1933 Bentley 3 1/2 Litre
Year of manufacture1933
Number of seats2
1933 Bentley 3½-Litre Sports Saloon
Coachwork by Park Ward Ltd
Registration no. ALU 323
Chassis no. B15AE
Engine no. Z8BA
'One's impression, when seeing the new 3½ litre Bentley for the first time, is that here we have an absolute thoroughbred. Its low build, its graceful lines, and yet sturdy appearance, all make for a car capable of high speed, combined with the utmost safety and comfort. This impression was intensified when I had an opportunity of handling the car under very adverse road conditions.' - Sir Malcolm Campbell, writing in The Field.
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 at Ascot in August 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 all-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. A total of 1,177 3.5-Litre were manufactured and a further 1234 of the successor 4¼-Litre model.
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, that offered here being one of them. Founded in 1919, Park Ward had had forged its not inconsiderable reputation bodying Bentleys, Rolls-Royces and other quality makes, and in 1933 received the ultimate 'vote of confidence' when Rolls-Royce bought a minority stake in the Willesden-based coachbuilder, taking full control six years later.
Chassis number 'B15AE' was the first production 3½-Litre delivered in 1933 and was used extensively by Bentley Motors as one of two 'Trials' cars (demonstrators) together with 'B1AE'. It carried the first standard Park Ward saloon body, number 'C.602,' and the registration 'ALU 323' both of which it retains. 'B1AE', which carried an open Vanden Plas body and was registered 'ALU 321', appears alongside 'B15AE' in period shots and although it was the first chassis built, 'B15AE' was the first car delivered, being issued with its manufacturer's guarantee several weeks earlier.
During its role as a factory trials car, 'B15AE' was driven by none other than the great W O Bentley himself and road tested by many eminent journalists including Land Speed Record holder Sir Malcolm Campbell (see above). It was also pictured with potential customers such as the Earl of March, later the Duke of Richmond and Gordon (copy articles in history file). Campbell continued his piece for The Field by declaring: 'The engine steering, suspension and brakes are absolute perfection. How can I express my admiration for this new product in more glowing terms than this: I have never driven a car that holds the road so well...' There are also many references to the car in Michael Ellman-Brown's definitive work, 'Bentley, the Silent Sports Car, 1931-41'. After serving as a trials car, 'B15AE' was sold to a Mrs Nora Chalker.
The car appears to have changed remarkably little since 1933, retaining its original engine 'Z8BA' and Park Ward's first production body 'C.602'. The Bentley has been well looked after throughout its life and in 1991 underwent a major engine rebuild which included regrinding the crankshaft and installing new big-end bearings, new valves and guides, overhauling the water pump, etc. The body was stripped and parts of the ash frame replaced but only where necessary, care being taken to preserve as much of the original structure as possible.
The current vendor purchased 'B15AE' in 2006 at a UK auction, since when the car has formed part of his private collection. Used sparingly and kept maintained, it drives very well, is a joy to use and keeps up with modern traffic, making all journeys a pleasure. The perfect centrepiece of any collection devoted to the marque, this historically important Bentley is offered with copies of the original factory build sheets; an old-style buff logbook; numerous invoices and restoration photographs; and various period articles about the car.