The Ralph Lauren Car Collection was featured at the 2014 Lime Rock Historic Festival, held August 29th to September 1st at Lime Rock Park. Among the Lauren automotive treasures on display at the picturesque road course in Connecticut were a 1929 Birkin Blower Bentley; 1964 Ferrari 250 LM; 1956 Jaguar XKSS; 1953 Morgan Flat Rad and 1959 Porsche RSK.
1929 Birkin Blower Bentley, chassis HR 3976
The concept of the 4 1/2 Liter, supercharged Bentleys (The Blower Cars) originated with Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin, privileged son of a wealthy family whose resources allowed him to pursue his ambition of becoming a race car driver. Birkin developed a friendship with W.O. Bentley and given Birkin’s connections, Bentley realized that Birkin could help the struggling car maker (which was going bankrupt) to win important races.
Birkin knew he would need a lot of power to compete with the supercharged Mercedes, Alfa and Bugatti racing cars of the time and came up with the idea of supercharging the then-fastest 4 1/2 Liter Bentleys. Bentley, though skeptical, conceded and built 50 supercharged cars to qualify for the 1929 Le Mans 24 Hour race. Birkin built two “works cars,” but neither finished. (A “Speed Six” Bentley placed first, followed by 4 1/2 Liter, non-supercharged Bentleys placing second, third and fourth).
With his money running low, Birkin convinced friend, noted socialite and horsewoman Dorothy Paget to help finance his team. Entering Le Mans again in 1930 with two Bentleys (#8 and #9) including chassis HR3976, which carries the Paget crest between the radiator cap and the Bentley badge, the Birkin cars did very well – while they lasted (the fastest race-lap, 6 minutes 48 seconds, was set by the 9 car). Birkin’s cars again failed to finish; HR3976, driven by Dr. Dudley Benjafield and Giulio Ramponi, completed 144 laps before it broke a piston.
This car’s best finish was a second at the 1930 French Grand Prix (Pau) at the hands of Birkin. By the end of 1930 Paget’s patience with the Birkin team ran out; she cut off funding and the team closed up shop. HR 3976 was then sold to a Frenchman, racing at Le Mans in 1932 and 1933, again failing to finish either. This car was restored in 1990 by Traction Seabert of England with care given to not over-restore it but rather to maintain it in its ‘as raced’ condition. It is one of only two “short chassis” Bentleys built.
1964 Ferrari 250 LM, chassis 6321
The Ferrari 250 LM was introduced at the Paris Auto Show in October, 1963 to great fanfare. In the LM, Pinninfarina presented a great case-study in how form following function can be beautiful. Unable to obtain the necessary homologation for GT racing, the 250 LM raced in the prototype category; a 250 LM won Le Mans in 1965.
Between 1965 and 1968, chassis 6321 – number 31 of 32 built – was campaigned extensively and successfully in 19 Australian racing events, winning 13. Among those victories was the Surfers Paradise 12 Hours in 1966, co-driven by Andy Buchanan and a young driver just beginning a brilliant career, Jackie Stewart.