Sunday, 1 July 2012

James Bond's £5 million Blower Bentley

In the novel Casino Royale, we are introduced to James Bond's supercharged 4½ litre Bentley. If the car came up for auction (if it hadn't been a complete write-off after Bond, in pursuit of Hugo Drax's Mercedes, collided with rolls of newsprint in Moonraker), how much would it be worth?

The answer might be over £5 million. The value reached at auction on 29 June 2012 by a 1929 single-seater 4½ litre Bentley originally driven by Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin was £5,042,000. The car, fitted with an Amherst Villiers two-rotor, Roots-type supercharger, was known as a Blower Bentley. Officially, 55 cars had been produced. Four were made for Sir Tim Birkin, another was built from spares, and 50 were production models. But there was also the fictional Blower Bentley owned by James Bond.

Ian Fleming tells us in Casino Royale (chapter 5) that Bond bought his Bentley almost new in 1933, and suggests in Live and Let Die (chapter 2) that the car was built in that year, although in Moonraker (chapter 1), Fleming revises the date of production to a more plausible 1930 (the 55 Blowers were made between 1929 and 1931). Whatever the date, given that Bond would have been about 12 when he bought the car, Charlie Higson tells us in Double or Die that Bond acquired the car while at Eton (although Higson describes it as a Bentley 'Blower' and a veteran of the Brookfield circuit).

Fleming revealed in interview that he had put Bond in a Blower because he liked him to 'use dashing, interesting things.' We probably have Sir Tim Birkin to thank for that. His exciting exploits in the car at Brooklands (he reached speeds of 138 mph in 1932 – Bond only managed a little over 110 when was after Le Chiffre) and Le Mans 24-hours were the stuff of legend. But the choice was also no doubt in tribute to Fleming's friend, Amherst Villiers; the two met in 1927 and became firm friends during social gatherings and visits to Paris (Villiers would later paint Fleming's portrait).

Further reading:

Foulkes, N, 2005 Bentley: a motoring miscellany, Quadrille
Kenny, P, 2009 The man who supercharged Bond: the extaordinary story of Charles Amherst Villiers, Haynes

1 comment:

  1. Your comment that Bond would have been twelve when he bought the Bentley is interesting. The car has always felt too old-fashioned, and seems more in keeping with Fleming's lifestyle (and age) than of Bond's. It is not surprising that, apart from one brief scene at the beginning of 'From Russia, with Love', a Bentley did not appear in the films, suggesting that the film makers did not consider the car right for an international spy; the DB5 striking a much better chord.

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