Sporting to a “T”. Archie Vicar drives to Sicily in the new motor carriage from Crewe.
From Motorist’s Illustrated Digest, Dec 1965. Photos by Douglas Land-Windermere. Owing to the very poor quality of the original images, stock photography has been used.
The Bentley marque conjours images of the driver Richard “Dick” Seaman charging along the Mulsanne Straight at a 100 mph. That he achieved this very respectable pace minus a tyre is a tribute to his Bentley and to his boundless idiocy. Great chap. He is very much missed in motoring circles. For a while Bentley’s sporting character has been as absent and as lamented as Mr Seaman. The last batches of Bentleys have, frankly, been a little hard to distinguish from their Rolls-Royce stablemates.
“…a matter of great interest…”
The glad tidings are that there now comes a new Bentley, the T-type, which might re-establish Bentley’s athletic credentials. To quote the elegantly handwritten letter from Bentley’s public relations fellow: “The new Bentley T is a truly motor-carriage for the man who prefers to conduct his own vehicle and for whom sporting performance is a matter of great interest. The T-type saloon offers peerless acceleration, superb roadholding and ride-quality of the very highest standard. These qualities are coupled with comfortable, supportive seating for the most spirited motoring.” Was any of this true?
Upon receipt of this letter we telephoned Bentley to make an appointment to ask if we could gain access to one of their motor cars. Bentley very kindly offered us one of their new cars (finished in Sepulchre Blue over Abyss Black, only 12,00 miles, as new, one the finest we’ve seen) to take for a little spin to see how sporting the T really is.
“…prone to sea sickness…”
We booked the Bentley onto the Silver City flight to le Touquet, feeling that Bentleys ought not to mix with the kind of plebeian motorists packed onto the Townshend Thoresen diesel ferry. Furthermore, Mr Land-Windermere is prone to sea sickness and it would have been not a little unpleasant to besmirch the Bentley’s fine interior. So, off we flew and within a trice the Bentley was purring along on the worst of French roads as if gliding on melted butter. We were able to appreciate the smooth power of the 6,230 cc 8-cylinder engine and could casually dismiss the flocks of white Renaults and Peugeots that, to this day, infest much of France.
The self-levelling independent suspension has made a dramatic difference to the Bentley’s ride when compared with the old S3. It absorbed the bumps and undulations of the French road network and gave me great confidence in pressing on to our lunch in Rennes. The three-speed torque converter transmission struck me as a flexible and robust device, managing shifts at a second’s notice.
When it came to decelerating, for example when I saw a good place for a spot of liquid refreshment, the triple-circuit hydraulic servo brakes quickly brought the Bentley to heel. The monococque chassis is another feature of the modern sporting saloon. Just such a thing is to be found somewhere under and behind the leather and wood that cover every available square inch of the Bentley’s interior. Despite the Bentley’s sporting appearance (the lower bonnet line and unique Bentley grille help) the car still has many luxuries such as a standard radio, electrically adjustable chairs and air-conditioning. We appreciated this useful feature in the warm weather that prevailed during the test.
“…able to sleep entirely undisturbed…”
Taking the car south to Bordeaux (collecting some fines wines), we then motored via the Perigord across the Massif Central, intent on driving Bentley to the home of sporting motoring, Sicily, where the Targa Florio takes place annually. The T1 covered the ground (Puy, Montelimar, St Raphael, Monaco, the Italian Riviera, Rome) without demur. For most of the time Mr Land-Windermere was able to sleep entirely undisturbed on the ample rear-seats. I can think of no greater compliment to a car’s suspension.
“…fragile new confections…”
We stopped in Monaco after 18 hours at the wheel, during which I paused only to refill the car’s splendid 24 gallon fuel tank every 288 miles (equating to approximately four-hour intervals). We averaged 65 m.p.h., proving the Bentley really can show other sports cars how it can be done. Where conditions allowed, the Bentley had no difficulty sustaining a comfortable hundred miles per hour. 120 miles per hour is the maximum speed. Is that sporting enough? Well, speed is not everything. Whilst a Ferrari or one of Mr Lamborghini’s fragile new confections may be able to reach far higher outright speeds, the very idea of crossing Europe in a roasting-oven on wheels defies contemplation.
The Bentley is powered by an overhead valve motor. Cleaving to Crewe’s traditions, the output is not specified. It would be easier to discover the secrets of the freemasonry than to share this most intimate of Bentley´s secrets. Two SU carbs help out and, if one is critical, the 9 to 1 compression ratio seems a little behind the times. A 12 volt electrical system keeps the lights glowing. I mention these details for the sake of completeness. It would appear the time is upon us that some motorists are quite uninterested in the mechanical aspects of their machines.
Despite the distance travelled it was not until reaching Sicily that we really felt that the conditions were right to really challenge the Bentley’s performance and handling qualities. This, I felt, would be the true test. So, pushing the accelerator with as much vim and vigour as only a Malvern man can, I set out to explore Bentley’s reserves of grip, braking and acceleration. With a map of the Targa Florio pinned to the walnut dash, I charged off and worked hard to keep the T on the boil.
“…drifted back to the land of nod…”
Not having the time to do a proper recce, I had to use all available clues to read the road. The dangerous corners seemed to be the ones where the people gathered to watch the cars. They don’t have so much else to do down in Sicily, it seems. Near San Giussepi, an ice-cream vendor cycled right out in front of me, oblivious to his surroundings. The Bentley slid rather gracefully around him as I locked the brakes completely. With a bit of opposite lockery, we were safely around a corner and Land-Windermere drifted back to the land of nod. Over the course of the route, I noticed that if by-standers were not looking at me, I probably wasn’t going fast enough. If they started scattering, I was probably overdoing it. Out of respect for Bentley’s property, I did try to ease off occasionally.
“…a length of stout guardrail…”
I nearly had a bit of a prang on the second lap, but managed to avoid doing more than knocking off a silly bit of chrome trim and the last hub-cap. We also broke two bottles of Petrus. At about ten miles into the route I suspected the plugs were a bit oiled as the Bentley was a little uncertain in its firing. Then they must have cleared as there was an almighty surge of urge from the motor and I found myself pointing at a rock face before a hairpin bend with more power than with which I knew what to do.
Luckily, a length of stout guardrail kept us on the right side of the wall and I was able to slide the car along it, shaving off speed and then taking the next right at a more decent pace. We left the rear bumper behind us, clattering across the road. Land-Windermere got out shortly after – for a little exercise, perhaps. To do so he had to climb out of the window because the door-lock and door had sustained some damage when the car met the ironwork. The lesson learned here was the turn-in and steering quality were as one would of expect of car with a more sporting role in life but which also aspires to great comfort.
“…the side windows went dark…”
It rained heavily the night before so I was thankful for Bentley’s standard tyre’s grip. Prodigious quantities of mud were sprayed all over the car’s body work by lunch time (usefully obscuring much of the damage). I soon ran across a bit of a muddy stretch and felt the car wander. On one side stood some loafing farmers who I didn’t really want to alarm so I had no choice but to let the Bentley’s masses find the line of most resistance. This meant going sideways in the direction of a heap of soft earth left standing about. There was a bit of a dull thud and the side windows went dark as soil piled up to the roof. No harm done, however, and with a bit of revving the Bentley pulled itself free and off I went as a happy as a lamb. The rear window remained clogged with soil and dirt but the air-conditioning meant I didn’t need to open it anyway.
“…a curious passer-by…”
While I would say the suspension was more than comfortable enough for most, the drawback was that, under very specific conditions, the car could bottom-out. Then the sump would occasionally make contact with the tarmacadam. I can report that the Bentley can take large doses of this kind of abrasion. It was an old bow-crested bridge that led to the sump’s final undoing. We left oil sheeted across the road and had to make an emergency stop at a blacksmith who kindly offered to affect a repair. We stopped for the night in Santa Pelegrino where some urchins stole the Bentley badges and a curious passer-by broke the offside quarter light and removed the radio. The mortadella was excellent and I stocked up on some pannoforte.
I carried on around the Targa Florio for the remainder of the second day. The only reason I had to finally stop was that I had drained several of the smaller petrol stations in the area. Over the 3200 miles of the tour the Bentley consumed 290 gallons of four star and I consumed 240 cigarettes. The ashtray needed emptying just twice a day, which is very, very creditable indeed. This speaks volumes of the attention to detail Bentley have paid in making this a truly peerless sporting saloon. Driving and smoking are two of life’s great pleasures and it is wonderful to do both at once.
Concluding summary of the foregoing
I can conclude that having declared the T to be a high performance motor Bentley are not making false promises of any kind. The car lives up to its billing. Otherwise we would not have been able to ask of it tasks that its bloated Rolls-Royce stablemate could never have carried off. Thus, when Bentley inquired how the car returned with so many dents, scratches and bits of missing trim, they could not affect surprise when I replied “You say it’s for spirited drivers so we drove it that way. It’s not a Rolls-Royce, is it?”
Matching lambswool rugs (with an embroidered “B” symbol) will be available next spring.
Some details with measurements in Metric.
Body : length/width/height (cm) : 520/180/150; wheelbase : 304 cm; weight : 2000 kg. Engine : V8 6230 cc; 3-speed, automatic; power : 195 hp@4000 rpm; top speed : 190 km/h.
The Motorist’s Illustrated Digest was owned by the vintage car enthusiast Lord Norbury (1893-1966) and was part of a group of publications aimed at upper-class readers of the period. These included Yachtsman’s Times and Equestrian, Oenology & Havana Review. The group was bought out by Suffington Bros in 1967 and closed down.
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