A Bentley Speed 8 Le Mans Prototype racing car is coming up for auction in Monterey, California in mid-August. This rare example is expected to fetch between $1.9 million and $2.5 million.
The Bentley Speed 8 Le Mans Prototype race-car being offered for sale was the prototype for the Bentley revival at the Le Mans 24 Hours race in the early years of this millennium which ultimately saw Bentley victorious at Le Mans in 2003 after a gap of over 70 years.
Towards the end of the 20th century, Bentley had not seen glory at Le Mans for nearly 70 years but one man’s vision was about to change all that. The Bentley Speed 8 project was overseen by Dr. Ferdinand Piech, grandson of Ferdinand Porsche. As chairman of Volkswagen, Piech had supervised the German carmaker’s acquisition of the British prestige marque Bentley in June 1998. Piech had an impeccable Le Mans pedigree having been the inspiration for the Porsche 917 programme, which resulted in victories for Porsche at the Le Mans 24 Hours races of 1970 and 1971. These Porsche victories brought to an end four years of American dominance at Circuit de la Sarthe when the Ford GT40 had ruled supreme. Piech also worked on the Audi Quattro rally car and had the idea that Audi should enter sports car racing. Arguably, Audi’s recent stranglehold at Le Mans can be traced back to Piech’s passion for racing.
The example of the Bentley Speed 8 coming up for auction via RM Auctions in California is powered by a 3.6 litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine generating 670 horsepower. It was the forerunner of Bentley Speed 8 cars which were entered at Le Mans in 2001. In that year one of the Bentleys finished third but better was to come. In 2002, Bentley finished in fourth place overall but, in 2003, the Bentley Le Mans revival was complete when two Bentley Speed 8s came in first and second in the world’s greatest endurance race.
The 2003 win for Bentley came 73 years after Bentley Motors had last tasted victory at Le Mans’ Circuit de la Sarthe. During the years 1927 to 1930, Bentley had a remarkable four consecutive Le Mans 24 Hours victories. The 1920s Bentleys were driven by a group of Bentley enthusiasts known as ‘The Bentley Boys’. Bentley’s success was grudgingly recognised by their great rival, Italian carmaker Ettore Bugatti, who is reputed to have described Bentley in the 1920s as manufacturing ‘the world’s fastest lorries,’ a reference to the sheer weight and bulk of Bentley’s 1920s super-charged racing machines.
Le Mans 24 Hours 2003 winner, a Bentley Speed 8 at Musée des 24 Heures, a museum at Circuit de la Sarthe, home of the Le Mans 24 Hours race
Full details of the Bentley Speed 8 Le Mans Prototype Racer can be found on the RM Auctions website. If you don’t have the required two or three million dollars required to secure the car coming up for auction then you can always view the 2003 Le Mans winning Bentley Speed 8 on permanent display at the Le Mans 24 Hours Race Museum, the Musée des 24 Heures, right next to the famous Le Mans race circuit.
For Bentley race enthusiasts, there is, too, the possibility that Bentley may soon make a return to endurance racing as reported in the earlier Digital Journal article “Luxury car-maker Bentley gears up to return to Le Mans 24 Hours.”