1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre
Year of manufacture1929
Bentley unveiled the new 4 1/2 Litre model in October 1927 at the Olympia Motor Show, offering “to those discriminating motorists to whom the joy of motoring lies in fascinating acceleration, high speed, and – Bentley design.” Its four-cylinder 4,398 cc engine offered the dual-ignition and four-valves- per-cylinder design, but shared bore and stroke dimensions of 100 mm and 140 mm with the six-cylinder 6 1/2 Litre model introduced in 1926. A wider radiator ensured greater cooling capacity, and the increased power was transmitted through an improved gearbox, all mounted typically in the standard 10' 10" wheelbase chassis. Between 1927 and 1931, a total of 667 of the 4 1/2 Litre models were built, including this extraordinary example, chassis RL3428, still carrying its original Vanden Plas Sports Tourer coachwork, and much more.
With five outright victories in just seven years, Bentley set an absolute standard for a sports car capable of enduring a race as grueling as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The tale of the “Bentley Boys” and their domination of motor sports marks one of the most glamorous periods in motor racing – an unfaltering legend of success. As strongly then as now, the Bentley Boys are icons of an era in which war heroes, clad in leather helmets and goggles, became national idols at the wheels of the world’s finest racing cars.
The association between these English playboys and their Bentleys has resulted in one of the longest-lasting fashions in automotive collecting. A Le Mans-style Bentley is desired the world over, and yet so few real examples exist. This desire, however, is nothing new, and in that period, just eight Le Mans-specification cars were upgraded for a noteworthy few – seven by the factory and one in Bentley Boy “Tim” Birkin’s own workshop.
According to an extensive 2019 report by Bentley expert and historian Dr. Clare Hay, RL3428 was sent to Vanden Plas on February 26, 1929, where it received four-seat Sports Touring coachwork, body no. 1429. Interestingly, this body had briefly been fitted to 4 1/2 Litre chassis SL3066, but shortly thereafter was reconditioned by the coachbuilder and installed on RL3428, becoming its first and only coachwork. On March 28, 1929, the 4 1/2 left Bentley’s Cricklewood works on its way to its first owner, Rootes Ltd., as documented by a Jack Barclay Ltd. invoice citing its black livery and leather interior. Rootes Ltd. sold the Bentley on July 12, 1929, to its first private owner, Major Charles L.Y. Parker of the Royal Engineers. Major Parker was an established customer of Bentley Motors, having first bought a 3 Litre from the firm before the purchase of his new 4 1/2. A veteran of WWI with a penchant for speed, Major Parker was very much a man cast in the mold of the Bentley Boys.
Showing clear enthusiasm for Bentley’s competition heritage, in January 1930, Major Parker took chassis RL3428 back to the Bentley factory for a ‘Le Mans Conversion’ which, according to a copy of its Bentley Motors Service Record and Dr. Hay’s report, included fitting an extra pair of shock absorbers to each axle, hourglass pistons and flat-top valves to the engine, an Autopulse electric fuel pump, taller 15/50 rear-gear ratio, and a large rev counter to the dashboard. These factory-installed modifications are incredibly rare, and the resulting specification of this remarkable 4 1/2 Litre is shared by as few as five other surviving examples, all considered among the most desirable of the 4 1/2 Litre production cars. On June 23, 1932, Major Parker traded RL3428 back to Jack Barclay Ltd. in part exchange for a supercharged 4 1/2 Litre drophead coupe.
Period service records note that the Bentley was offered for sale by Barclay in January 1933, and an invoice dated March 14th of that year documents its sale to Mr. J. Belmont Taylor of London, still finished in black, and denoting a brown leather interior.
In 1939, RL3428 was sold to Alistair MacLennan of London, and the Bentley would remain in the MacLennan family for an incredible 80 years before being sold to the consignor in 2019. Over the years, the 4 1/2 was dutifully maintained, but relatively early in its life, many of the Le Mans-specification parts were removed and the car appeared during these decades as a more pedestrian version of the model.
Dr. Hay’s 2019 report, and the subsequent sale of the Bentley from the estate of Ian MacLennan, gave rise to the idea of restoring this important example back to its best years as a Le Mans-specification 4 1/2. As befits an important Vintage Bentley, RL3428 was entrusted to theundisputed authority on the marque, R.C. Moss in Melchbourne, England. The exhaustive, £500,000 refurbishment was conducted with fervent attention to detail and uncompromising commitment to authenticity. All characteristics of its Le Mans modifications were restored, as well as the addition of the large fuel tank with proper threaded filler cap, radiator stone guard, and conversion to cycle fenders. Completing the show-quality presentation is a complete set of original tools in twin Bentley Motors leather bags.
The process allowed for the closer inspection of the car’s components that had started with Dr. Hay’s inspection prior to the sale. Importantly, the body, engine, gearbox, steering box, bonnet panels, and the front and rear axles of this remarkable Bentley all bear their proper stampings and even the carburetors are thought to be original to the car – a rarity for the model, and a true testament to the careful stewardship of its limited roster of committed owners.
As offered today, chassis RL3428 stands as a reference for the ultimate 4 1/2 Litre specification. Sinister in its black Rexine fabric, and perfectly accented by its brown leather and wool carpet interior, this is an authentic example of what so many 4 1/2 Litre Bentleys have been re-bodied to resemble. As one of as few as eight built or converted in-period to this configuration, it is not easy to overstate its place in the hierarchy of what is Bentley’s most charismatic driver’s car.
Rarely do Vintage Bentleys of this quality and importance become available with a fresh restoration by the revered expert R.C. Moss, and the opportunity to add to your collection a 4 1/2 Litre converted, in-period by the factory to Le Mans specifications is even rarer. Enthusiasts who appreciate only the finest should take a very close look at this spectacular machine.