Lark of a lifetime

  @FortuneMagazine August 29, 2013: 7:40 AM ET
PUR16 chateau la beuneche

The author's home for the weekend, the Château La Beunèche, in Fillé, France


The call, when it came, inspired goose bumps of joy. How would I like to help the fine folks at Bentley Motors reenact the epic and absurdly sybaritic jaunt that their founder, W.O. Bentley, chairman Capt. Woolf Barnato, and the rest of the Bentley Boys -- a pack of wild playboys, pilots, and industrialists -- took in the 1920s and in 1930 from the Bentley factory outside London all the way to France's Loire Valley and back again? The destination: the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, the most prestigious and grueling event of its kind, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in June. Back in their day, those ne'er-do-well bon vivants drove their racecars all the way to Le Mans, raced around the clock, then drove home again -- and managed to win the competition four years in a row, from 1927 through 1930. My proposed journey was simpler: Drive a 2014 Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible in a seven-car road rally. The point: to celebrate all of Bentley's wins, including the 10th anniversary of the marque's last outright win, in 2003; enjoy some of the finest automotive engineering on the planet; hang with two (yes, two) charming Le Mans-winning drivers, Derek Bell (five-time winner) and Guy Smith (literally the "guy" first over the finish line in 2003); and experience a lap around the iconic 8½-mile road course. My immediate response: "When do we leave?"

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