ASSEMBLY of the first new Bentley Blower in more than nine decades has officially started in a bespoke Bentley Mulliner workshop at the company's Crewe factory.
The so-called ‘Car Zero' is the engineering prototype for the Blower Continuation Series, a run of 12 meticulously engineered, hand-crafted, supercharged 4Â½-litre Bentleys built to the unique design of Bentley's own 1929 Team Car developed and raced by Sir Henry ‘Tim' Birkin.
The 12 cars together form the world's first continuation series for a pre-war car, and all have been pre-sold.
The first parts in the workshop are some of the most important and first to arrive was the chassis for the car - the backbone of the entire project, to which almost everything will be attached.
The fuel tank and radiator were next, as work was completed on the ash frame for the body. The first pair of headlights was delivered, while the mechanical aspects of the first car started to come together - the very first engine (complete with remade Amherst Villiers supercharger), the front axle assembly and the leaf springs.
As the 12 customers choose the colour and trim specifications for their cars, the engineering team is working hard on assembling the running prototype in time for its unveiling ahead of a development programme later this year.
Following a piece-by-piece disassembly of the Blower owned by Bentley - likely the most valuable Bentley in the world - and an exceptionally precise laser scanning of the frame and its components, new parts were ordered from a combination of fully digital CAD data and the original 1920s engineering drawings and drafts.
Bentley Mulliner's Tim Hannig said: "After almost a year of highly detailed engineering work, it is extremely rewarding to see the first parts coming together to form the first Bentley Blower in over 90 years.
"The skill of our engineers and technicians in completing hundreds of individual part specifications is equalled only by that of the artisans across the country that have handmade the components that we're now starting to bolt together. As we go, we're refining designs and fixing problems, which is exactly what a prototype build is for. We're all really excited to get this first car finished, and to show it to the world later this year."
From the outset of the project Bentley Mulliner sought to engage the best specialists across the country to create componentry for the Blower Continuation Series in a manner befitting such a creation - using traditional techniques passed down through generations.
With the very latest CAD technology finalising the exact designs to supplement the original engineering blueprints from the 1920s, work began at a multitude of small artisan businesses to bring the new Blower to life.
The chassis has been created in heavy-gauge steel, hand-formed and hot riveted by the specialists at Israel Newton & Sons Ltd. This 200-year old company, now based in Derbyshire, traditionally makes boilers for steam locomotives and traction engines, and as such has the skills to forge and shape metal in a traditional way.
The Vintage Car Radiator Company, based at Bicester Heritage in Oxfordshire, has crafted exact recreations of the some of the Blower's key components - including the mirror-polished, nickel-plated radiator shell and the hand-beaten fuel tank formed in steel and copper.
These parts will feed the first Blower's brand new 4Â½-litre engine, originally designed by W.O Bentley himself and now recreated by Bentley Mulliner with the expert support of specialists including NDR Ltd of Watford.
Featuring many innovations of which a sports car engine of the 1970s would be proud - aluminium pistons, an overhead camshaft, four valves per cylinder and twin spark ignition - the 4Â½-litre engine will meet a newly machined, exact recreation of an Amherst Villiers roots-type supercharger.
Mulliner's experts will then be tuning the engine on a specially-prepared testbed at the Bentley factory in Crewe, where together the engine and supercharger should generate around 240 bhp.
Leaf springs and shackles have been made to original specifications by Jones Springs Ltd of Darlaston in the West Midlands, a specialist with nearly 75 years of experience and a history that started in a blacksmith's forge.
The Blower's iconic headlamps have been reborn by Vintage Headlamp Restoration International Ltd in Sheffield. This father and son team is world-renowned for their silversmithing and ability to create vintage-design headlamps from original specifications.
Meanwhile, in the bespoke Mulliner trim shop in Crewe, a new ash frame created by Lomax Coachbuilders of Ludlow is going through the final stages of carpentry by Mulliner's team of experts, before hand-trimming starts through Mulliner's master craftsmen.
Over the course of the coming weeks, more and more components for Car Zero will be completed and test-fitted. The new engine and supercharger will be put through their paces on Bentley's engine development test beds in Crewe, while period-specific paint will be applied to the chassis before final assembly begins.
The finished Car Zero is due to make its first public appearance in the autumn - but only after it's been shown to the 12 customers of the extraordinary project.