Which of the two Bentley 4 1/2-Liter Blower models above is an original from 1929—and which one is the in-house re-creation that just rolled out of Bentley’s facilities in Crewe? Take a minute, it might seem confusing at first. Give up? Well, both are legitimate, factory Bentley Blowers. (A variant company founder W.O. Bentley hated, as it happens.) The one in the foreground, however, with the big “0” painted on its grille, is the first of 13 Continuation Series models painstakingly recreated in the original supercharged Bentley’s likeness. Per Bentley, that makes the car—dubbed “Car Zero”—the first brand-new so-called Blower Bentley to roll out of its factory since 1930.
Car Zero is thus the prototype for Bentley’s Mulliner operation. Twelve more are coming, but this is the development mule that will be battle-tested before those customer cars are completed. Before you even ask, sorry—those customer cars have all been spoken for, so you’re as tethered to the used Blower Bentley market now as you were before Mulliner undertook the task of resurrecting this 90-year-old model for people richer than, well, almost everyone.
The prototype will be put through rigorous durability testing, just like a real, modern preproduction car. But we almost wouldn’t care if it barely functioned; you could be satisfied simply parking it in your house or chalet or 60-car climate-controlled garage facility and staring. After disassembling the 1929 racing Blower it has in its possession, Bentley’s staffers set about laser-scanning every part, generating a “complete digital CAD model” of the antique beast. Surprisingly, not everything was handled in-house; Bentley instead contracted out numerous detail jobs to specialists. The chassis was formed and hot riveted together by Israel Newton & Sons, Ltd., a 200-year-old company known for making boilers for steam engines. The solid nickel silver radiator surround and copper and steel fuel tank were beaten together by the Vintage Car Radiator Company. Jones Springs Ltd handled the leaf springs and shackles, Vintage Headlamp Restoration International Ltd crafted the headlights, and Lomax Coachbuilders furnished a new ash body frame that was then covered in Rexine in the Mulliner shop in Crewe.
Mulliner had to create several tools and jigs to handle the construction and testing of the Car Zero, including a test cradle for evaluating the 4 1/2-litre engine, a “100-year-old design,” as Bentley puts it. The cradle mimics the front section of the Blower Bentley’s chassis, and allows the old engine to mesh with Bentley’s computerized dynamometer. Special software and coding was required to make that system even understand what it was dyno’ing, and Bentley humble-brags that some parts that were used originally saw duty evaluating Merlin V-12 aircraft engines (a task which Bentley handled going back to 1938). The engine itself is an exact replica of the supercharged mill in Tim Birkin’s Team Blowers (one of which was the example scanned to create Car Zero), and Bentley amusingly notes that it has many features that would have made a 1970s-era sports car blush, from aluminum pistons to an overhead camshaft to a magnesium crankcase.
The completed Blower Bentley Car Zero will next be put through more than 20,000 miles of real-world testing, and about 5,000 miles of track testing. Even the car’s top speed will be pressed, a vaguely terrifying feat of bald danger that we aren’t sure needs to occur. In any event, the result, even in repose as seen here, is thrilling. Resplendent in black livery with blood-red Bridge of Weir leather innards, the first brand-new Blower Bentley in 90 years is a thing to behold. All in a day’s work for Bentley, which aims to help drive the future of motoring, too, with its plans to go fully electric by 2030.