When Bentleys of all ages compete with other marques on the National Circuit at Silverstone on August 8th and 9th, they will be continuing a tradition of 60 years of annual Bentley Drivers Club race meetings, which began on July 23rd, 1949.
Silverstone circuit was then only a few months old and this was one of the first ever club meetings to be held there. David Llewellyn, who raced with the Bentley Drivers Club at Silverstone for several decades, starting in those very early days, recalls spectators standing at the side of the circuit, incredibly close to the action. Helmets were optional, and not often worn, and most drivers got behind the wheel in their normal clothes.
“Most drivers raced on a shoestring, working on their cars themselves, and most cars were in daily use and driven to the circuit. There were no buildings, just the old runway, with straw bales marking out the track and no run-off area. But if you hit a straw bale you certainly knew about it! The buildings came later, when the first pits were built. Standing on top of them gave you a view of Bentleys going round the whole Silverstone circuit, something it’s not possible to get today.”
The event was a great success from that first meeting in 1949. The Autocar magazine called it ‘the ideal of what a club show could be… a purely friendly and very personal affair reminiscent of the best days of old Brooklands’.
Even at that very first meeting, the cars were already vintage and included the first and last 3 Litre Bentleys ever built. With competitors paying two guineas each to enter, over 80 cars took to the track, of which more than 60 were Bentleys. The Motor magazine remarked that it was ‘a happy thought to include old playmates and rivals’, and it was a thrilling sight for spectators, the glory days of the 1920s played out before them as Bentleys took on statuesque Vauxhall 30-98s, mighty Sunbeams, supercharged Mercedes-Benz and what The Autocar described as the ‘strange and amusing’ Ford-Bugatti.
This very special atmosphere will be renewed on 8-9 August, at the 2009 Bentley Drivers Club race meeting at Silverstone.
[Source: Photo credit, W.O. Bentley Memorial Foundation]