris, Le Mans Classic and multiple race meetings here at Goodwood litter its recent competition history. In 2014 it would serve, rather comically, as a safety car at the Benjafield’s Racing Club 24-hour race in Portimão.

It wouldn’t be until this year, however, that the Pacey-Hassan Bentley with “safety car” emblazoned across its rump would take to the motoring world’s best-known Hillclimb-come-driveway. On taking to the Hill, Medcalf said: “The Pacey-Hassan is a bit of an animal with lots of torque. It looks to be a very narrow course of quite a polished tarmac with lots of different cambers going on. Finding grip in the wet could be an issue but I’m sure we can please the spectators with some sideways action and lots of noise”. It might have been the Pacey-Hassan’s first FOS but there was no doubting William’s understanding of what we’re all about. We hope this was the first of many visits to come. Here’s to the world’s maddest safety car!

Photography by James Lynch, Drew Gibson, Nick Dungan and Nigel Harniman.

  • Bentley

  • Pacey-Hassan Special

  • FOS

  • FOS 2017

  • 2017

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