1928 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre4½-Litre Drophead Sports Coupe
Year of manufacture1928
$500,000 - $600,000 USD
- An appealing 4½-Litre affectionately known as “Mr. Fred”
- Fitted with lightweight aluminum coachwork in period for Fred Salmons; used as his personal car
- Retains numbers-matching engine, front and rear axles, and steering column; fitted with an appropriate “C” gearbox in period
- Restored by Aston Martin Works in the early 1980s and recently refreshed
- Accompanied by a report by Dr. Clare Hay as well as a file of historic photos and correspondence
Much of Bentley Motors’ lasting cachet can be tied to its first dozen years, from its establishment in 1919 until its founder, W.O. Bentley ceded control of the company to Rolls-Royce in 1931. This was the age of the so-called “Bentley Boys,” whose high-speed antics on, and sometimes off, the racetrack earned headlines and drummed up sales. W.O.-era Bentleys also earned a reputation for stout engineering and durable construction that did not come at the cost of sportiness. These attributes are still appreciated by owners of vintage Bentleys today, and are very much evident in this 1928 Bentley 4½-Litre Drophead Sports Coupe.
The 4½-Litre model made its debut in late 1927, following a prototype’s running at Le Mans that year. Successor to the 3-Litre, it used the same bore and stroke as the six-cylinder 6½-Litre but retained the 3-Litre’s shaft-and-helical camshaft drive. The engine quickly proved its mettle, with Bentley swiftly taking an outright win at Le Mans in 1928 and meeting much continued success afterward at Brooklands. In racing trim, a properly prepared 4½-Litre was capable of 120 mph, which was considered quite remarkable for the era.
The 4½-Litre offered here, chassis number XL3114, was delivered in new to an S.K. Thornley of Birmingham, England; it initially wore a Vanden Plas body. It was acquired in 1933, while still under Bentley Motors guarantee, by Fred Salmons of the Newport Pagnell-based coachbuilder Salmons & Sons, established in 1830. Despite his company’s success, he remained a grounded industrialist known as “Mr. Fred” on the shop floor (a moniker this Bentley inherited).
A gentleman driver, Mr. Salmons also enjoyed spirited motoring, having participated in the 1932 Monte Carlo Rally, and this sporty Bentley was the perfect car to be clothed with his personally preferred style of coachwork. The outcome was this delightful Drophead Sports Coupe, an elegant body rendered in lightweight aluminum. Its convertible top offering the joy of open-air motoring in finer weather, while providing better all-season protection than a simple roadster top while closed. With its elegant slender front wings and polished aluminum louvers, this coachwork is among of the finest that Salmons’ company ever created.
In a finishing touch, its doors displayed polished “Tickford wings” (the first and only example seen, having been specified by Fred Salmons) above the beltline, a subtle emblem for the coachbuilder that is visible in period photos of the car and still present today. Mr. Salmon used XL3114 as his personal car, and he is noted as its owner in the Bentley service logs until 1940. Following World War II, the car passed through several owners and briefly resided in the United States.
In the early 1980s, “Mr. Fred” returned to England, where it was sent back to the original Salmons & Sons building in Newport Pagnell, then (as now) operating under the auspices of Aston Martin Works, for restoration. These works are well photographed and documented in Dennis C. Mynard’s book, Salmons & Sons: The Tickford Coachbuilders. In 1985, the car was acquired by D.P.L Benyon, who lovingly used the car in many Bentley Drivers Club events and international rallies, including the Irish Gordon Bennett Rally. Mr. Benyon retained the car for over three decades.
Presently, the Bentley retains its numbers-matching car engine, front and rear axles, and steering column. Its “C” type gearbox was an appropriate replacement fitted in-period by Bentley Motors as a replacement for its original “D” type gearbox. It is fitted today with an overdrive, providing a higher cruising speed for additional capability on today’s roads. In 2000 the engine was rebuilt, including a rebore, new Arias pistons, new liners, and valves; consequently, this well-sorted 4½-Litre is said to be capable of outpacing many of its rivals on rallies.
In a further tribute to its significance and appeal, “Mr. Fred” was handpicked to take part in the prestigious 2020 Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace—where 50 of the world’s finest vehicles were formally invited to be driven and displayed in the royal gardens. Prior to this event, the car went to Rolls Royce and Bentley specialist Carl Ford (formerly of Hoffman & Burton) for a tune-up and extensive examination; approximately $30,000 was spent, with long-distance continental rallying in mind.
Accompanied by copies of historical photos and correspondence, a report by Bentley authority Dr. Clare Hay, and invoices for service work performed on the car from 1999 through to 2020, this charming Bentley 4½-Litre awaits its next enthusiastic owner. To view this car and others currently consigned to this auction, please visit the RM website at rmsothebys.com/en/auctions/mo21.