From Lace to Race

Sir Henry Ralph Stanley Birkin, 3rd Baronet, one of the Bentley Boys, known as Tim Birkin, was born in a wealthy Nottingham Lace-making family in 1896 and died in 1933.

He joined the Royal Flying Corps during WW1 as a pilot, serving in Palestine, where he contracted malaria, a disease he would suffer from for the rest of his life.

His need for adrenaline experienced as a pilot was possibly the reason for his passion for fast cars.

Despite being a speed demon on the track, he was very heedful on public roads; he loathed people showing off in motor cars.

In 1927, he and his brother Archie entered the Six-Hour Race at Brooklands as members of the Bentley team.

He remained with Bentley for the following four years, three of which were with the Bentley Works team, until they withdrew from racing in 1930.

Bentleys started to become uncompetitive, and Tim had noticed Mercedes’s success with superchargers.

He tried to convince WO Bentley of the advantages of supercharging, but WO was not impressed.

WO later wrote, ‘To supercharge a Bentley was to pervert its design and corrupt its performance. When we wanted higher performance, we increased the engine size.

Not deterred, Tim, funded by the Hon. Dorothy Paget, built and raced his own Blower Bentley.

Unfortunately, whilst the Blower Bentley was fast, it was also unreliable.

But he continued to race his single-seater Blower, in which he twice raised the Brooklands lap record.

Frustrated by the lack of competitive British cars, Tim turned to Italy and raced Maserati’s and Alfa Romeos.

In 1933 he bought and raced a 3-litre 8C Maserati and managed to burn his arm on the exhaust pipe.

He developed septicaemia and died three weeks later, aged 37.