John Duff was typical of early Bentley enthusiasts. Young and determined, he established a Bentley dealership in London and bought and prepared a 3-litre in which he set a succession of new speed records at the Brooklands racetrack, near London. His exploits were excellent publicity for Bentley Motors, but Duff’s most lasting achievement came when he called into the company to request works support for a 24-hour endurance race the French were planning to run at Le Mans.
W.O. Bentley agreed to prepare a car and offered Frank Clement as co-driver. The Le Mans course, with its long straights and emphasis on endurance, provided perfect conditions for the Bentley and the new team did well, finishing fourth despite strong foreign opposition. Bentley himself returned to England fired up with enthusiasm for Le Mans and the following year Duff and Clement recorded the team’s first win, defeating many of the leading sports cars of the day.
Duff and Frank Clement, also a highly experienced racer, who was in charge of the Bentley experimental department, took a 3-litre to Le Mans for the inaugural 24-hour race and were going well in second place, having achieved the fastest lap in the race, when a stone thrown up by another car caused a leak from the petrol tank, so that it ran dry miles away from the pits.
The same pair went back to France the following year, to beat 40 other cars, winning at 53.78 mph, covering 1,290.08 miles.