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Year: 1927

Manufacturer: Bentley

Model: 3 Litre Works Le Mans Specification

Country: UK

Owner(s):
Robert Moggridge

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1927 Bentley 3 Litre Works Le Mans Specification

YF 2503 was built in March 1927 specifically for the 1927 Le Mans 24 Hours race. It was built alongside the new 4½ Litre Bentley, later to be known as ‘Mother Gun’ in its various guises. 

W.O. Bentley realised that to win this difficult race the car had to be built with many special features to save time – note the external oil filter, which saved time opening the bonnet, the external scuttle-mounted oil tank to enable the driver to add more oil during the race, the brake adjustment mounted on the floor, directly in front of the driver’s seat and the now standard fitment on all replica Le Mans bodied cars – the radiator cap for faster pit times. 

W.O. Bentley was reluctant to enter the 1927 Le Mans Endurance Race because of the many problems he had at work, namely continuing finance problems, but was convinced by Benjafield when he offered to supply his own car (1926 Le Mans 3 Litre – old number 7) to complete the three car team. The race cars were prepared at the Hotel Moderne and it was here late one evening that Sammy Davis painted the three nicknames on the back of the three cars, ‘Snitch, Witch and Bitch’ – this is thought to be unique in the history of the Le Mans Race. 

Whilst the race started well, W.O. was in the pits watching the times and was unaware of the disaster that was happening on the race track. The 4½ Bentley had crashed into a French car, which this car, YF 2503, crashed into, leaving tell-tale signs of debris on the track. Sammy Davis saw this and slowed down but could not avoid hitting YF. 

Sammy got out of his 3 Litre to check that everyone was OK, and everyone was, surprisingly! He managed to extradite his car out of the mess and continue to the pits to explain to W.O. Clearly a disaster for W.O. Bentley and everything that he did not not want given his problems at home but Davis and Benjafield went on to win the Endurance race to everyone’s cheers – this gave W.O. Bentley a major lift from an initial disaster to winning: a great media story, which was covered worldwide.

YF returned home to be quickly repaired and was soon back to France at Montlhéry in August 1927 for the Grand Prix de Paris driven by Baron André d’Erlanger.

Due to the fabulous news coverage, everyone wanted the winning car at Le Mans for various events. This was not possible and YF was used to satisfy the hungry media – one such event was the opening of the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb. A picture supplied shows YF being driven up the hill by Sammy Davis.

Speaking to Rivers Fletcher who worked at Bentley Motors as an apprentice, he remembers taking YF to the film studios, where the car starred in a film called ‘Smashing Through’, which outlined a plot of a struggling Motor Car Manufacturer in the racing world.

YF was sold soon afterwards to privateer racing driver W. B. ‘Bummer’ Scott who wasted no time in competing in the speed trials at Le Touquet, achieving a win in the 3 litre class. Scott attended many Brooklands events with his wife Jill, who achieved a fourth place at Brooklands later in 1928. Jill was the first lady racing driver to earn the 120mph Brooklands Badge driving a Bugatti. This badge is now in the owner’s collection – a painting of her is currently in the National Portrait Gallery.  Scott placed an order for a 4½ Litre Le Mans Spec Bentley, so YF was sold at the end of the 1928 racing season.

YF was bought by a number of privateers throughout the late 1920s and 1930s including H. Kidston, brother of Glen Kidston, and had some notable successes by R. Owen Williams, again at Brooklands. It was later sold for ‘conventional’ use and discovered in a sorry state in a barn at Hawinge airfield near Folkestone. The owner – a Spitfire pilot – had been killed in action. The car was purchased for £2 and used by the Airfield Doctor, Dr Chassels.

After the war the car was displayed on a typical London bomb site and was bought by Norris Kennard as his current Bentley had bald tyres and he was unable to get any new tyres, because of the war. He was so pleased with his new car that he kept it for well over 50 years, competing at many VSCC events, BDC Silverstone and Goodwood and BDC Kensington Gardens, winning two trophies. His wife drove an SSK Mercedes and they both competed at the Brighton Speed Trials.

It was this good fortune that meant the Bentley remained virtually untouched, retaining some of the very special original Le Mans features;s many cars in the 1960s and ’70s were let down by over the top restorations.

The current owner managed to buy YF at auction almost 25 years ago. To his amazement the only paperwork that came with the car consisted of a current MOT certificate and the log book. Disappointed, he spent the next ten years researching the history and travelling around the country meeting as many of the owners as possible to gain as much knowledge before starting the restoration. 

Restoration started very slowly while juggling mortgage and school fees. With retirement looming fast the final stage was passed to RC Moss, anxious to have the car completed to celebrate the Centenary of Bentley, which was achieved. YF appeared at Silverstone, Goodwood and Pebble Beach during 2019.

After 25 years of intense searching for the elusive history and stories and meetings, many people have collectively made the story of the car’s history fascinating – culminating with over 500 photographs and the race programmes of many of the races that ‘YF’ appeared in, including an original 1927 Le Mans Race programme (a very rare find).

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