1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre
- Year of manufacture1929
- Chassis numberRL3439
- Engine numberNT3127
- Lot number324
- Number of seats2
- Exterior colourOther
- Fuel typePetrol
The ex-Lewis 'Mac' McKenzie
1929 Bentley 4½-Litre Sports 'Bluebell'
Coachwork by Corsica
Registration no. KW 5669
Chassis no. RL3439
Engine no. NT3127
The 4½-Litre offered here - chassis number 'RL3439' has one of the longest competition histories of any car known to the Bentley Drivers' Club. Completed in March 1929, 'RL3439' was originally fitted with engine number 'RL3443' and bodied as a Weymann-type saloon by Gurney Nutting. The car was registered 'KW 5669' and sold new to one Edgar Heap of Ilkley, West Yorkshire. In 1932 Mr Heap sold the Bentley to the second owner, Major A N Braithwaite of Leeds. Bentley Motors' service log shows that McKenzie's Garages serviced Major Braithwaite's car for two years prior to 'Mac' acquiring it in 1936.
A renowned tuner specialising in the preparation of the Cricklewood cars, Lewis Charles 'Mac' McKenzie was a prominent figure in Bentley circles during the 1930s. He is best known for preparing the cars owned by 'gentleman racer' Forrest Lycett, at that time one of the Bentley world's biggest names. Like all successful sportsmen, Lycett was always seeking to gain an advantage over his rivals and constantly exploring ways of making his cars faster, to which end he turned to 'Mac' McKenzie, proprietor of McKenzie's Garages Ltd of London SW1, whose premises were located to the rear of Victoria Station.
Known as the 'High Priest' of Vintage Bentleys, it was 'Mac' who built Lycett's famous racing 8-Litre, 'YX 5121', shortening the chassis and tuning the engine to produce well in excess of 300 horsepower. The result was one of the fastest road cars of its day, which Lycett used to set class records at venues such as Brooklands, Lewes and Shelsley Walsh.
'Mac' followed principals proven on the 8-Litre when he was given Lycett's new 4½-Litre to play with, shortening the chassis, lowering the suspension and tuning the engine. Bodied by Corsica as a two-seater in a style similar to that of the 8-Litre, this new car was named 'The Hooligan'. Delighted with way his new creation had turned out, 'Mac' decided to build another for himself. Offered here, that car was started in 1936 and on completion was painted in Riviera Blue, earning itself the nickname 'Bluebell' by which it has been known ever since. 'Mac' and 'Bluebell' had taken two wins at Crystal Palace (in 1939) plus 1st- and 2nd-in-class awards at the Lewes Speed Trials before the outbreak of war brought such activities to a halt. After his death in August 1956, the Bentley Drivers Club, of which he was a founder member, named the newly erected scrutineering bay at Silverstone in his honour.
In 1942 'Mac' had sold 'Bluebell' to Jack Evan-Cook, who intended to race the Bentley after the war but ended up selling it to friend and fellow Bentley enthusiast Gordon Alexander. 'Bluebell' resumed its competition career with Gordon Alexander, winning at Gransden Lodge in 1946 before passing to its next owner, BDC stalwart W A L Cook, in 1948. 'Bill' Cook had a number of competitive outings with 'Bluebell' in 1948 and '49 at venues including Hendon, Silverstone, Brighton Speed Trials and Firle Hill Climb, securing a class win in the latter.
Early in 1950 'Bluebell' was acquired by Horace Wilmshurst and over the next two years continued to be energetically campaigned, winning at Feresfield, Goodwood, Hendon and Silverstone. Demonstrating that the Bentley had lost none of its roadability in the process of conversion for racing, Horace and his wife Joan took Bluebell on a 3,000-mile continental touring holiday in 1951. In July 1952 Wilmshurst sold the car to J A 'Joe' Walker, who continued to race it regularly until April 1957 when he crashed at Silverstone.
The next four recorded owners are E G Hefford (1965), Mrs D Russell (1967), Paul Harris (1972) and J E Meadows (1973). The last named commenced a rebuild but in 1974 the car was sold on to Major J H 'Jack' Bailey. In 1977 'Bluebell' passed to well known Bentley aficionado and racer Tim Llewellyn, who rebuilt the car and raced it successfully in BDC and VSCC events, as did his wife and father. In 1986 Tim won the Class 2 category in the VSCC's Lakeland Trial, an event for which the Bentley was not considered ideal, further underlining the car's all-round capability. In 2000 the Llewellyns reluctantly parted with 'Bluebell', which found a new home with George Sandy. In 2010 'Bluebell' returned to Goodwood to take part in the Revival Meeting and is currently registered in Holland.
Running on straight SAE50 oil, the engine incorporates a fully baffled wet sump with double size oil pump and pressure reservoir. The Allen fully counter-balanced crankshaft turns on shell bearings, as do the tubular connecting rods, while other noteworthy features include Cosworth pistons, 8.5:1 compression ratio, fully gas-flowed cylinder head, standard camshaft and 'Sid Lawrence' style solid steel rockers. Ignition is by coil and the engine breathes via twin SU HD8 carburettors. The gearbox is standard D Type and the 3.53:1 rear axle incorporates a racing steel differential cage. The chassis has been shortened from 10' 10" to 9' 9½" and the brakes converted to hydraulic operation. Starting instructions will be found in the history file.
The Bentley's history is fully documented by the accompanying ring-bound folder of press cuttings and factory record copies, and 'Bluebell' also comes with FIA Historic Vehicle Identity Form (1990), Netherlands registration papers and old German Fahrzeugbrief (issued 2006). Retaining its beautifully proportioned Corsica body and boasting a competition history equalled by few of its peers, 'Bluebell' represents a possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire this most celebrated of Bentley racing 'specials', created by one of the marque's legendary practitioners, 'Mac' McKenzie.