Friday January 18, 2019
One hundred years ago, the engineer W O Bentley achieved his goal of creating ‘a good car, a fast car, the best in class’. In the words of the great motoring writer Sydney “Sammy” Davis, who would pilot a Bentley to a second Le Mans victory in 1927: ‘For the man who wants a true sporting type of light-bodied car for use on a Continental tour – where speed limits are not meant to be observed – the 3 Litre Bentley is undoubtedly the car par excellence’.
And so, to celebrate the centenary of the marque that began in a mews garage near Baker Street, there can be only one choice of viewing this evening. It is a film that we have previously covered, but on this day of days, it needs to be revived, savoured and generally appreciated. It is, of course, The Fast Lady.
A brief reminder – the picture’s eponymous heroine is a 1927 “Red Label” model Bentley Speed Open Tourer. In the 1920s, the owner would specify his or her choice of coachwork, and the body of this example was by Vanden Plas.
The colour of the enamel background to the grille badge denoted a Bentley’s status – green for the “Super Sports”, blue for the standard model with the longer chassis and red for the Speed, which boasted a 5.3:1 high compression version of the 2,996cc straight four, After the end of the Second World War, the Fast Lady acquired the engine, radiator, headlamps and transmission from a 1930-model 4 1/2 Litre.
The production company Independent Artists eventually bought the car, and the plot of The Fast Lady will already be familiar to many readers. For those who have yet to be introduced to this masterpiece, the trailer says it all:
Leslie Phillips asking £500 for the Bentley was quite typical for 1962 – just look at the small ads in virtually any copy of Motor or Autocar. This sum translates into approximately £12,000 in 2019 terms, which still represents a considerable bargain, especially given that there were only ever 513 Speed chassis.
The Bentley was sold to the famed driver Anthony Charnock in July 1963 after the conclusion of filming; his father Harry had owned the Bentley during the 1950s. The younger Mr. Charnock was not altogether overjoyed at the way the Tourer had been treated during filming, and he subsequently noted how the ‘producers painted the car green and the chassis red, and also fitted the unoriginal lamps and the inappropriate horn’. In 2010 the Fast Lady was auctioned for a mere £550,000.
Of course, several aspects of the plot are not entirely plausible, for it is unlikely that a novice motorist would be able to cope with a 90 mph 80 bhp behemoth of a sports car with a synchromesh-free gearbox. Blazered car enthusiasts would rave about the twin SU “sloper'” carburettors and in 1924 Motor Sport found the steering to be ‘delightfully easy, comparable in its comfort to that experienced on a high-quality light car’.
However, given that Stanley Baxter’s hero was unable to cope with an Austin A40 “Farina” L-Car, taking his test in a 1927 Bentley was less than convincing, as was his taking part in the final reel car chase that was expected of a British comedy film of 1962.
But with such a magnificent picture, these are mere details. Enjoy!