Bentley that raced at first-ever 24hrs of Le Mans sells for £3million

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Bentley that raced at first-ever 24hrs of Le Mans sells for £3million

A Bentley which competed at the first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans race a century ago has sold for an astonishing £3million.The Bentley 3 Litre was driven

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A Bentley which competed at the first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans race a century ago has sold for an astonishing £3million.

The Bentley 3 Litre was driven by First World War veteran Captain John Duff and Bentley test driver Frank Clement at the race in the town of the same name in France in 1923, where it finished fourth.

The car set what was then a lap record of 66.69mph, even though it only had rear brakes and had run low on fuel after stones punctured the tank. 

It sparked off the British firm’s early streak of success in the intense competition, which it one five times out of eight starts in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930. 

The 1923 Bentley, named Chassis 141, went on to be used by another owner, an upper-class woman, to transport her St Bernard dogs to shows in the late 1940s. 

The car was then forgotten and did not resurface again until the 1980s, when the owner of the Donington Car Museum, Tom Wheatcroft, received a call from a 97-year-old lady offering him two old cars in her Leicestershire barn, a Bentley and a Voisin.

A Bentley which competed at the first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans race a century ago has sold for an astonishing £3million

A Bentley which competed at the first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans race a century ago has sold for an astonishing £3million

A Bentley which competed at the first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans race a century ago has sold for an astonishing £3million

The Bentley 3 Litre was driven by First World War veteran Captain John Duff and Bentley test driver Frank Clement at the race in the town of the same name in France in 1923, where it finished fourth. Above: The Bentley is seen during the race

The Bentley 3 Litre was driven by First World War veteran Captain John Duff and Bentley test driver Frank Clement at the race in the town of the same name in France in 1923, where it finished fourth. Above: The Bentley is seen during the race

The Bentley 3 Litre was driven by First World War veteran Captain John Duff and Bentley test driver Frank Clement at the race in the town of the same name in France in 1923, where it finished fourth. Above: The Bentley is seen during the race

He bought both with no idea of the Bentley’s history, until it was identified by a motoring journalist as being the long lost one which had raced at Le Mans. 

A deal was eventually reached with Australian collector Peter Briggs, whose Brabham Formula 1 car was on loan to the Donington Museum.

The Brabham stayed at Donington and the Bentley headed to Australia to be restored and eventually become the centrepiece of Briggs’ York Motor Museum near Perth. 

Its recent return to Britain brings its history full circle. 

The car has been bought by a British motoring enthusiast, after the sale was managed by Kidston SA, a company founded by the nephew of racing driver Glen Kidston, who won Le Mans 24 hours in 1930.

Chassis 141 represents the beginning of the Bentley legend and the start of the exploits of the so-called ‘Bentley Boys’ – the group of wealthy motorists who burnished the fledgling firm’s reputation. 

As well as Captain Duff, Clement and Kidston they included Sir Tim Birkin and Dr Dudley Benjafield. 

Bentley founder Walter Owen Bentley said of them: ‘The public liked to imagine them living in Mayfair flats. 

‘Drinking Champagne in nightclubs, playing the horses and the Stock Exchange, and beating furiously around the racing tracks at the weekend. 

‘Of several of them, this was not such an inaccurate picture.’ 

The car was forgotten for decades and did not resurface again until the 1980s, when the owner of the Donington Car Museum, Tom Wheatcroft, received a call from a 97-year-old lady offering him two old cars in her Leicestershire barn, a Bentley and a Voisin. Above: The Bentley before it was restored

The car was forgotten for decades and did not resurface again until the 1980s, when the owner of the Donington Car Museum, Tom Wheatcroft, received a call from a 97-year-old lady offering him two old cars in her Leicestershire barn, a Bentley and a Voisin. Above: The Bentley before it was restored

The car was forgotten for decades and did not resurface again until the 1980s, when the owner of the Donington Car Museum, Tom Wheatcroft, received a call from a 97-year-old lady offering him two old cars in her Leicestershire barn, a Bentley and a Voisin. Above: The Bentley before it was restored

Chassis 141 represents the beginning of the Bentley legend and the start of the exploits of the so-called 'Bentley Boys'. Above: The interior of the car

Chassis 141 represents the beginning of the Bentley legend and the start of the exploits of the so-called 'Bentley Boys'. Above: The interior of the car

Chassis 141 represents the beginning of the Bentley legend and the start of the exploits of the so-called ‘Bentley Boys’. Above: The interior of the car 

The car boasts a beautifully restored 3-litre engine and has just been sold for £3million

The car boasts a beautifully restored 3-litre engine and has just been sold for £3million

The car boasts a beautifully restored 3-litre engine and has just been sold for £3million

Commenting on the sale, Simon Kidston, director of Kidston SA, said: 'This Bentley isn't just an old car, it's a turning point in motor racing history and a cornerstone of the Bentley legend

Commenting on the sale, Simon Kidston, director of Kidston SA, said: 'This Bentley isn't just an old car, it's a turning point in motor racing history and a cornerstone of the Bentley legend

Commenting on the sale, Simon Kidston, director of Kidston SA, said: ‘This Bentley isn’t just an old car, it’s a turning point in motor racing history and a cornerstone of the Bentley legend

The car is competing at the Le Mans 100th anniversary race for vintage cars next month

The car is competing at the Le Mans 100th anniversary race for vintage cars next month

The car is competing at the Le Mans 100th anniversary race for vintage cars next month

The beautiful car now has a proud new owner and is set to compete again later this year

The beautiful car now has a proud new owner and is set to compete again later this year

The beautiful car now has a proud new owner and is set to compete again later this year

Chassis 141 was initially driven by Captain Duff at the Double 12 Hour Record at Brooklands, covering 2,082 miles at 86.79mph and setting 38 international records.

Twenty-four-hour racing was banned at the circuit so locals could sleep, but there was no such impediment in France. 

Although WO Bentley thought the idea of the car competing at Le Mans was crazy, he Captain Duff go ahead and let factory test driver Clement go with him.

The year after finishing fourth, the pair won the race. And then from 1927 to 1930 Bentley won Le Mans four times in succession. 

The victories mark one of the most dominant runs in the history of the race. 

The victories did much for Bentley’s popularity too. It sold 700 vehicles in two years after the 1924 victory. 

This was just three years on from when the company had delivered its first ever car. 

Before being bought by the lady owner who used it to ferry her dogs around, Chassis 141 was used as a tow vehicle and then its rear bodywork was altered to what is known as a shooting brake by an undertaker. 

Chassis 141 is seen painted with the number 8 as it competes at Le Mans in 1923

Chassis 141 is seen painted with the number 8 as it competes at Le Mans in 1923

Chassis 141 is seen painted with the number 8 as it competes at Le Mans in 1923 

Captain Duff is seen tending to the engine on day of 24 hours of Le Mans in 1924

Captain Duff is seen tending to the engine on day of 24 hours of Le Mans in 1924

Captain Duff is seen tending to the engine on day of 24 hours of Le Mans in 1924

Commenting on the sale, Simon Kidston, director of Kidston SA, said: ‘This week the most famous motor race in the world celebrates its 100th birthday and its pioneering early competitors remain as intriguing as ever. 

‘This Bentley isn’t just an old car, it’s a turning point in motor racing history and a cornerstone of the Bentley legend. 

‘And personally, having inherited a family passion for cars which was accelerated by my ‘Bentley Boy’ uncle, helping to bring this Bentley home feels really satisfying. 

‘It won’t be leading a quiet life: it’ll be lining up on the grid of the Le Mans 100th anniversary race for vintage cars next month. 

‘I hope its original drivers will be looking down and smiling.’

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