“Two months before the sixth running of the 24 Hours Dr Benjy Benjafield organized a small band of motoring brothers with the Bentley Le Mans team as an informal nucleus. The British Racing Drivers Club was conceived as a largely social entity to promote motor sports in general and celebrate any special or noteworthy performance and, if possible, to extend hospitality to racing drivers from oversees.. This usually involved a fairly elaborate evening meal. They got their first big chance to exercise their informal bylaws at Le Mans on June 16, 1928.
New rules from the ACO finally recognized the reality that the fans had known since May, 1923. Hence an overall winner was crowned in addition to the obtuse Biennial Cup and the quaint Index of Performance.
Bentley was joined by green cars from Aston-Martin, Lagonda (supported by an enthusiastic confederation of Britain’s top Lagonda dealers) and front wheel drive entries from Alvis. American cars included a quartet of white Chrysler Model 72 two place open tourers (with rumble seats to satisfy the four-place rule for large displacements cars) and a sinister looking funereal black Stutz DV — the noble Blackhawk roadster — with the potent Model AA OHC engine with Stutz’s celebrated underslung worm final drive that allowed an extraordinarily low cg for the time.
The rule requiring racers to raise the hoods of their cars was finally erased for the 1928 race and the 4:00 o’clock sprint was judged to be even more exciting with the Bentleys Aries and the lone Stutz away first.
Sunderland’s Frank Clement demolished the lap record from a standing start, raising the ante to 72.7 mph in the #8 Bentley. The Chryslers joined the green parade, just behind the lone Stutz on the third lap when the Robert Laly’s fast Aires, that had been annoying the Stutz at close quarters just a lap earlier, pitted unexpectedly and retired.
The Bentley Boys were constantly in the company of the three-speed Stutz and usually in the lead. Premium American cars of the era relied on flexibility and the paramount virtue of torque to define their high performance capabilities: Top speed and the ability to reach top gear quickly from rest were the ultimate American automotive virtues in the Twenties and Thirties. The Stutz’s juicy torque curve was so rich and flat that only the two top gears were required once the black number-one car achieved walking pace leaving the pits.
The Stutz vs. Bentley duel continued into the night and morning when the first tarnish on
the Bentley badge appeared. While a flat tire had hobbled the Davis/Chassange Bentley for nearly three hours, it was the near the ten hour mark when the number-two 4 ½ of Clement and Benjafield went to the dead car park claiming water pump failure. In fact vibrations had cracked the chassis, slowly dislocating the lower radiator hose and allowing all coolant to escape. This left only the number four Bentley of Le Mans rookies Cap.t Wolf Barnato and Bernard Rubin to fight the Stutz.
That battle continued into Sunday afternoon when the chassis cracking problem that had visited the Clement/Benjafield Bentley was discovered to be endemic. The posture of the leading number-4 car slowly became deranged. W.O. Bentley discovered that certain benefits of racing at Le Mans went well beyond commercial and promotional considerations. The 4 ½ liters’ chassis cracking problem had never appeared before and, without the abuse of Le Mans, might have been discovered ultimately by his customers, which would have been abhorrent to a man of W.O. Bentley’s character.
The problems in the Stutz pit were somewhat more conventional but more crippling: The Blackhawk had lost all but one gear, and even the lurching Bentley with Barnato aboard was able to keep the one-speed Stutz at bay. No such troubles on the Birkin/Chassagne Bentley that was racing the clock to qualify for the 1929 race. In the final hour Birkin reeled of a stunning fastest lap of 79.126 mph en route to fifth place behind two Chrysler, the crippled Stutz and heroic number four Bentley of Babe Barnato and Bernard Rubin.
The little 1100 cc Samson won the Rudge-Whitworth Cup and the number-27 Alvis won the 1100-1500 cc category and an fine sixth over-all. The two-liter class victory went to French-driven Italia but was outrun by the Alvis and the 750-1100 cc class winning B.N.C.
The performance of the American cars was sufficient to earn even the respect of the Bentley Boys and most of the newly minted BRDC members whose generous hospitality went only went so far.”