The Brooklands Society
know your cars and drivers section


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Tim Birkin

Sir Henry Birkin Bt. was born into a wealthy Nottingham family in 1896, ultimately inheriting his father’s lace manufacturing business. In the early days of his motor racing, money was never an issue for Birkin but later on the cost of developing his blower Bentleys consumed most of his family fortune and he sought sponsorship which arrived in the form of Dorothy Paget who was known as a wealthy horse racing enthusiast.

Of all the Bentley boys Tim Birkin was the one schoolboys knew best. He was a ruthless driver who drove his cars very hard in a "press on" manner and became the ultimate racing icon of his time, silk scarf flying in the wind, a model of bravery and excitement. He was not a large man and he spoke with a strong and persistent stutter which belied his popular image but did nothing to damage his reputation as a lady killer on a very wide scale. Tim Birkin, alongside such names as Sir Henry Segrave and Malcolm Campbell was probably the most famous driver of his time - the Stirling Moss of the nineteen thirties.

He had many victories including first place at Le Mans in a Speed Six Bentley in which he shared the driving with Woolf Barnato. He set fastest lap for the race and between them they led the race from start to finish.

Walter Bentley designed his engines for smoothness, reliability and power and only went racing if he thought his cars could win and entirely to sell more cars. His answer to needing more speed was always to build a bigger engine, maintaining the quality and reliability image which would sell road cars with a sporting image. When Tim Birkin suggested supercharging this went against the grain at Bentleys and he resolved to to the job himself.

For 1930 the Hon. Dorothy Paget bankrolled Birkin’s 4 litre blower Bentley team which turned out to be incredibly expensive as the cars were consistently unreliable although very fast when they were working, The red Blower Birkin Bentley, which is still raced today in VSCC events, becoming a very famous and symbolic car in which he set a Brooklands Outer Circuit lap record in April 1930 of 135.34 m.p.h. At the end of that year Dorothy Paget felt that she had to bow out and the cars were sold off leaving Tim Birkin to look elsewhere, particularly as recession was looming and Bentleys also withdrew from racing.

He bought the red "Blower" and for 1931 he also purchased a Maserati for Grand Prix events and an Alfa Romeo for sports car racing. He won the Irish Grand Prix in the Alfa and Le Mans in partnership with Earl Howe. In partnership with George Eyston he used the Maserati to take fourth place in the French Grand Prix.

He continued to race the red "Blower" in which on the 24th March 1932 he raised the Brooklands Outer Circuit lap record to 137.96 m.p.h., beating Kaye Don’s Sunbeam record by 3.8 seconds. This record stood for another two years before being beaten by John Cobb’s Napier Railton and the Blower Bentley remains the fourth fastest car around Brooklands, having also ultimately been beaten by Whitney Straight’s Duesenberg and Chris Staniland’s Multi-Union in latter years.

In 1933 he bought a new Maserati and gained 3rd place in the Tripoli Grand Prix, the story has it, burning his arm on the hot exhaust pipe during practice while reaching into the cockpit for his cigarette lighter. He returned to London with his arm bandaged and was admitted to the Countess Carnarvon Nursing Home with septicaemia, generally assumed from the burn.

Dudley Benjafield fought hard to save Birkin’s life and he was recovering until a relapse, dying on June 22nd 1933. Walter Bentley maintained in his autobiography that Brkin’s death was not due to the burn but to a mosquito bite that he had picked up in Tripoli which sparked off septicemia which related back to malaria which he had picked up in Palestine during the First World War. Either way he was killed by blood poisoning prematurely ending the career of one of the best known and most accomplished of British drivers.

 

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