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Driven Like a True Bentley Boy

For many people, the thought of buying a vintage Bentley  one day and then putting it through its paces for sixteen hours the same weekend is unthinkable. However, vintage Bentleys are robust machines that can take a lot of abuse, so two eight-hour days of racing around the historic Goodwood Motor Circuit is merely classed as ‘running-in’ for Joel Laub’s freshly restored 1929 Bentley 4½ Litre Le Mans!

The specific Bentley 4½ Litre in question is a very special car, with a formidable of provenance. GU1927 was originally owned by Woolf Barnato, who is well known as the greatest of the Bentley Boys. A gent who won on each of his three Le Mans starts (the only man to win his first three Le Mans 24 Hour races) and is known as one of motorsport’s greats. Cars like this don’t come around often, so Joel promptly purchased the car and started planning how the car’s future would shape up. 

We caught up with Joel after his visit from America to West Sussex to pick up GU1927 from Vintage Bentley after its restoration. Joel started his journey into the world of pre-war cars over twenty years ago after a friend introduced him to his Bugatti Type 35C, which prompted him to research which car was best for touring and which marque had the best owners’ clubs. Immediately Joel’s sight was set on purchasing a vintage Bentley. He acquired a 4½ Litre Le Mans, which he still owns and uses for many tours. Twenty years down the line Woolf Barnato’s GU1927 arrived at auction, so Joel snapped the car up and kept it in the UK ready for Vintage Bentley to start the restoration, and have it finished just in time for the Benjafield’s Double Twelve event at Goodwood. This would be the first time GU1927 had been used since the Vintage Bentley team had restored the car and Joel’s first time in the driver’s seat. What a way to awaken the 4½ Litre Le Mans from its slumber!

As many would imagine, the process of having your immensely important car restored while you are half-way around the globe is daunting. However, Joel claims that “it was a really simple process. William kept in touch with me all the way through the restoration. The car turned out better than I could’ve ever imagined!”. GU1927 received a sympathetic restoration, with a few personal touches that Joel requested, which included a Union Flag, racing roundel, and a plethora of other details with a level of patina that would suit the car’s fresh appearance. “I was impressed with the execution and the work that went into the details. I didn’t want the car to look like it was fresh out of the Bentley factory!” says Joel Laub. 

Key changes were made to the Bentley 4½ Litre to make Joel’s experience as enjoyable as possible. One-inch-extended Brooklands windscreens were fitted to stop the driver and passenger from battling with the wind, as Joel prefers to drive with the main windscreen down. In addition, Joel improved his luggage space by having the rear seats removed and fitted with trays, which house a custom made six-piece luggage set, made out of matching leather to the car and stitched with his and hers initials. Extra pockets were installed to house maps and other loose items, and a power system was discreetly fitted to allow the use of a mobile phone/GPS during rallies. These upgrades will prove handy during the many endurance rallies that GU1927 will tackle under its new ownership. 

GU1927 received the finishing touches and was fired up and taken out of the workshop for the first time since its restoration in mid-September ready for the Benjafield’s Double Twelve, a sixteen-hour endurance race around the Goodwood Motor Circuit. The event would prove to be a real test for the gleaming 4½ Litre Bentley. Joel claims the experience of racing his new car was “a little daunting. Every pre-war Bentley drives different, they all shift and move differently, so it took me a little time to get used to the car as I had never driven it. But after a few laps, you quit thinking about the process of driving and get to racing!”. The car handled the task at hand perfectly, finishing in third place ably assisted by the talented Miles Brown with one of the highest numbers of completed laps out of the grid and no mechanical issues. Joel claims the experience of travelling to the United Kingdom, picking up his gleaming Bentley 4½ Litre, and thrashing it around Goodwood was “the most fun time” he’s ever had! When asked if there were any improvements that Joel would have added to the car after the race, he quickly replied “not really. The car was flawless, it had absolutely no problems whatsoever. It couldn’t have run better and it was happy with all of the abuse we threw at it! If there were longer straights at Goodwood we may have managed to overtake some more people due to the longer gearing in the car, but I think the gearing will be more practical for touring, so we will keep it that way”.

Not only did Joel collect his 1929 Bentley 4½ Litre Le Mans from the workshop, but he also picked up his 1929 Bentley Speed Six which had been rebuilt by Vintage Bentley. When asked which of his amazing cars has his heart, he explained “It depends on where I am driving the cars. If I am in the Western United States on a tour, the Speed Six is ideal for the expansive open roads and wide national park tracks. But if I am in Europe, I would certainly prefer the 4½ Litre just by virtue of the shorter wheelbase which helps to get the car around the corners quickly”. The two cars will have plenty of use over the coming years of Joel’s ownership, with plans to ship them back to the United States for a few months of enjoyment ahead of many tours in the future. The 4½ Litre will make the trip back to the continent where Joel will compete in the Monaco Historic Grand Prix tour in April and then the car will take part in the Barnato Run. Joel assures us that the cars will be put to good use, as Barnato intended!

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