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Originally published: March 2020
1:18 Birkin 1932 Bentley Blower Number 1
Probably the most exciting new announcement from this year’s Nuremberg Toy Fair was a 1:18 replica of Tim Birkin’s Bentley Blower Number 1, courtesy of TrueScale Miniatures. Indeed, the American model company already had a sample of it on display at the show. This means that we should hopefully see it released sooner rather than later.
Tim Birkin was one of the original ‘Bentley Boys’, achieving great success behind the wheel of the British manufacturer’s cars.
But he was also an ace engineer, and had opposing views with the boss W.O. as to how best to go about increasing performance. W.O. was of the school of thought that bigger was better, taking the view that increasing displacement was infinitely more desirable than forced induction. In his words, ‘to supercharge a Bentley engine was to pervert its design and corrupt its performance’.
So, W.O. developed the gargantuan Speed Six.
Conversely, Birkin opined that the future lay in getting more power from a lighter machine, specifically by fitting a supercharger to the 4.5 litre Bentley. When W.O. refused to sign off on the plans, Birkin resolved to develop it himself. This he did thanks to financial backing from the wealthy horse racing enthusiast Dorothy Paget. This endeared the project to W.O. even less, as it drew Paget’s funds away from his own Bentley Motors concern.
The huge Roots-type supercharger, known colloquially as a blower, was added in front of the radiator and driven straight from the crankshaft. This extra weight at the front did nothing to alleviate the 4.5 litre’s propensity to understeer!
Blower Number 1 was officially presented in blue at the 1929 British International Motor Show at Olympia. It made its first race appearance at the Essex six hour race at Brooklands on 29th June that year.
In that first encounter Birkin was forced to retire when a cracked exhaust led to the fabric skin bodywork (stretched over a spring-steel lattice framework) catching fire. The car was subsequently rebodied with a single aluminium shell by Reid Railton, and painted red.
Blower Number 1 proved to be rapid but unreliable. Birkin’s finest moment in the car was probably at Brooklands in 1932. Four days before the Easter Monday meeting he broke Kaye Don’s outer circuit lap record, setting a new marker of 137.58 mph. Birkin officially equalled that speed in a thrilling three lap invitational race for 100 sovereigns in the August meeting, beating the V12 Delage of John Cobb by just a fifth of a second.
Despite his heroics Birkin was not a fan of the Brooklands circuit, labelling it ‘the most out of date, inadequate and dangerous track in the world: 'there are bumps which jolt the driver up and down in his seat and make the car leave the road and travel through the air’.
If ever there was a pre-war racing car that deserved the 1:18 treatment, this is it. We think it very likely that both TrueScale Miniatures and its UK importer will underestimate the demand that such a fascinating subject will generate. To be sure of obtaining your example, you really need to get your pre-order on the books now.