1927 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre
Year of manufacture1927
Number of seats2
Same ownership for 54 years and taken from the Michael Banfield Collection
1927 Bentley 3/4½-litre Open Tourer
Registration no. WN 204
Chassis no. LM1341
Engine no. XF3502
Few owners can have shown such loyalty to a car as the late Michael Banfield, who bought this 3/4½-litre Bentley in 1959 when he was just 23 and kept it for the rest of his life a total of 54 years in the same ownership. It was also the very first vehicle in his collection, which at his death in 2013 totalled some 60 veteran and vintage cars and commercial vehicles. The Bentley also established the high standard of finish which characterised the vehicles in the Banfield Collection.
The much-prized 3/4½-litre conversion, which combines the best elements from both models, had its origins in "W.O." days with a select group just nine 4½-litre "Shorties" built on the 9ft 9½ inch wheelbase (rather than the standard 10ft 10in chassis of the remaining 656 4½-litre cars) for some very discerning customers. These included Captain Kevill Davis (whose car would later be owned by Keston Pelmore, founding father of the Bentley Drivers Club), E.R. Foden (whose yearning for the "bloody thump" of the 3-litre had inspired the creation of the 4½-litre) and sporting motor dealer Drysdale Kilburn, best known as an exponent of the 30-98 Vauxhall.
These "Shorties" proved to be wonderfully swift and agile, and this potent formula was taken up by W.O. Bentley's brother Horace in the 1930s. His company, H.M. Bentley & Partners, specialised in rebuilding tired second-hand 3-litre and 4½-litre cars, and in the years preceding World war two he created a limited number of what were referred to as "hybrid Bentleys", one of which was owned by J.G. Fry, builder of the Freikaiserwagen "Shelsley Special" hill-climber.
Writing in 1943, Joe Fry extolled the virtues of his "Bentley with a Difference": "Recipe: take a good 3-litre Red Label Bentley chassis, mix in a good 4½-litre engine... add a light two-seater body with accessories to taste. The result is a motor car which, while still possessing a good vintage flavour, possesses a performance equalled by few other machines, even of the most modern and expensive type."
Postwar, enthusiastic Bentley owners began to follow the 3/4½-litre path to enhanced performance, among them Thomas Oliver Donaldson Craig, the managing director of a plating works in Teddington, Middlesex, who acquired WN 204 in 1954 from Ronald Clement Smith of Hove, Sussex. The car was then a standard 3-litre Speed Model with the desirable C-type gearbox, which had been sold in July 1927 to one D.D. Williams; it was originally fitted with engine LM1350 and a maroon two-seater Vanden Plas body (No 1311), which had been ordered in September 1926.
Mr Craig kept the car in standard form for a couple of years, then in May 1957 he bought a 4½-litre engine from fellow Bentley Drivers Club member C.M. Carpenter of Birkenhead. Mr Carpenter declared that the engine, XF3503, which had come from 4½-litre Maythorn saloon XF3502, had only done 30,000 miles from new; it was also completely dismantled. This engine was, said Mr Craig, in perfect condition and was duly reassembled without any further work being carried out, apart from the fitting of two new magnetos. The 3-litre engine originally installed in LM 1341 was apparently transferred to chassis 914.
The four-seat body dating from 1949 that was then on LM 1341 was scrapped and replaced with a four-seat Vanden Plas body shortened to fit the 9ft 9½in Speed Model chassis; a fold-flat windscreen and twin aeroscreens were added, as was a new silencer, battery and tyres. A rebuilt and re-chromed 4½-litre radiator replaced the 3-litre unit in order to cope with the increased cooling requirements of the more powerful engine, the car was rewired and the twin SU carburettors overhauled.
Observed Mr Craig, all that work resulted in the Bentley being little used during 1957 and August 1959, when it was acquired by Richard Rice of Surbiton, Surrey. He kept the car for only a matter of weeks before selling it to the well-known London Rolls-Royce and Bentley dealer Simmons of Rex Place, Park Lane, Mayfair, from whom Michael Banfield bought the car for £475 in October 1959.
Despite Mr Craig's assertion that the car was in perfect mechanical order when he sold it, during the 1960s Michael Banfield had the Bentley thoroughly overhauled by marque specialists Hoffman & Burton, and a considerable amount of rectification work was carried out, with particular attention to brakes and clutch. The correspondence in the file which includes a buff log book gives a fascinating insight into the cost of specialist work in the 1960s, when the hourly labour rate for a skilled machinist was just 27s 6d (£1.38p)!
The history file with the car includes instruction books for 5 litre and 4½-litre Bentley, various receipts, V5 and copy of the savings book that Michael Banfield withdrew his cash from to purchase the car in 1959!
A much-loved and nicely mellowed Bentley, this ideal combination of the sought-after agile Speed Model chassis with the power and torque of the 4½-litre engine constitutes the perfect formula for enjoyable Bentley motoring!