Just published, the sixth title in Evro’s decade-by-decade series covers the seven Le Mans 24 Hours races of the 1920s, plus, as a prologue, all the events held at the Le Mans circuit during the period 1906-23.This volume covers the exciting era in which Bentley came to the forefront, winning in 1924 with a sabotaged car, in 1927 with a damaged car, in 1928 with a broken car, and in 1929 with a car that set an entirely new standard for Le Mans racers. Woolf Barnato, the man whose wealth kept the company solvent, won twice, while Dudley Benjafield, ‘Tim’ Birkin, Frank Clement, Sammy Davis, John Duff and Bernard Rubin were the other ‘Bentley Boys’ who tasted success.
The victors in the other three years were French marques, Chenard-Walcker (in 1923) and Lorraine-Dietrich (in 1925 and 1926), and indeed French drivers and cars predominated in these early years, accounting for 220 of the 287 drivers and 38 of the 54 manufacturers that took part during the decade. Amazingly, only five of the competing manufacturers – Aston Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Chrysler and Peugeot – still exist.
The 24-hour event conceived by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) was originally called the ‘Grand Prix de l’Endurance’ and run as an endurance trial for series-production cars rather than as a motor race. But the teams went racing anyway and the event quickly matured into a unique challenge that fostered many advances in automotive engineering and technology – just as it still does today.
Aerodynamic bodies, front-wheel drive, air-cooled engines and four-wheel hydraulic brakes were tried and proven at Le Mans in this decade. Such was the pace of change that the fastest average speed jumped from 57.21mph (92.06kph) in 1923 to 73.63mph (118.49kph) by 1929.
The rapid evolution of the cars is seen vividly in this book’s photographs, which also show year by year how the crowds grew, how the circuit infrastructure expanded and even how the track surfaces improved.