1931 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre
Year of manufacture1931
Number of seats2
The ex-George Daniels
1931 Bentley 4½-Litre Supercharged Tourer
Registration no. MN 3740
Chassis no. XT3635
Engine no. XT3633
W O Bentley proudly debuted the new 3-litre car bearing his name on Stand 126 at the 1919 Olympia Motor Exhibition, the prototype engine having fired up for the first time just a few weeks earlier. In only mildly developed form, this was the model which was to become a legend in motor racing history and which, with its leather-strapped bonnet, classical radiator design and British Racing Green livery has become the archetypal vintage sports car.
Early success in the 1922 Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, when Bentleys finished second, fourth and fifth to take the Team Prize, led to the introduction of the TT Replica (later known as the Speed Model). However, by the middle of the decade the 3-Litre's competitiveness was on the wane and this, together with the fact that too many customers had been tempted to fit unsuitably heavy coachwork to the excellent 3-Litre chassis rather than accept the expense and complexity of Bentley's 6½-litre 'Silent Six', led to the introduction of the '4½'.
The new 4½-Litre model effectively employed the chassis, transmission and brakes of the 3-Litre, combined with an engine that was in essence two-thirds of the six-cylinder 6½-litre unit. Thus the new four-cylinder motor retained the six's 100x140mm bore/stroke and Bentley's familiar four-valves-per-cylinder fixed-'head architecture, but reverted to the front-end vertical camshaft drive of the 3-Litre. Bentley Motors lost no time in race-proving its new car. It is believed that the first prototype engine went into the 3-Litre chassis of the 1927 Le Mans practice car. Subsequently this same engine was fitted to the first production 4½-Litre chassis for that year's Grand Prix d'Endurance at the Sarthe circuit. The original 4½-Litre car, nicknamed by the team 'Old Mother Gun' and driven by Frank Clement and Leslie Callingham, promptly set the fastest race lap of 73.41mph before being eliminated in the infamous 'White House Crash' multiple pile-up.
The 4½-Litre was produced for four years, all but nine of the 665 cars made being built on the 3-Litre's 'Long Standard', 10' 10"-wheelbase chassis. Purchasers of the 4½-Litre model were, in common with those of all vintage-period Bentleys, free to specify their preferences from a very considerable range of mechanical and electrical equipment, in addition to whatever body style and coachbuilder might be required.
The 4½-Litre offered here - chassis number 'XT3635' was manufactured in February 1931 and is the third from last of its type produced. It was originally bodied by Gurney Nutting as a saloon and was first registered 'KF 3740'. The first owner was one G D A Clover.
In his autobiography 'All in Good Time: Reflections of a Watchmaker', master horologist and dyed-in-the-wool motoring enthusiast the late George Daniels recalled the circumstances of his purchase of 'XT3635' in 1960. 'The body, very fashionable in 1930 was so heavy as to ruin the performance, roadholding and brakes. Its interest to me lay in the chassis, engine and gearbox which being of late manufacture (1930) were stronger and more suitable for competitive events. It was used as a closed car in the winters of 1960 and 1961 and then, because the body was rotting away, I dismantled it and began rebuilding.'
As George's aim was to recreate the appearance of the short-chassis Le Mans team car 'UU 5872', known as 'Birkin Blower No.2', the restoration involved shortening the chassis and having a Vanden Plas replica body constructed. In addition, the engine was tuned for greater power. The modified Bentley was used extensively for races, rallies and hill climbs, as well as trips to Paris and the watch-making areas of Switzerland. After 30 years of trouble-free use, it was dismantled once again in 1994 for repainting and further upgrades. George again: 'Because the body had been rebuilt in 1962 as a replica short chassis Birkin Le Mans car I decided to complete the replica with supercharger and appropriate alterations to the chassis mudguards and fuel tank. The work was completed with the correct form of dashboard and instruments all made for authenticity of appearance.'
George also replaced the original C-type gearbox with the more desirable D-type competition 'box. The car remains in this form today with the beneficial addition of the larger Birkin-style carburettors. Renowned Vintage Bentley specialists Neil Davies Racing have serviced and maintained the car for the current owner since his acquisition circa 2003 and can confirm that it is in excellent mechanical condition, benefiting from annual overhauls and a supercharger rebuild. The current owner has participated in numerous rallies, driving the Bentley in Turkey, Italy and North America, during which the car has been highly competitive and always reliable. Offered with current MoT/tax and Isle of Man registration document, 'XT3635' represents an exciting opportunity to acquire an accurate replica of one of the most celebrated of Bentley competition cars.