Last weekend saw the return of the oldest remaining Bentley in the world – EXP2 – to the Isle of Man, 100 years since it was part of Bentley’s team win in the 1922 RAC Tourist Trophy.
78 Bentleys and period competitors returned to the famous island to pay homage to one of the most famous and challenging race circuits in the world. On the morning of the 25 June, all of the cars gathered on Douglas promenade to form one of the largest static displays of Bentley 3-Litre models ever seen.
The display allowed the general public and owners the opportunity to admire, compare and appreciate the vast array of cars dating back over a century. The rare collection of Bentleys had an estimated value in excess of £40 million, and it is unlikely that all of these cars will be together again.
The Mayor of Douglas, Janet Thommeny, attended the display and welcomed owners to the island, noting that ‘it was great to see the energy and passion that the participants and their cars had created’. After the display, the owners were invited to visit Government House and meet Sir John Lorimer KCB DSO MBE, the Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man.
On Sunday 26th June, the cavalcade of Bentleys and the race-winning 1922 Sunbeam formed together in the pit lane to begin a parade lap commencing at 14:00. The day started true to the one 100 years previous, with heavy rain and strong winds providing uncomfortable driving conditions. However, unlike 1922, the clouds faded and the weather improved.
With a police escort, the parade began the historic journey through the villages, mountains and chequered kerbs of the famous circuit. Well-wishers and spectators looked on as some of W.O. Bentley’s earliest cars made their way around the island, with all 78 cars successfully returning to the pit lane within the following 90 minutes.
Owners had travelled from around the world as far afield as New Zealand, America and Switzerland in recognition of Bentley winning the team trophy in 1922.
Racing – The Early Years
On 16th May 1921, Bentley celebrated its first race win at Brooklands circuit in the Whitsun Junior Sprint Handicap in the hands of ‘works’ driver Frank Clement in the second ever Bentley produced – EXP2.
W.O. Bentley decided to enter three ‘3-Litre’ Bentleys in the famous Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man, which took place on 22nd June 1922. The race started at 09:30 and Frank Clement (No 3), Douglas Hawkes (No 6) and W.O. himself (No 9) valiantly fought in their cream and red Bentleys over 302 miles in terrible weather conditions. Clement finished 2nd, closely followed by the remaining two Bentleys delivering the combined team win and proving Bentley’s potential for the upcoming and idea of a 24 hour race to be held in Le Mans, France.
The success of the 3-Litre Bentleys continued, and in 1925 John Duff claimed 21 world records in a 3-Litre over the course of 24 hrs. The racing baton was then passed to the 4½ Litre Bentley, the iconic Blowers and the dominant Speed Six, which won Le Mans twice in 1929 and 1930. These wins will be celebrated by the recently announced Speed Six Continuation Series, which will see 12 new cars built to the specification of the Le Mans racers.
EXP2 – The Oldest Bentley in the World
After founding his company in 1919, it took two years for W.O. Bentley to develop the engine and chassis of his first production model – the 3-Litre, a car that he went on to produce 1,622 examples of between 1921 and 1929. Crucial to that development programme were the Experimentals – or EXPs for short. EXP1 came first, and was the very first car to wear the Bentley badge. EXP2 was next, and while EXP1 was lost to history (and may well have been cannibalised to create the other EXPs), EXP2 has survived for a century as the oldest Bentley in existence.
EXP2 was originally constructed with a plain two-seat body, to serve its function as a development testbed for the engine – incredibly advanced for its time – and chassis. It was later rebodied with dark red bodywork and an aluminium bonnet, crafted by coachbuilders JH Easter of Chagford Street.
It’s first race was only nine days before its first win. At the hands of Frank Clement, it competed at Brooklands on Saturday 7th May 1921 but failed to finish. Whatever gremlins had disturbed that first race were banished by the following weekend, and when the car took to the track again on Monday 16 it came home victorious for the first time.
EXP2 carried on with its split career of development testing and racing for two years, before being sold in September 1923. The car was completely rebuilt to its original specification around 25 years ago, and is now one of the most important members of the Bentley Heritage Collection.