Bentley History

Excerpted from Bonhams :

 The marque Bentley has across the world been renowned for fast and elegant motor cars of the highest quality and of particular appeal to the sporting motorist. The first Bentley model, a 3-litre motor car, was fired up in a mews garage off Baker Street in 1919 – a momentous occasion in motoring folklore – and Bentley exhibited at The London Motor Exhibition at Olympia on Stand 126 in November 1919. Bentley Motors Ltd of 16 Conduit Street, London, W1, exhibited just one car on a simple stand – a far cry from the prestigious, commissionaire-controlled exhibition stands of that company at Olympia and Earls Court in later years. 

Walter Owen Bentley, educated at Clifton College, apprenticed at the Great Northern Railway Works in Doncaster, agent for the French-built DFP motor car and designer of aero engines during the 1914-18 hostilities, was the driving force behind Bentley Motors. His name would later be associated with not only his own marque but that of Lagonda, Aston Martin and Armstrong-Siddeley, securely earning his significant place in the history of the motor car. The 1920s saw Bentley dominant at Le Mans with such giants as Woolf Barnato, Jack Dunfee, Tim Birkin and Sammy Davis hurling the British Racing Green Bentleys around European racing circuits with notable success. No-one more than W.O. Bentley recognised the importance of motor racing success to the commercial marketing of production road cars, although the cost of motor sport involvement, combined with the impact of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, was ultimately to contribute to the liquidation of Bentley Motors Ltd.

Although D. Napier & Son Ltd. of Acton, motor car and aero engine manufacturers, considered rescuing Bentley from its financial quagmire in 1931, it was Rolls-Royce Ltd who saw the potential of developing the marque with its sporting pedigree. The injection of financial backing and introduction of further engineering finesse following the take-over by Rolls-Royce Ltd. ensured the continuity of the celebrated Bentley marque and 'WO' took up a five year contract with the new company. Production was moved from Cricklewood to the Rolls-Royce factory in Derby.

The first of the 'Derby' Bentleys continued the marque's sporting associations in a manner even more refined than previously. There was an uncanny hush before the first of the all new 'Silent Sports Cars' was offered to the public in 1933. The new car was powered by a smooth, six cylinder, 3 ½ litre engine, mounted in a development of the 'Peregrine' chassis, originally intended for a new small Rolls-Royce, but which never saw production. The six-cylinder engine had pushrod-operated overhead valves, bore and stroke of 3 ¼ in x 4 ½ in and a cylinder capacity of 3,669cc. It developed around 110bhp at 4,500rpm and had a top speed of around 95mph. W.O. Bentley himself acknowledged that the Rolls-Royce-built 3 ½ litre was the finest Bentley ever to bear his name, reporting at the time:- 'taking all things into consideration, I would rather own this Bentley car than any car produced under that name'. Essentially an owner-driver sports car, the 3 ½ litre Bentley and later 4 ¼ litre models found favour with such motoring celebrities as Briggs S Cunningham, N S Embiricos, Eddie Hall, Woolf Barnato and Land Speed Record merchant Capt. Sir Malcolm Campbell. The 4 ¼ litre engine offered from 1936 onwards had the bore increased to 3 1/2in., giving a capacity of 4,257cc and initially this was offered as an option. The more powerful 4 ¼ litre engine soon replaced the 3 ½ litre engine as standard and the later 4 ¼ litre models enjoyed the benefit of overdrive top gear, further enhancing the high speed, long distance, continental touring journeys.

True to Rolls-Royce and Bentley tradition, customers were invited to select their own bespoke coachbuilders, so many customers at that time having loyalties going back to horse-drawn carriage days. In England Messrs Park Ward, Vanden Plas, Gurney Nutting, Barker and Freestone & Webb were firm favourites although continental coachbuilders who were to clothe Bentley chassis included Van Vooren, Kellner and Figoni. 

After deciding to take on the Challenge of the Peking to Paris rally we began a serious search for the 'right' car to carry us to the finish line. Lee and I naturally thought of our original tatty 1956 Bentley S1. We had enjoyed that great rusty beast of a car whilst poor students in London. We could barely afford the petrol the car gulped but remembered the great fun 'parading' down the Pall Mall. We were always amazed by the engineering integrity that was everywhere to be seen on that old dowager. It kept running reliably mile after mile until finally and regretably sold at auction to pay for a post graduate education for Tony. 

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Our search narrowed to a 'Derby' Bentley of 1930's vintage and we spent the better part of a year scouring North America and Europe for a car that fit the bill. We found our Bentley at a vintage car dealer in Genk, Belgium. He had originally acquired it from a Portuguese Banker. Despite languishing in storage recently and some minor rallying  through Spain and Portugal in previous years the car was generally well cared for. What really drew us to the car was its originality. After 77 years one can imagine how 'tired' cars of this vintage can get. This one impressed us as the least 'sad' of the lot we had seen. Most cars from this era are not as well taken care of as this one. We kind of knew it the moment we saw it, that it was the 'one'.

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After settling the paperwork, we filled the tank with gas and drove right across Europe with our new 'wheels' and straight on to Oxfordshire, England. It never skipped a beat and delivered us to 'The Priory' in perfect comfort. There we decided the car would receive the necessary mechanical preparations for our 2013 Peking rally.

Please follow the link to "The Priory Vintage Car Company- Bentley mechanical restoration" page to see the restoration process as it evolved over the course of 14 months. 

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After the major mechanical work was completed at The Priory we shipped the car to Vancouver  for further work. We needed to complete the last stages of preparations and asked our Vintage  race car builder, Andy and Tracey Pearson at "Specialy Engineering", to take up this challenge. They woud be tasked with fabricating a stout skid plate, new and unbreakable exhaust systems as well as putting years of racing experience to all the vulnerable systems. They did a marvelous job of armour coating the vulnerble under side of the car as well as crafting a front grill and lights protector that is a work of art.

You can follow the link to  to "Specialty Engineering - Bentley race preparations" page and follow the work.

Unexpected Provenance                         

It started as a improbable phone call to Nigel Crickmore at Frank Dale and Stepsons and led to a thick dossier of correspondences ….. that had laid forgotten for many years. 

Some months after acquiring the car I placed a call to Nigel Crickmore at Frank Dale and Stepsons in east London. I knew the firm from the time we had owned the old ’56 S1 Bentley whilst living in london during the early Thatcher years. I followed a hunch that this could be the ‘London’ dealer through whom the previous owner purchased the car. I was hoping that if true, then perhaps I could get some idea of the mechanical history of the car. I followed up on this ‘hunch’ with a good description of the car and the chassis number, Nigel volunteered to have his staff search through their files to see what could be found. After several weeks an email from Nigel alerted me to a ‘thick’ dossier they had unearthed in their archives and "would I be interested in having it couriered". Within the week I had this file in hand and poured through the contents. It contained a virtually complete history of the cars ownership and mechanical care. 

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This Bentley began its life on an order form in the spring of 1936. The Honorable William Neville Berry purchased the bare chassis from the newly formed Bentley division of Rolls Royce motor cars in that year. From that well negotiated sale (a 20% discount on the original price of 1150 pounds Sterling) the chassis , which was constructed at the new Bentley works in Derby, would make its way to the coach builders at Park Ward and the car would start to take shape over the summer. Known and marketed as the ‘silent sports car’ Mr Neville must have been in a sporting mood when he ordered the car. The perfect travelling /driving tool for the well heeled 21 year old bachelor whose family ties and business would propel him to the directorship of Kemsley newspapers in two years time. This up and coming socialite, son of the 1st Viscount Kemsley, needed a suitably impressive carriage and the Bentley was a perfect blend of stately  British styling and racey Le Mans heritage. 

        The original order was for the saloon version of this car and Park Ward was commissioned to body the chassis in this very popular 2 door coach work. By the time the right honourable Mr.Berry collected and registered his car on September 23, 1936 it was a drophead! I suspect the youthful Mr Berry had a change of heart and prevailed over the coach builder (and perhaps his father?) to change the order to the more stylish  and dashing drophead coupe. For reasons we will never know, shortly after being registered with  the plates “BXE-1” Berry sold the car to Lord Dulverton of Batsford  Park, Gloucestershire. Sir Gilbert Wills, was the 1st Baron Dulverton and for many years he was the Chairman of the successful business that his family had founded, the Imperial Tobacco company. He was well know for his love of the Scottish Highlands and ownership of “Glenfeshie” a 42,000 acre estate  referred to as an ‘ancient private kingdom’ in western Cairngorms.

The car remained with Lord Dulverton at, ‘Glenelg’ in Fassfern, Kinlocheil, Inverness-shire in Scotland for the next 25 years. By the time it was sold to a dealership in Inverness in 1964 and then on to Kent in England for the sum of 1,650 pounds, the car had  passed into the hands of the 2nd Baron Dulverton; (Fredrick) Anthony Hamilton Wills . It had changed little, retaining the grey-blue paintwork but sporting a bright blue canvas top that hinted at war-time scarcities. Despite being an old example of  car long out of fashion by 1964 it had been well kept. It was little used during the war and considered an ‘excellent specimen’ by the agent who test drove the car on sale. While in Kent it came to the attention of a Rolls Royce collector from California. This physician, Aaron Fingerhut MD, from Van Nuys California shipped the car overseas to the US and began an extensive restoration and he too, enjoyed the car for 30 years. It was sold from his estate back to England and was taken for recommissioning and sale in 1994 by Frank Dale & Stepsons, the Rolls and Bentley dealer in London. While on a medical leave for treatment in London a Portuguese banker noticed the car displayed in the Stepson’s showroom and was so taken with the car that he purchased it and had it shipped to Portugal. It was part of a large collection of similar Rolls and Bentleys in his collection and participated in numerous continental tours and rallies.   

        Ill health forced the sale of his collection in 2010 of which the Bentley was the last to go. It came into the possession of a Belgian collector and dealer in Genk, east Belgium. It was from this gentleman that we negotiated a sale, drove the car back to Oxfordshire and set to a thorough mechanical restoration at “The Priory”.



The bentley as it appeared in 1964 when this picture was taken at “Glenelg”, the estate of Lord Dulverton.

© Anthony Strelzow 2013