1935 Bentley 3½-Litre Sports Saloon Coachwork by Mann Egerton & Co Ltd Registration no. VSU 254 Chassis no. B35DK Engine no. T4BK
Although Rolls-Royce's acquisition of Bentley Motors in 1931 robbed the latter of its independence, it did at least ensure the survival of the Bentley name. Launched in 1933, the first of the 'Derby Bentleys', as they would come to be known, continued the marque's sporting associations but in a manner even more refined than before. Even W O Bentley himself acknowledged that the 3½-Litre model was the finest ever to bear his name. Based on the contemporary Rolls-Royce 20/25hp, the 3½-Litre Bentley was slightly shorter in the wheelbase and employed a tuned (115bhp) twin-SU-carburettor version of the former's overhead-valve six. Add to this already remarkable package an part-synchromesh four-speed gearbox and servo assisted brakes, and the result was a vehicle offering the driver effortless sports car performance in almost absolute silence. 'The Silent Sports Car', as it was swiftly dubbed, had few peers as a tireless long-distance tourer, combining as it did traditional Rolls-Royce refinement with Bentley performance and handling.
The Derby Bentley was, of course, an exclusively coachbuilt automobile and as befitted its sporting nature was almost always fitted with owner-driver saloon or drophead coupé coachwork, the 'standard' designs being the work of Park Ward. Of the 2,442 examples manufactured (including the subsequent 4¼-Litre model) almost 50% were bodied by Park Ward.
Delivered new in June 1935 to Captain Stephen Hugh van Neck, CVO, MC, chassis number 'B35DK' carries four-door, sports saloon coachwork by Mann Egerton, a company that had Rolls-Royce and Bentley dealerships in London and Norwich. Mann Egerton bodies were always of the very highest quality and certainly a match for the best London coachbuilders. This one, which may well be unique, is a very stylish design but also more practical than most Derby Bentleys, with an airy interior and much bigger boot than usual.
Captain van Neck kept the Bentley until November 1937. Copy chassis cards on file list four subsequent owners, the last of whom, J N Dobbin Esq of Maidenhead, Berkshire, acquired the car in February 1954. Previously registered 'JLL 953', the Bentley was reregistered 'VSU 254' in 1991. In Gordon Willey's possession since 20th November 1991, the car comes with numerous invoices from recognised specialists including Fiennes Engineering, Lorenzini Autosports and Dennis Pilling & Son, testifying to his customary 'no expense spared' approach to care and maintenance. Most of this work was carried out in the mid/late 1990s, while in more recent years the car has been in storage at the premises of P&A Wood. It is not known when it was last used, though the last of the five MoT certificates on file expired in April 2003, and thus careful re-commissioning will be required before it returns to the road. Offered with a V5C document.