Classic Car Of The Week – Bentley Speed 8

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons /

It’s time once again for another Classic Car Of The Week and this week it’s going to be the Bentley Speed 8.

The Bentley Speed 8 is special for two reasons. One, it marked the return of Bentley to competitive racing after an absence of nearly three quarters of a century. And two, it represents what LeMans stands for, racing for racing’s sake.

Today, Bentley is predominantly known as one of the world’s most luxurious automobile brands. Lavishness, supreme comfort, magnificence, and pure opulence are ingrained within their DNA. So much so that the Queen of England herself gets driven around in one!

But Bentley’s long history isn’t all plush leather and fine wood finishing, they also have an impressive racing record.

Between 1923 and 1930, they dominated the 24 Hours of LeMans, winning the famous endurance race five times (1924, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930). However, after their 1930 win, the British car maker decided to pack up its racing project and head home…for the next 73 years.

As such, it wasn’t until 2001 that Bentley would race again.

The magnificent looking, powerful Speed 8 was the ‘poster boy’ for their triumphant return to sports car racing. And given their long absence from the world of motorsport, many eyes were keen to see what this ‘old timer’ could do.

Well, it was clear that Bentley were of the opinion that if you’re going to come out of a decade’s long retirement, you might as well make a good show of it. Because, as it happened to be, that’s exactly what they did.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons - Brian Snelson
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons – Brian Snelson /

By the time 2003 rolled around, Audi had won LeMans three years in a row, but come that year their factory team decided to not field a team.

Being both owned by VW, it wasn’t a surprise that support from the Audi works team was subsequently given to their sister team Bentley in preparation of the 71st LeMans. And with the official Audi team and their dominant R8 absent from the grid, the Speed 8 cruised to a 1-2 victory.

What would 2004 bring for Bentley? Not much.

Similarly to what they did so in 1930, Bentley withdrew from racing at the conclusion of the 2003 LeMans and haven’t been back since.

The Bentley Speed 8 isn’t the greatest car to race at LeMans. But its inclusion, though brief, was something special and somewhat of a rarity in modern racing.

As we can see in various international motorsporting events today, there is a commercial aspect that lingers over many racing series. The cars are being molded by public opinion, with car companies (manufacturers) only entering a series if its technical regulations align with its overall business model, i.e. technology they can reproduce and sell to the masses.

Therefore, something positive we can take from Bentley’s brief inclusion in sports car racing is the company’s overall raison d’être, racing for racing’s sake.

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Let’s face it, a Bentley isn’t the most affordable car in the world, so their return to LeMans can’t really be seen as a moneymaking tool. The Speed 8’s winning performance wasn’t going to convince the average Joe to walk on down to his/her local Bentley dealership and buy one.

Bentley/VW, therefore, appear to have had no ulterior motive, they simply wanted to race. And unfortunately, barring Ferrari, the chances of seeing the likes of a high-profile team such as Bentley, and a car such as the Speed 8 again, are becoming smaller.