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Bentley celebrates centennial of its first racing victory

In May 1921, Frank Clement drove the EXP2 3-Liter prototype to win the Whitsun Sprint at Brooklands

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On May 16, the first Bentley to win a motor race, a car known as the EXP2, returned to the Brooklands circuit to lead a group of 3-Liter Bentleys in celebration of the centenary of the company’s first racing victory. The celebration featured 24 of the Bentley 3-Liter cars.

The EXP2 was the second Bentley built by W.O. Bentley and remains the oldest in existence, the company noted.

100 years earlier

It was on May 16, 1921 that the car won the Whitsun Junior Sprint Handicap with works driver Frank Clement in the cockpit. The victory started a succession of such victories for the 3-Liter model that culminated in victories in 1924 and in 1927 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“These early victories for the 3-Liter engrained motorsport in the foundations of Bentley, and paved for the way for more than 1,600 3-Liter models to be produced and sold,” Bentley noted.

“Motorsport success is a huge part of Bentley’s  heritage, as it is for the Bentley Drivers Club,” club chairman Richard Parkinson is quoted in the news release. “We were therefore determined to mark the centenary of the first Bentley racing win on 16 May 1921 at Brooklands on the very same date this year with the actual car, EXP2 itself, kindly provided by Bentley Motors.

“We will continue as a Club to celebrate ‘100 years of Bentley Racing Success’ at our Annual Silverstone Meeting on 7 August which I am delighted to say Bentley Motors is supporting with a display of significant cars from the Heritage Collection.”

3-Liter Bentleys on the Brookland banking

W.O. Bentley founded his motorcar company in 1919, and it took two years to develop the engine and chassis for his first production model, the 3-Liter. In the process, ‘Experimentals’ were created for component testing.

“EXP1 came first, and was the very first car to wear the Bentley badge,” the company noted. “EXP2 was next, and while EXP1 was lost to history (and may well have been cannibalized to create the other EXPs), EXP2 has survived for a century as the oldest Bentley in existence.

“EXP2 was originally constructed with a plain two-seat body, to serve its function as a development testbed for the engine – incredibly advanced for its time – and chassis. It was later rebodied with dark red bodywork and an aluminum bonnet, crafted by coachbuilders JH Easter of Chagford Street.

“It’s first race was only nine days before its first win. At the hands of Frank Clement, it competed at Brooklands on Saturday 7 May 1921 but failed to finish. Whatever gremlins had disturbed that first race were banished by the following weekend, and when the car took to the track again on Monday 16 it came home victorious for the first time.”

The car continued to race while serving as a testbed for the next two years, and then was sold in 1923. The car was completely restored some 25 years ago and is part of the Bentley Heritage Collection.

A bunch of Bentleys at the Brooklands for the centennial celebration
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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