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Birkin Paget and the Blower Bentleys


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#1 RTH

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 15:44

Those who have read Sir Henry ('Tim') Birkin's autobiography 'Full Throttle' written in 1932, just a year before he died, and or seen the made for television film of the same title in the series 'Great British Heroes made in 1994 with Rowan Atkinson playing Birkin, will be familiar with the story.

Having experienced the speed of Rudi Carraciola in the supercharged Mercedes Benz first hand , Birkin tried in vain to persuade Walter Owen Bentley to produce a supercharged Bentley to head off this new challenge.

Bentley was very much against the idea, so Birkin decided to produce a supercharged 4 1/2 Litre racing Bentley himself. Birkin commissioned Amherst Villiers to design a 'blown' version of the car .
Birkin persuaded Barnato who by this time in 1928 was personally funding Bentley Motors to agree to supply the cars.
So Birkin took two workshops in Welwyn Garden City , Hertfordshire, in fact 19, Broadwater Road .
Well he soon found the cost of doing this was high and his father who owned a lace making business announced the firm was bankrupt in no small way due to the drain of Birkin's racing activities.

So Tim Birkin cultivated a friendship with the Hon. Dorothy Paget then 25 who was from a fabulously wealthy family spending her life following the fortunes of her many top class race horses, ( she always took two Rolls Royces to the races so that she was never mechanically embarrassed, and typically bet £ 10,000 on one of her horses to win !)

Birkin persuaded Paget to back his Bentley building activities in Welwyn garden City from 1929 to 1931, by which time of course Bentley Motors had failed financially and were taken over by Rolls Royce and in any case Paget felt she could no longer carry the burden of the operation.

30 people worked in these two factory units part of a row of a dozen or more identical ones in a row built in the 1920s.

So yesterday in 30th June 2007 I set out to see if the building were still there , all but 2 of these buildings have been removed and the area redeveloped. Miraculously whether by design or just luck no. 19 (Topps Tiles in my photo ) and its neighbour are the only survivors, the buildings where Birkin produced about 40 of the 4 1/2 litre supercharged Bentley tourers each costing around £1700 very nearly 80 years ago.


All the more strange as we went through Hatfield yesterday afternoon coming the other way was a supercharged Bentley registered GY something one of the very cars to originate in those very factory buildings , quite spooky !!

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#2 fuzzi

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 16:02

Thanks for the photos it's good to see a little bit of history surviving.

I always believed that the Blower Bentleys were made by the works. WO said in at least one book that the investment necessary to build the 50 or so in series to qualify as a catalogue model took funding away from the expensive but profitable 8 litre and hastened the end at Cricklewood.

The Birkin & Couper works at Welwyn prepared the Birkin-Paget Team cars for racing.

#3 Doug Nye

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 16:51

So this would be where one F.R.W. 'Lofty' England and his mates worked for Birkin & Couper...coo.

DCN

#4 Leigh Trevail

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Posted 02 July 2007 - 06:49

The Hon. Dorothy Paget lived at Brandon in Suffolk, part of the estate now forms the
Brandon Country Park which is open to the public.

#5 Allan Lupton

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Posted 02 July 2007 - 08:27

These buildings were featured in a book about British car factories published a few years ago.
However the authors made one of their classic schoolboy howlers when it came to naming the wealthy backer . . .

#6 simonlewisbooks

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Posted 02 July 2007 - 08:55

WO said about 10% of the reason for Bentley's failure was down to the Blower but the majority of the problem was Barnato stepping down from the board (and presumably ceasing to prop the company up financially) and a string of what today might be called asset-strippers taking his place.

the Rowan Atkinson TV programme included a delightfully tongue in cheek line - Birkin is showing Lady Dorothy round the factory
"Now let me see - this one is blown?" she asks pointing at one car - then to another alongside
".. and this one isn't? And you'd like me to blow this one?"
Birkin nods enthusiastically with a suitably Terry-Thomas style leer on his face

#7 RTH

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Posted 02 July 2007 - 10:54

The film producers were not , shall we say scrupulous about keeping to the book. Miss Paget was portrayed as a complete 'airhead' and from what I have read this was not the case.

http://ourworld.comp...cing/owners.htm

http://en.wikipedia....i/Dorothy_Paget

http://www.brookland...list/birkin.htm

http://en.wikipedia..../Blower_Bentley

http://en.wikipedia....ki/Henry_Birkin


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This lovely photograph posted by Scuderia SSS from the FOS thread



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This splendid picture posted by Maldwyn from the FOS thread

#8 RTH

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Posted 02 July 2007 - 12:32

Originally posted by Allan Lupton
These buildings were featured in a book about British car factories published a few years ago.
However the authors made one of their classic schoolboy howlers when it came to naming the wealthy backer . . .


What did they say Allan ?

#9 Allan Lupton

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Posted 03 July 2007 - 09:30

Originally posted by RTH


What did they say Allan ?


Mirabel Topham!!!!! :rotfl:

#10 RTH

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Posted 03 July 2007 - 10:48

Originally posted by Allan Lupton
These buildings were featured in a book about British car factories published a few years ago.



Do you still have the book details Allan, wonder if anyone knows if its still available anywhere ?

#11 simonlewisbooks

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Posted 03 July 2007 - 11:08

Originally posted by RTH



Do you still have the book details Allan, wonder if anyone knows if its still available anywhere ?


I have one in stock Richard, title details are -

"British Car Factories From 1896 A Complete Historical Geographical Architectural & Technological Survey by Paul Collins & Michael Stratton." quite a mouthful.... published by Veloce 1993.

Despite not being very old this is now a very rare book so the one I have, which is in 'as-new' condition is £55.00 (if you check web sites thats still about £20 cheaper than anyone else....)

#12 Tim Murray

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Posted 01 August 2007 - 20:46

A bit of idle Googling has revealed something I don't recall reading before - Dorothy Paget and Whitney Straight were first cousins. Also (as Vitesse 2 pointed out here ) Dorothy's sister Olive was the mother of Sir Gawaine Baillie.

#13 Gregor Marshall

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 11:28

Sorry to resurrect this thread but I've just finished reading one of the new(er) WO Bentley books and there was a great line in it about Dorothy Paget and it says something along the lines of;

"Dorothy Paget - a twenty stone plus lady with an aversion to men and the richest unmarried women in Britain".

Now I'm not sure, but I take it that meant either she was not an attractive lady or she preferred to play with her own kind but I loved the fact she was commonly known as the richest unmarried woman in Britain!!

Was she involved in any other car racing activities or was it just with Bentley and Birkin?

#14 RTH

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 11:52

Apparently she liked to do everything to excess that included eating and gambling. She was known to have bet £10000 on a horse to win in 1930 that would have been more than £300,000 ! She owned stables at least 2 large country houses and a string of the very best race horses in the country.

She always took two Rolls Royces to horse race meetings .....just in case one broke down !!

So far as I know her only involvement with motor racing was with Birkin. Horse racing was her passion.

#15 RobertE

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 11:08

I think I'm right in saying that Dorothy Paget also owned the Elsenham Jam business, which is still going.

#16 RTH

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 11:49

Yes I believe you are right Robert they also had a big house closeby there as well.

#17 P0wderf1nger

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Posted 22 November 2008 - 13:36

Forgive my late arrival, I've only just come across this thread.

Paget did indeed prefer her own. When she greeted with a kiss her most famous horse, Golden Miller (who won a Grand National and five Cheltenham Gold Cups), in a winning circle one afternoon, the following conversation is said to have taken place:
'That must be the first time she's kissed a male'
'Yes, and he's only a gelding!'

I believe the Birkin team was the only time she invested in motor racing, but Tim did give her sufficient driving lessons that she felt competent enough to race at Brooklands as 'Miss Wyndham'. Whether she was any good or not is another thing altogether. John Bolster recalled her engaging the supercharger of her Mercedes on the start line at Shelsley Walsh, then setting off in reverse...

But her stable of cars was as impressive as her stable of horses. It was Paget who bought the world's first supercharged Rolls-Royce from its original owner, Jack Kruse. This was the Phantom I to which Amherst Villiers fitted a little engine on its near side running board to drive the blower. Birking took the heavyweight vehicle round Brooklands at a claimed 108 mph. Thus was the cast of the Birkin Blowers assembled, two years before the Blower Bentley saw the light of day...

Have you heard how, if she had to travel by train, she booked the whole coach, or bought two tickets for Wimbledon, one for her, the other for her handbag?

There was nobody quite like Dorothy Paget!

Rgds

Paul

#18 RTH

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Posted 22 November 2008 - 14:32

Fascinating Paul, where did you unearth all that ?

#19 P0wderf1nger

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Posted 22 November 2008 - 15:05

Originally posted by RTH
Fascinating Paul, where did you unearth all that ?

I'm writing Amherst's biography. 'Tha Man Who Supercharged Bond' will be published by Haynes next summer.

If you want to learn more about Paget, I can recommend Quintin Gilbey's 'Queen of the Turf', published by Arthur Barker Limited in 1973. Virtually nothing on Birkin, but a fascinating read about a remarkable woman.

Rgds

Paul

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#20 RTH

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Posted 22 November 2008 - 19:42

Keep us posted on that Paul , sounds very interesting.

#21 fbarrett

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Posted 22 November 2008 - 23:04

Maybe not Blowers, but how often do you see four vintage Bentleys above 12,000 feet?

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2003 Colorado Grand, just east of Aspen.

Frank

#22 markpde

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Posted 23 November 2008 - 00:12

Originally posted by fbarrett
Maybe not Blowers, but how often do you see four vintage Bentleys above 12,000 feet?

2003 Colorado Grand, just east of Aspen.

Frank

Just out of curiosity, if they were Blowers, does anyone know how the altitude would affect the supercharger (if at all), compared to a normally aspirated engine? (Sorry, maybe we should start a thread in the Technical Forum! ;) )

It's just that there's a marvellous passage in the book 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance', where they ride over the mountain pass between Red Lodge and Bozeman in Montana - the 'high country', the author calls it - snowfields in June - and he has to adjust the carburettors of his motorcycle to run leaner, to prevent it running too rich due to the rarified air, then vice versa when they come back down.

(That passage ends with the line, 'We move among rocks and lakes and trees now, taking beautiful turns and curves of the road.' - I expect everyone here relates to that! :) )

#23 RTH

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Posted 23 November 2008 - 08:52

I would think at altitude the Blower cars ,most of the time, would perform much the same as at sea level the pressure relief valve maintaining manifold pressure but the compressor working longer and harder. Whereas the normally aspirated cars would have less power at altitude.

#24 P0wderf1nger

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Posted 23 June 2013 - 21:16

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of Tim Birkin's untimely death. A rally marking the anniversary began with a wreath-laying ceremony at his grave at St Nicholas' Church, Blakeney.

The dedication on the wreath reads, 'Tim Birkin, who gave us inspiration beyond mortality, and the dream of living a life at full throttle.'

Rgds

Paul

https://dl.dropboxus...81679360/Birkin

#25 David Birchall

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 01:04

My favorite memory of the Blower Bentleys is of Phil Hill at the Monterey Historics in 1978 (?) when it was a Tribute to Bentley year. Hill was driving his own Blower-the ex Amherst Villiers car-and he just blew the rest of the field away-pun intended. He would come through the slow turn in front of the pits with the car sideways and bellowing, smoke flowing from under the bonnet-apparently from a minor oil leak. He thrashed that car! It was only a few years really since he had retired from professional racing and it showed!

#26 raceannouncer2003

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 05:45

There is an article on a Bentley in the Mille Miglia at this site:

http://www.kidston.com

It is titled:

"The Brits Are Coming: In Birkin’s Tyre Tracks On The 2013 Mille Miglia"

Vince H.

#27 Roger Clark

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 08:18

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of Tim Birkin's untimely death. A rally marking the anniversary began with a wreath-laying ceremony at his grave at St Nicholas' Church, Blakeney.

The dedication on the wreath reads, 'Tim Birkin, who gave us inspiration beyond mortality, and the dream of living a life at full throttle.'

I visited Birkin's grave many years ago, probably the mid-60s. I remember it as very overgrown and with a completely different headstone. Has it been changed?


#28 Alan Cox

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 11:06

UU 5872 (#HB3043), Birkin Blower No.2, currently in the safe custody of Bentley Motors and seen at last week's Cholmondeley Pageant of Power
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#29 P0wderf1nger

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 16:46

I visited Birkin's grave many years ago, probably the mid-60s. I remember it as very overgrown and with a completely different headstone. Has it been changed?

I can't be sure, Roger. I can tell you that the entire churchyard is well-maintained. The headstone looks of the same style as the surrounding ones, but appears to have been re-fettled. A couple of model Blowers, obscured by the wreath in the picture above, have been left there.

A villager told one member of the Rally that he pops by each Saturday and 'has a little chat with Sir Henry, so he's not lonely.'

There is a small car park outside the churchyard, and cars aren't normally allowed in the churchyard itself. However, I understand the vicar is a grandson of Archie Frazer Nash, so an SSK, a Talbot and a whole phalanx of Bentleys were admitted.

Rgds

Paul

#30 P0wderf1nger

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 17:12

My favorite memory of the Blower Bentleys is of Phil Hill at the Monterey Historics in 1978 (?) when it was a Tribute to Bentley year. Hill was driving his own Blower-the ex Amherst Villiers car-and he just blew the rest of the field away-pun intended. He would come through the slow turn in front of the pits with the car sideways and bellowing, smoke flowing from under the bonnet-apparently from a minor oil leak. He thrashed that car! It was only a few years really since he had retired from professional racing and it showed!

It was 1979, David, and I would love to have seen him in action.

He let Dan Gurney drive the Blower back to Santa Monica the next day, and Dan kindly contributed the following description of the journey to my biography of Villiers.

She had tall gears and she loped along at 100 without straining at all. I was driving an open roadster with the windshield down, and I could have been in 1930 or ’31. If ever there was a ‘King of the Road’ kind of feeling, it was in that car. It was easy, effortless, it just cantered along. It was capable of sustaining high speed motoring for a very long time. I knew she could do 130, so it was duck soup to do 100. If you had a gap to the next car which you needed to close, you could gas it at 100 and it would accelerate.

Cruising down the Pacific Coast Road at about 100, we came across a whole flock of Panteras, about nine or ten of them. I picked them off one at a time. I’m sure they couldn’t believe such an old car could blow them away. Well, we started to get hungry so we pulled into a restaurant. Gradually we were joined by the Pantera drivers and we had a talk with them. After about half an hour, the last of them showed up, and he was obviously angry. He’d been given a speeding ticket by the police. The’d asked him if he’d seen a big old green roadster going way too fast. They’d been trying to follow us for half an hour!


Rgds

Paul


#31 Doug Nye

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 19:17

When pressed to do so, Phil would tell that same story...giggling repeatedly at the memory. I have always adored the notion of those two great warriors, picking off the wannabes in their 'supercars' like a barracuda through a shoal of sardine...showing them how... :cool:

DCN

#32 Ray Bell

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Posted 25 June 2013 - 22:50

Originally posted by P0wderf1nger
I'm writing Amherst's biography. 'The Man Who Supercharged Bond' will be published by Haynes next summer.....


What a shame you have to use a title to get popular coverage...

In the meantime, I'm pondering what those Pantera owners would have thought if the car had been six-wheel equipped. Undoubtedly their spare tyres were skinny little ones tucked away in some tiny corner and make their cars look like a joke on the road, not causing undue wind resistance or aesthetic disturbance.

A great story!

I wonder if she was there for the gelding process...

#33 arttidesco

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Posted 26 June 2013 - 00:03

Gradually we were joined by the Pantera drivers and we had a talk with them. After about half an hour, the last of them showed up, and he was obviously angry. He’d been given a speeding ticket by the police. The’d asked him if he’d seen a big old green roadster going way too fast. They’d been trying to follow us for half an hour![/i]

Rgds

Paul


Thanks for sharing :cool:

#34 ensign14

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Posted 26 June 2013 - 07:31

Does the thread title make anyone else think of trad jazz?

#35 Ray Bell

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Posted 26 June 2013 - 09:38

Would it still do if Twinny slipped a comma in there?

Right after "Birkin"...

#36 P0wderf1nger

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Posted 26 June 2013 - 09:57

What a shame you have to use a title to get popular coverage...

If only I had got popular coverage...

#37 David Birchall

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Posted 03 July 2013 - 17:46

I bought this excellent book as a result of this discussion and I am now half way through it. Very thoroughly researched. I had no idea Amherst Villiers (pronounced Vill-ers old chap!) was closely related to Winston Churchill! He also worked unpaid for Raymond Mays (for three years) and for Malcolm Campbell (miserable SOB) since he was just so obsessed with improving cars for racing.
I have attached a couple of pages of photos and I hope Paul is OK with that-if not, I will remove them. Hill and Gurney with the ex-Amherst Villiers Blower on their way home after Hill's wonderful performance at the 1979 Monterey Historics--note the license plate:

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And Amherst Villiers shown restoring his Blower Bentley in California. Look at that crankshaft! It must weigh 100lbs. The rods appear to be aluminium:

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Uploaded with ImageShack.us

Edited by David Birchall, 03 July 2013 - 17:51.


#38 Sebastian Tombs

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Posted 03 July 2013 - 19:57

Just love that story and the pic of Phil and Dan with the Bentley. It could be the TNF cover picture if we had one! (note reg number)

ST :wave:

#39 P0wderf1nger

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Posted 03 July 2013 - 20:15

I don’t mind at all, David. That’s probably my favourite spread of images. Three of them came from old friends of Amherst who knew him in California, and helped on the restoration. As for that one of the old warriors – I was chuckling with glee, typing up my phone conversation with Dan, when an email arrived from Evi asking if I wanted to use the attached photo! The registration number amused me too when I first saw it.

The car has since been re-united with its original GP21 registration and is still only on its fourth owner, John Bentley (no relation). He bought it from Phil, who bought it from Amherst.

John and Phil once co-drove it on a Mille Miglia Storica. Phil went unrecognised for some days, in leather helmet and goggles, but once the Italians identified him he was feted wherever they went. He got frustrated with the rattling windscreen on one leg, and wedged a folded-up piece of card beneath it. It’s still there.

Thanks for your kind comments about the book. If I may be excused a shameless plug, discounted copies, with a personal dedication from me, are available from my web site (see link below).

Rgds

Paul

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#40 P0wderf1nger

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 16:04

The car has since been re-united with its original GP21 registration

That’s embarrassing – the original registration was GP42, chassis number MS3937, engine number MS3942. Source, Michael Hay’s Blower Bentley (Number One Press, 2001).

Now there is a good book.

Rgds

Paul



#41 Ray Bell

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 22:54

I'd rather hoped to hear by now of your book, Paul...

Did you not get my e-mail?

#42 P0wderf1nger

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 13:32

I'd rather hoped to hear by now of your book, Paul...

Did you not get my e-mail?

Apologies, Ray, I've been laid up in bed this week, and this was a prompt to check web site email.

I've sent you an email by return.

Rgds

Paul

#43 elansprint72

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Posted 09 August 2013 - 13:19

A bit of news re the Birkin single-seater; apologies if this has been reported in another thread (if so, the search function did not find it).

http://www.bbc.co.uk...mshire-23574665

#44 P0wderf1nger

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Posted 10 August 2013 - 07:38

A bit of news re the Birkin single-seater; apologies if this has been reported in another thread (if so, the search function did not find it).

http://www.bbc.co.uk...mshire-23574665

I find this odd. The car was bought last September. Has the export ban only been put on it now, or has the ban only become news now?

Can Doug tell us more?

Rgds

Paul

#45 Peter Morley

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Posted 10 August 2013 - 08:23

I find this odd. The car was bought last September. Has the export ban only been put on it now, or has the ban only become news now?

Can Doug tell us more?

Rgds

Paul


Seems strange that they now decide to stop a single car moving to Germany when they didn't mind the company itself being sold there!

#46 Pullman99

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Posted 04 October 2013 - 19:52

Anyone know the latest on this saga?    The export bar lasts until 31st October - and can be extemded to allow an appropriate organistaion more time to raise fuunds - but I have not been aware of any UK museum making themselves known as a potential purchaser.   The costs are, of course very high, although a Ferrai 250 GTO has reputedly recently been sold for $52 Million.   And, then, there are the Duke of Sutherland's two Titians at £45 Milluion apiece!

 

The National Motor Museum (although they're currently exhibiting Sir Malcolm Campbell's 1935 Blue Bird; you would only know by checking the Press Release on their website) seems to have been silent on the subject of the Birkin Single Seater.  Brooklands would probably be the only other logical "home" for this car.



#47 elansprint72

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Posted 10 October 2013 - 19:51

Anyone know the latest on this saga?  ....................

 

And, then, there are the Duke of Sutherland's two Titians at £45 Milluion apiece!

 

 

Someone has to say it and it might as well be me:

That is a very expensive pair of Tits.

 

It has gone really quiet; I've suggested to a "well-known motor-manufacturer" that they might want to off-load some of their "no longer relevant old stock" and put this one in the collection. No response so far.   ;)