Much of the magic of Bentley motorcars comes through its heritage, even today as the esteemed British marque rolls out a most-unusual limited-edition 2019 Continental GT dedicated to a single race car of 90 years ago.
Named the Continental GT Number 9 Edition by Mulliner, each of the 100 performance coupes will have the distinction of carrying on its dashboard an actual piece of the 1929 “Blower” Bentley for which it’s named – a small segment of wood from the historic car’s original seat.
The Number 9 Edition cars also serve to honor the 100th anniversary of the car company founded in 1919 by W.O. Bentley.
The legendary 4½ Litre Blower Bentleys debuted in 1929 with Roots-type superchargers sprouting from below their massive radiators, boosting their horsepower and making them formidable competitors on the racing circuits, particularly in such endurance contests as the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
One of the five competition Blowers was the No. 9 Le Mans race car piloted in 1930 by one of the original Bentley Boys, Henry “Tim” Birkin, whose skill and bravery behind the wheel of those brawny racers made them “sensationally quick,” according to a Bentley news release.
“Birkin and the Blower are intrinsically linked together in this sepia-toned era of British motor racing history,” the news release states. “It was Birkin’s quest for speed that created the Blower, later recording heroic drives at the Le Mans 24 Hours and the French Grand Prix. He also broke the Brooklands outer-circuit lap record, the most-coveted racing circuit of the time.
“The supercharged engine ultimately ensured the 4½ Litre model became the most iconic racing Bentley of the pre-war years. The Blower won Bentley a legion of motor sport fans around the world and to this day remains a symbol of the company’s innovative prowess.”
The superchargers were placed at the front of the engine crankshafts of the Blower, of which 50 street versions were built, giving the plus-size race cars a distinctive appearance. The forced-induction raised output for the straight-4 engines from 110 to 175 horsepower, muscling the Bentleys past the smaller, more-nimble race cars with which they competed.
Birkin’s racing performances were emblematic of Bentley’s winning ways, as he became a national hero for British racing fans, including the company founder.
“W.O. Bentley described Birkin as ‘the greatest Briton of his time’,” Bentley says in its release. “An aristocrat who fought in the First World War, Birkin returned from the front with a thirst for adrenaline and a total disregard for danger on the racetrack.”
The Number 9 Edition of the all-new Continental GT, created by the automaker’s famed in-house custom coachbuilder Mulliner, has been festooned by glorious interior features, such as gold-plated “organ-stop” controls, lavish leather seats and trim, unique machined metal finishes and vintage-style gauges.
The 90-year-old chunk of Blower Bentley is displayed in a circular glass housing on the dashboard between the analog outside-temperature gauge and rally-style timer.
The car is powered by a 626-horsepower W12 engine paired with a dual-clutch automatic transmission, the first of its kind offered by Bentley. The car launches from zero to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds and boasts a top speed of 207 mph.
Bentley calls the Number 9 edition a fitting memorial to both that magnificent race car as well as the mastery of Tim Birkin, who sadly died in 1933 at the age of 36 after being seriously burned on his arm while racing a Maserati 8C, and later succumbing to toxic effects of the injury.
“Bentley has created the ultimate collector’s version of the all-new Continental GT to celebrate the company’s centenary in 2019,” the release says, noting that “just 100 examples will be hand built by Mulliner in Crewe, England.”
“The Continental GT Number 9 Edition by Mulliner pays homage to Birkin and is inspired by Bentley’s illustrious motorsport past, incorporating a number of distinctive features from the legendary Blower into the world’s most luxurious Grand Tourer.
“Each model features a wood insert from the seat of Birkin’s iconic 1930 No. 9 Le Mans race car, which was removed during a sympathetic renovation.”
Pricing for the 2019 Continental GT Number 9 Edition by Mulliner has not been announced, but as the saying goes, “If you have to ask…” The base price of a standard Continental GT is around $200,000, and it undoubtedly will go way up from there.