The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the world's most prestigious and challenging races, testing the speed, endurance, and reliability of both cars and drivers. It is also a race that has a special significance for Bentley, a brand that has won it six times in its history.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of its last victory at Le Mans in 2003 and the 100th edition of the race itself, Bentley has created a limited edition of its flagship model, the Bentley Continental GT. The Le Mans Collection is a series of 48 cars, available in both coupe and convertible body styles, that pay homage to Bentley's racing heritage and its connection to the legendary race.
The Bentley Continental GT Le Mans Collection is based on the GT Speed variant, which means it is powered by the mighty 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged W12 engine that produces 650hp and 900Nm of torque. This enables the car to accelerate from 0 to 62mph in 3.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 208mph. The car also features a dynamic ride control system, air suspension, active dampers, all-wheel steering, and an electronic limited-slip differential to ensure smooth and agile handling.
But what sets the Le Mans Collection apart from the regular Bentley Continental GT are the bespoke details that evoke Bentley's racing legacy. The most striking feature is the Verdant green paintwork, contrasted by a white stripe that runs over the bonnet and roof (or tonneau cover on the convertible) and a white number '7' on the black mesh grille. These elements are inspired by the livery of the #7 Speed 8 that crossed the finish line first in 2003, driven by Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello, and Guy Smith.
The car also features black 22-inch wheels with red brake calipers, carbon fiber exterior trim, and a black 'horseshoe' section on the boot lid and lower front bumper. The interior is equally lavish and distinctive, with a combination of leather, Alcantara, walnut and carbon fiber materials. The unique feature is a small window on the dashboard that displays half of an engine valve from the actual #7 Speed 8, surrounded by 'Le Mans Collection' lettering and the car's chassis number. This rare and authentic piece of motorsport memorabilia connects the owner to Bentley's glorious past.
Another nod to Le Mans is a digital clock with a 24-hour face, replacing the standard analog one. The car also boasts a rotating infotainment screen, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, and polished stainless steel sills with six silver wreath emblems and the silhouette of the Speed 8.
The Le Mans Collection is a celebration of Bentley's most recent victory at Le Mans and a tribute to its glorious past at the legendary race. Bentley has a long and proud history at Le Mans, dating back to the race's first edition in 1923 when a Bentley 3 Litre Sport finished fourth overall and first in its class.
Bentley's first outright win came in 1924, with John Duff and Frank Clement behind the wheel of another 3 Litre Sport. This was followed by four consecutive wins from 1927 to 1930, with the legendary Bentley Boys dominating the race with their 4 ½ Litre, Speed Six and Blower models. The Bentley Boys were a group of wealthy and adventurous British drivers who shared a passion for racing and loyalty to Bentley. They included Woolf Barnato, Tim Birkin, Glen Kidston, Dudley Benjafield and Sammy Davis, among others.
The Bentley Boys were fast, and fearless but also flamboyant and charismatic. They lived a glamorous lifestyle of parties, gambling and romance and often drove their Bentleys on public roads as well as on the track. They also displayed remarkable courage and sportsmanship, such as when Birkin helped to rescue his rival Mercedes driver from a burning car in 1930 or when Barnato bet £100 that he could beat the famous Blue Train from Cannes to Calais in his Speed Six (he won).
The Bentley Boys' exploits made them heroes in the eyes of the public and cemented Bentley's reputation as a maker of fast and reliable cars. Their last win at Le Mans in 1930 was also Bentley's last appearance at the race for over 70 years, as the Great Depression forced the company to sell its assets to Rolls-Royce in 1931.
After decades away from the track, Bentley returned to racing – and to Le Mans – in 2001. As part of a three-year quest to recapture the 24-Hour Trophy, an all-new Bentley track car, the EXP Speed 8,
entered the race. Despite torrential rain, the team secured third place.
In 2002, Bentley unveiled a revised version of the EXP Speed 8, featuring a closed cockpit and a distinctive British Racing Green livery. The car finished fourth overall and won its class. The stage was set for the final assault in 2003.
For the centenary edition of Le Mans, Bentley fielded two EXP Speed 8s, driven by an all-British line-up of drivers: Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello, Guy Smith, Mark Blundell, David Brabham and Johnny Herbert. The cars dominated the race, leading for 377 of the 377 laps. They crossed the finish line in first and second places, repeating Bentley's historic one-two finish in 1930.
The victory was a fitting tribute to Bentley's heritage and a testament to its engineering excellence. It also marked the end of an era, as Bentley announced its withdrawal from racing to focus on its road cars.
In 2012, Bentley announced its return to motorsport with a new GT3 racing program. The car chosen for this endeavour was the Continental GT3, based on the second-generation Continental GT road car. The Continental GT3 made its debut in 2013 at the Gulf 12 Hours in Abu Dhabi, where it finished fourth.
Since then, the Bentley Continental GT3 has competed in various GT championships around the world, winning races and titles in Europe, Asia and America. Some of its notable achievements include winning the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup in 2015 and 2017, the Bathurst 12 Hour in 2020, and the Intercontinental GT Challenge drivers' title in 2017.
The Continental GT3 is powered by a modified version of the road car's 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine, producing up to 550bhp depending on regulations. It weighs around 1300kg thanks to the extensive use of carbon fiber and other lightweight materials. It also features aerodynamic enhancements such as a large rear wing, a front splitter, and a rear diffuser.
The Continental GT3 is a formidable racing machine and a link between Bentley's past and present. It embodies the spirit of speed and endurance that has defined Bentley since its inception. It also showcases the technology and craftsmanship that go into every Bentley road car.
The Le Mans Collection allows Bentley to honor its rich racing legacy and share it with its customers. It is a rare opportunity to own a piece of history and enjoy a superb grand tourer that combines luxury,
performance and exclusivity.
As Adrian Hallmark, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Bentley Motors, said: "The Le Mans Collection is our way of celebrating our remarkable motorsport achievements over the last century – and especially those achieved this century. These exclusive cars embody our passion for racing and exemplify our continued success on the track."
The Le Mans Collection is available for order now through Bentley's global dealer network. The price has not been disclosed yet, but it is expected to be significantly higher than the standard Bentley.