Gentleman racers were once the backbone of motorsport the world over.
With a pocket full of spends and a devil-may-care attitude, they were far removed from the current crop of advertising-clad, expressionless factory drivers doing the hard-nosed business of competing in modern motorsport.
The halcyon days may not yet be lost; Bentley's latest foray into motorsport amounts to an unashamed attempt to recall such a past. And Australians will have the opportunity to join in.
The two-tonne-plus Bentley Continental GT might seem unfeasible as a race car but that ignores the brand's rich racing history and a habit of overcoming minor details such as kerb mass and blockhouse aerodynamics. Not to mention generations of privateer motorsport enthusiasts who helped give the Bentley brand its racy edge.
In the 1920s, with wins at Le Mans and racing on the public roads against famous trains, the “Bentley Boys” as they became known, were a powerful marketing force even before anyone knew what marketing was.
If you want to be a modern-day Bentley Boy, you'll need to be the man or woman that can stump up the readies for a factory-built race-car, the Continental GT3.
Factory-backed entries of the GT3 were put through their paces at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July and raced at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi in December, setting the groundwork to offer turn-key race cars to privateer teams in the same fashion as the likes of Porsche, Ferrari and even Mercedes-Benz.
Robin Peel , Bentley's head of marketing and communications for Asia-Pacific, says while Bentley will continue to enter its own cars in GT races, it also plans to build and deliver somewhere 10 to 12 customer cars as well.
“We've already got strong interest from privateer racers,” Mr Peel confirms. “Including two very serious Australians.”
Mr Peel would not divulge names - one is reportedly from WA, the other a Victorian - but says he is optimistic he can convert that interest into sales.
Bentley is not new to the concept of motor racing as a means of creating brand interest, nor the monied young men who buy into an indulgent lifestyle.
The original Bentley Boys were instrumental in not only racing Bentleys, but also keeping the brand in the spotlight with daring deeds such as the celebrated cross-country races against Le Train Bleu in France.
Young men such as Dr Dudley Benjafield and Sir Henry (Tim) Birkin, often with military backgrounds and plenty of loot to splash, were fond of W.O. Bentley's product and took to tearing around the British countryside shouting “tally-ho” and “lock up your socialites”.
Chief among them (literally) was Woolf Barnato who not only raced and won in Bentleys at Brooklands, but just a year after acquiring his first Bentley, also managed to acquire the chairmanship of the company.
By stumping up the not-inconsiderable sum of £100,000-plus back in 1926, Barnato wrested control of the company. With his investment, Bentley was able to design its next generation of cars.
Barnato was keen on the whole racing scene, and set about keeping Bentley at the pointy end of competition. In the process, his cars won the 24 Hours of Le Mans four times on the trot (1927-30).
Tim Birkin was soon on the team and, in 1929, had developed the relatively lightweight Blower Bentley (named after its supercharged engine) including no fewer than five racing specials.
The great depression of 1929 put paid to these japes, though, and in 1931, after crumbling sales, Barnato defaulted on two mortgage payments and a receiver was appointed to Bentley Motors Limited.
Using a shelf company, Rolls Royce acquired the Bentley assets and almost immediately, put a stop to the company's spending on motor racing. One can only imagine the wake at the next Bentley Boys bash.
The latter-day Bentley Boy, meanwhile, is still likely to be someone with a taste for the good things in life. They will need to be, as a customer-specification Continental GT GT3 race-car will lighten the coffers to the tune of roughly $815,000, although that does include the car and some factory technical support.
David Morley travelled to Abu Dhabi as a guest of Bentley Motors Ltd.