You have to hand it to the Volkswagen Group for their skillful rebirth of the Bentley brand in the early 2000s.
Long mired in Rolls-Royce’s shadow with shakey engineering expertise and wobblier cars, Bentley sought greatness by going back to its roots in grand style.
This meant competing in LeMans – where Bentley had dominated for a few years in the 1920s with its supercharged Speed 8 models — innovative technology that delivered crushing pace when the blowers were attached to such enormous engines. Specific output in this era was barely 10-percent of what it is today; with a measly ten ponies generally coming from each liter of engine capacity.
Bentley’s blowers were able to double specific output and were quite a gamechanger versus the wheezing competition. It also meant the cars could be relatively light versus things like the 9-liter Renaults on the course.
Regaining Bentley sports credibility at LeMans was the ultimate mission – and certainly not a simple one to achieve. So was this a simple marketing exercise – a cynical way to restore Bentley to its rightful place atop racing podiums?
Sure, you could dismiss the Speed 8 2001 LMP1 effort as a rebadged Audi team — and the Audi Sport drivers inside the Bentley do reinforce the haters’ opinion.
But the Speed 8’s legacy is deeper than that. It is uniquely beautiful and a extra stunning because it did, in fact, win the race on its first time on the track in 71 years. That is much easier said in a marketing meeting than done in real life.
What makes the Speed 8 a car for the ages, and a racing hero?
The Speed 8 wears totally unique
sheetmetal carbon-fiber bodywork and an enclosed-cockpit design that is rare in modern racing (but may be back for 2016). A delicious emerald British Racing Green livery makes Bentley’s brand impact the title sponsor.
In truth, the Speed 8’s dominance of the 2001 Le Mans race was not cynical once the cars took first and third place after coming from far behind earlier in the race.
The engine of the Speed 8 is a 670-horsepower 3.6-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 — one that is not dissimilar to the latest 400HP six in the Porsche Macan, actually…
So the Bentley brand revival is certainly well-planned, but also well-executed and well-curated for history.
The static photos below are the third-place-winner of the 2001 Speed 8 team, a car sold by RM Auctions in Monterey 2012 for $2.5-million. This is more than double the typical price for Audi, Porsche and Mercedes LMP1 cars from the same few years — proving the glory of the Flying B is alive and well a decade after winning the world’s greatest motor race.
2001 Bentley Speed 8 LMP1
17 – 18 August 2012
2001 Bentley Speed 8 Le Mans Prototype Racing Car
Sold for $2,530,000
670 hp, 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine, electronic fuel injection, Ricardo six-speed sequential dual-clutch manual gearbox, front independent suspension with double-wishbones, torsion bars at the front and coil springs at the rear and a pushrod system with horizontal dampers, and four-wheel hydraulic disc brakes. Wheelbase: 104.3″
Please note that this vehicle will be sold on a Bill of Sale only.
• First Team Bentley to finish on the podium at Le Mans in 71 years
• Third Place at 2001 24 Hour of Le Mans
• Last raced at Road America in 2007
The inspiration for the successful Bentley Speed 8 program belongs to Dr. Ferdinand Piech, grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, who designed the Auto Union Grand Prix cars in the 1930s. As chairman of Volkswagen, Piech directed the acquisition of Bentley in June 1998, but he had been the guiding force on the Porsche 917 program, which had won Le Mans in 1970 and 1971. Piech also worked on the formidable Audi Quattro rally car and thought that Audi should enter sports car racing.
In 1998, Piech commissioned Italian contractor Dallara to build a sports racer to use the Audi 3.6-liter turbocharged V-8, mid-mounted in a carbon fiber tub. The car became the Audi R8 roadster, which would enjoy a spectacular competition record, losing only 16 races in which it was entered, between 2000 and 2006.
Static Images C/O RM Auctions
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.