So, where to find a car in keeping with the Golden Era? Haynes International Motor Museum had just the thing, as Charlie Flindt discovered
In a return to the Golden Era of fieldsports, Charlie Flindt drives a piece of motoring history – the 1930 Bentley 4.5 litre. Quite unexpectedly, it’s not long before he starts to feel at home behind the wheel.
For a Bentley suitable for the modern country gentleman, read Bentley Bentayga Mulliner “Field Sports”.
1930 BENTLEY 4.5 LITRE
When asked by the Editor to find something suitable to drive for this month’s Golden Era Anniversary Special, I thought it would be a logistical and practical nightmare. Where in the name of blazes does one find such a machine that is both roadworthy and available for some lumpen-footed buffoon like me to drive?
I hadn’t reckoned with the team at The Haynes International Motor Museum at Sparkford in Somerset – you’ll have seen its brown signs as you hurtle up and down the A303. “Yup, we’ve got just the thing. Come on down,” said the commercial director. And just before the receiver hit the cradle, I’m sure I heard a cry of, “Fire up the Bentley!”
And so it was that a few days later, I was at the wheel of a very expensive piece of motoring history: a 1930 Bentley 4.5 litre, trying to remember the key points of the short briefing I’d just had. “It’s a crash gearbox and the throttle pedal and brake pedal are reversed,” were the two big ones.
Oddly, and quite against all my expectations, I soon felt at home. Perhaps it was the agricultural feel of the beast – four long gears that needed careful matching of engine revs, all-round drum brakes of questionable efficiency and a long bonnet like the Super Major on which I learnt to drive.
Confidence built as we made our way along the old A303 to the north of Camelot, with the huge engine block finally warming up and accepting the hand-adjustable fuel and ignition settings we were suggesting. As speed picked up, the steering got lighter – thank goodness – but wheel wobble got worse. Not sure what a Kwik Fit fitter would have made of this if the Bentley had arrived on his forecourt, though. We had the road almost to ourselves – and those who did pass grinned and waved; it was the automotive equivalent of haymaking – everyone loves you.
I could also relax because the Bentley was nicely aged. Not many dials worked, the seats were worn and (rumour has it) the steering wheel wasn’t original. It hasn’t been given the full Haynes treatment in the stunning workshop – I met a man who had just finished hand forming a new DB4 nearside door from a sheet of aluminium. I struggle to make a proper paper dart.
The drive in the Bentley was over far too soon. My gear-changes were crunch-free, my speed was picking up but I suspect that I was getting cocky and it was only a matter of time before the reverse pedal configuration would be forgotten, with consequences that don’t bear thinking about. But for a few short English miles, on a cool English March day with dirty snow refusing to let go of the raised verges, I was Bond, I was TH White. I was lucky enough to be in charge of a British motoring legend.
So, next time you’re hurtling down the new A303, pause. Head into Sparkford, find the museum and seek out the glorious Bentley 4.5 litre. You may not be lucky enough to drive it but doff your hat. It’s the least it deserves.
1930 BENTLEY 4.5 LITRE
Founded by John Haynes OBE in 1985 with 30 vehicles, the Haynes International Motor Museum now houses the UK’s largest collection of motorcars and motorbikes from around the world. More than 400 vehicles, dating from the late 19th century to today, are on show. Find it just off the A303 at Sparkford, near Yeovil.
Tel: 01963 440804