Henry Ford, Bentley and Racing—On Ice

Henry Ford was plenty of things.

Henry Ford was plenty of things. One of them was a race car driver. That’s right: Henry Ford, from 1901 to 1913, participated in motor racing. Apparently, this undertaking wasn’t predicated on any need for speed as much as it was to help make money for the Henry Ford Company, initially, and then the Ford Motor Company.

In a letter he wrote to a brother-in-law in January, 1902, Ford wrote, “. . .there is a barrel of money to be made in this business [racing]. . . . My company will kick about me following racing but they will get the Advertising and I expect to make $ where I can’t make ¢s at Manufacturing.”

In March of that year, Henry Ford left the Henry Ford Company (and it is interesting to note that in August, the name of that company became the Cadillac Automobile Company, run by Henry Leland; and for those of you who really want to know some bizarre automotive history, in 1917 Leland left Cadillac and established the Lincoln Motor Company).

Henry Ford was no dilettante racer. In fact, on January 12, 1904, he and his riding mechanic (yes, there was a mechanic along for the ride) Ed Huff set a land-speed record of 91.37 mph—but it wasn’t on land: It was on the frozen surface of Lake St. Clair.

This trip down memory lane was done to bring us to a record that was set this week by Juha Kankkunen, Finland’s four-time world rally champion.

Kankkunen drove a Bentley Continental Supersports convertible on a frozen portion of the Baltic Sea off the coast of Finland.

He set an ice-speed record of 205.48 mph (330.695 km/h).

B

Let’s review. This is a Bentley Continental GT. A convertible. Driving at high speed on the Baltic Sea. The frozen sea. Which means it was damned cold: at times minus 30 Celsius. Apparently there were “sudden snow blizzards and potentially dangerous crosswinds on the 16.5-km track on a 70-cm thick layer of sea ice.”

Kankkunen recalls, “200 mph came up after 5 km on sheet ice. Then it was just a question of getting everything right in the timing zone and hoping the snow kept away. There’s nothing to beat driving a Bentley at these speeds; the conditions may be perilous but the car responds so well to the slightest adjustment which gives you the confidence to push even harder.”

Clearly that last line echoes “but they will get the Advertising.”

B

A curious thing. A Bentley Continental Supersports convertible that is driven, say, on Mulholland Drive, sets the owner back something north of $200,000. Presumably, the car is being driven with the top down and the Pacific breezes wafting, not the top up and sudden snow squalls from the Baltic.

But Wolfgang Dürheimer, Bentley chairman and chief executive, said of Kankkunen’s accomplishment, “We will be celebrating this achievement with a very special ‘extreme’ Bentley, which will be the most powerful model ever to bear the famed Winged B emblem.”

Presumably this echoes that “barrel of money.”