A Bentley Icon Is Being Reborn In Painstaking Multi-Million Dollar Detail

Bentley is bringing a legend back to life. The Speed Six is one of the British motoring firm's most successful and iconic cars. In the hands of Woolf Barnato, Sir Henry "Tim" Birkin, and Glen Kidston it won Le Mans twice, once in 1929 and again in 1930. The 1929 race saw Bentley dominate, with a Speed Six leading from the start and eventually cruising to victory with three other Bentleys following behind it.

The Speed Six's hulking 6.5-liter engine originally produced 147 horsepower, but subsequent refinement, adjustment of compression ratios, and additional parts led to a 180 horsepower version and eventually a 200 horsepower engine making it into the racing model. These numbers may not sound like much compared to a modern sedan, but in the late 1930s, they were world-beating.

Only 326 Speed Sixes were initially built, and they didn't exactly match up. The cars were built on a variety of different chassis and at different lengths to match the requirements of individual customers. In 1928, a dedicated, sportier chassis for the Speed Six was introduced with a choice of 138-inch, 140.5-inch, and 152.5-inch wheelbases; 182 of these models were assembled, with the 138-inch wheelbase being the most common. The racing version was even shorter, opting for a 132-inch wheelbase and favoring speed and agility over the comfort some customers expect from touring cars.

The Speed Six is going to be revived, but you can't have one

Bentley has announced that after 92 years, it is going to assemble a limited run of 13 cars that will be painstakingly assembled to match the original Speed Six units. One of these, the Car Zero, will remain in the hands of the company. The other 12 will cost upwards of $1.838 million each, but even if you have the cash in the bank, you won't be able to buy one. Bentley says the cars have already been reserved by a dozen lucky buyers from around the world.

A CAD model was constructed from old blueprints and two surviving examples of the Speed Six. Old Number Three was one of Bentley's entrants in the 1930 Le Mans 24 Hours. It survived the race and has been described as being in excellent condition, "still fully road legal," and actively raced by its owner today. The second reference car, which will be used to gather benchmark performance and handling data, is a 1929 Speed Six from Bentley's own collection. The second car has been described as "wearing an identical four-seat Vanden Plas body to the original racers and restored to the same specification."

The 12 cars will be hand-built by Bentley's Mulliner team and an "incredible array of artisans from a number of automotive heritage specialists across the U.K.," according to the automaker. Reproduction parts will be as accurate to the originals as possible, and Bentley even claims that many of the parts will be "crafted using the same techniques used in the 1920s." 

This isn't Mulliner's first rodeo

Mulliner, described by Bentley as the "world's oldest coachbuilder," has previously built 12 reproduction Bentley Blowers. That project, launched in late 2019, saw the automaker dismantle one of four original Blower race cars, and create a 3D representation of each of the hundreds of components. While Bentley may have led the revival, it turned to some of the companies involved in the heritage cars to recreate their works: Israel Newton & Sons Ltd. hand-made the heavy-gauge steel chassis, for example, while Lomax Coachbuilders crafted brand new ash frames.

It's part of a move by several automakers with lengthy histories to revisit some of the classic models which helped build their legacies. Back in 2016, for instance, Jaguar revealed its first "new" XKSS to be built in almost six decades. The hand-made handiwork of Jaguar Classic, nine of the roadsters were made to the same specifications as the 1950s originals, filling in a gap in the original production run after the factory — and all the tools and fabrication equipment — burned down in 1957 before the 25 car series could be completed. 

Bentley has announced that production of the first Continuation Series Speed Six is expected to begin later this year. For modern Bentley drivers, meanwhile, Mulliner has customization options for slightly more affordable — not to mention high-tech — cars. The Flying Spur Mulliner takes the already-lavish sedan and adds further hand-crafted details inside and out, while the recently-unveiled Continental GT Mulliner does much the same for the grand tourer. Those with particularly deep budgets can always wait for an invitation to purchase some of the division's even more exclusive creations, such as the roofless Mulliner Bacalar of which only twelve were planned.