John Duff

Briggs’ Bentley has tale and a half to tell

BENTLEY motor cars have always held a fascination for Perth car collector Peter Briggs.  

The York Flying 50 events held at York in Western Australia’s Avon Valley became well known in the 1980s, with the sight of the mining entrepreneur charging around the street course in a massive supercharged ‘blower’ Bentley.

These days, Peter Briggs is comfortable driving a more sedate version of Walter Owen Bentley’s famous marque.  

It is, however, a car with a remarkable history.

His 1922 Bentley 3.0-litre was built for a colourful race driver John Duff, who went racing with the car and set a record for 24 hours covering 2082 miles at 86.69mph.

He then took the car to the first Le Mans 24 Hour race in France in 1923.

It was the first British car, and indeed, the first international entry in the legendary 24 hour endurance race.

The Bentley set the inaugural lap record at 66.69mph, coming fourth on the road after a frustrating mechanical breakdown which stopped them recording a win.

WO Bentley watched the event from the sidelines, loved it, and resolved to return with a factory team in 1924.

They won in 1924 and began the golden years of Bentley at Le Mans.

As WO put it, “I suppose the person to whom we owed most was John Duff.”

Peter Briggs and the Bentley

John Duff was one of the original famed Bentley Boys.

They were London playboys known for their lavish lifestyles and passion for racing the British marque.

Duff had many lives including teaching Hollywood star Gary Cooper how to fence before he appeared in the 1928 cinema classic – Beau Geste.

He was also Cooper’s stunt double for the film.

The Bentley Boys ‘family’ through the years included, among others, Woolf “Babe” Barnato, heir to Kimberley diamond magnate Barney Barnato, Dr J Dudley “Benjy” Benjafield, Sir Henry “Tim” Birkin, Frank Clement, famed automotive journalist S C H “Sammy” Davis, Baron Andre d’Erlanger, aviator Glen Kidston, pearl fishery magnate Bernard Rubin and French racing ace Jean Chassagne.

Books have been written about the Bentley Boys and stories of their inspirational lives and achievements have filled countless newspaper and magazine pages.

And the car that started it all, is the one first driven by John Duff and long since owned by Peter Briggs.

It’s now the centenary of Bentley Motors and events are being held all around the world to celebrate the quintessential British brand.

Already, Peter and his wife, Robin, have shown the car at the new Sydney Harbour Concours d’Elegance in Australia, winning the Bentley Centenary award at that show.

A car with such a remarkable history has attracted the interest of many prestige event organisers and the Briggs’ are shipping it from Perth to car shows all over the world.

At the time of writing the first stop of the Bentley Centenary year world tour was the Elégance et Automobile à Monte Carlo, then the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace near London and the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

The car was also to be exhibited at the world’s premier Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach, in California.  

“It’s set to be an exciting northern summer for our car,” Briggs said.

“I never tire of showing the car around the world and talking about how the Bentley Boys story actually started with my car.”

Bentley Boys group pic:  Bernard Rubin, Woolf Barnato, Sir Henry Birkin, Frank Clement and Joseph Dudley Benjafield at Le Mans in 1928.

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