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Birkin's track record car


How I and my Bentley won a silver cup in racing
George Daniels Master watchmaker
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I was telephoned by a friend one day who said he knew where there was a 1930 4½ litre Bentley and I knew that all 1930 specification cars had supercharged specifications for them. They had been intended for supercharging but they never were, they were sold as un-supercharged cars, but I wanted this car because a supercharged car had a very heavy crankshaft and strong rods and valve gear and was ideal for racing. I bought the car, I stripped it of its huge 2 ton body and built a lightweight racing body for it and in later years I converted it again into a short chassis supercharged car. It was great fun and a good touring car, a good racing car, but I was getting a bit bored with the weight of the supercharged Bentleys. It was an enormous weight and one could sense this weight in accelerating because when you open the throttle it made more noise but the increasing speed was not proportional to the increase in noise and that was an indication of its great weight that it was pulling along. Also it made life very difficult if you wanted to stop in a hurry, because there was so much weight it wasn't easy to get the brakes to hold back the car.

I drove that car for a year or two and raced it and then to my astonishment one day the telephone rang and I was offered to buy the 1930 Birkin supercharged Le Mans team car. I mean this was a very, very rare thing and a very famous car and of course I bought it. It cost a record price. I mean everything I owned wasn't enough to pay for it so I had to again search around for a bit of loose cash to do it and sell a few watches... enough to cover my needs. I got the car and I enjoyed it very much, it was a very famous car and it was quite fun to turn up at a meeting with the world's most famous supercharged Bentley. I drove it for about 12 years and then I got tired of it, the size and weight, and in spite of all its history, I decided it would have to go. But I added to its history while I had it at the Nürburgring in Germany when a race was introduced for Bentleys and Mercedes and it was retrospection of Birkin's appearance at the Nürburgring in 1926 when he was well and soundly beaten by the Mercedes. So they thought they'd honour this event, and also the idea was that they nail this once again you see. But I took my supercharged Bentley and it had been Birkin's, and Birkin was the greatest driver in Europe, excepting only... I can't remember his name now... Nuvolari. He was the greatest driver in Europe excepting Nuvolari, and I knew the Birkin, who had been dead for some 20 years was not without capability of observing his car again and I knew he was there watching me. And I didn't think I must win, but I knew I must put up a good show. So we set off, and it was a race to see who could do the fastest lap and who could produce the most regular lap times, and I figured that the easiest way to get the most regular lap times was to go flat out all the way, and if I went flat out all the way, maybe I might get the fastest lap, so off I went. And the race was terrific fun and I wasn't sure which lap I was on and I wasn't sure what I was doing. I only sat there with my foot glued to the floor to keep the car at maximum speed and at the end of the allotted time, it transcribed that I had won. And so it was a great victory for the car you see, and the Germans didn't like it a bit and they very reluctantly handed me over this silver cup, which was the cup that had been given in Birkin's day to the Mercedes team but now to the English team. So that was my contribution to England's reputation as a racing nation.

George Daniels, CBE, DSc, FBHI, FSA (19 August 1926 - 21 October 2011) was an English watchmaker most famous for creating the co-axial escapement. Daniels was one of the few modern watchmakers who could create a complete watch by hand, including the case and dial. He was a former Master of the Clockmakers' Company of London and had been awarded their Gold Medal, a rare honour, as well as the Gold Medal of the British Horological Institute, the Gold Medal of the City of London and the Kullberg Medal of the Stockholm Watchmakers’ Guild.

Listeners: Roger Smith

Roger Smith was born in 1970 in Bolton, Lancashire. He began training as a watchmaker at the age of 16 at the Manchester School of Horology and in 1989 won the British Horological Institute Bronze Medal. His first hand made watch, made between 1991 and 1998, was inspired by George Daniels' book "Watchmaking" and was created while Smith was working as a self-employed watch repairer and maker. His second was made after he had shown Dr Daniels the first, and in 1998 Daniels invited him to work with him on the creation of the 'Millennium Watches', a series of hand made wrist watches using the Daniels co-axial escapement produced by Omega. Roger Smith now lives and works on the Isle of Man, and is considered the finest watchmaker of his generation.

Tags: Le Mans, Nürburgring, 1930 4½ litre Bentley, Mercedes, Tim Birkin, Tazio Giorgio Nuvolari, Sir Henry Ralph Stanley "Tim" Birkin

Duration: 5 minutes, 1 second

Date story recorded: May 2003

Date story went live: 24 January 2008