1937 Bentley 4 1/4 Litre
Year of manufacture1937
Mileage23 657 mi / 38 073 km
"Bentley’s racing exploits in the 1920s have become part of motor racing folklore, and sporting success plus the extravagant lifestyles of the ‘Bentley Boys’ meant that the marque was never out of the public eye in the late 1920s. However, the cars were expensive, and even a prestigious reputation cannot save a car company if customers stop buying them. This is what befell Bentley; the Great Depression, beginning in 1929, meant that there were far fewer potential customers, and this, coupled to the expensive development of the new 8-Litre model, led the company to enter receivership in 1931. An entity called the British Central Equitable Trust won the resulting sealed-bid auction, fending off a rival bid from Napier. The British Central Equitable Trust turned out to be a front for Rolls-Royce – a fact that nobody, not even W.O Bentley himself – was aware of at the time. With the purchase came Bentley’s showrooms and factory, as well as the services of W.O himself, although he would leave for Lagonda in 1935.
Rolls-Royce’s intention was that Bentley would become the sporting companion to its range. All of Bentley’s existing models were cancelled, the Cricklewood factory sold, and production stopped for two years. When it restarted again, at the Rolls-Royce works in Derby, it was to produce the 3½ litre – the ‘Silent Sports Car’. This model, together with its 4¼ litre sibling that came later, shared its underpinnings with the Rolls-Royce 20/25 and 25/30, but with a tuned engine and a lighter, ‘double-drop’ design chassis that kept the profile low. All Derby Bentleys, as they came to be known, left the factory as driveable rolling chassis, with bodies then built by a wide variety of external coachbuilders to the individual customer’s specifications. Most of these bodies were of a sportier nature than those which adorned its sister models from Rolls-Royce, and this, together with the superb performance from the 6-cylinder engines – in 4¼ litre form producing around 125bhp, but also offering excellent refinement – meant the cars really did live up to their early advertising slogan – ‘The Silent Sports-Car’.
This stunning 4¼ litre model was delivered new on 19th May 1937 to a Miss Doris Skinner, an astute business lady, who specified a Vanden Plas all weather tourer coachwork in unusual ‘wide body’ form. We are led to believe this was due to her partner being rather rotund and thus requiring then extra four inches of cockpit and larger passenger seat which the body provided. However, to avoid this looking bulky, the sides of the bonnet were swept back at a broader angle to meet the wider skuttle - a Vanden Plas modification that can still be seen today. During the Second World War Doris gave the car to her brother, a pig farmer, who converted it to an estate, believed to be due to petrol rationing allowances for utility vehicles. The car stayed in this form until 1970 when it was then laid up in a barn until 1992 when it was purchased by Benetton Formula 1 engineer and Bentley enthusiast Robin Grant.
When Robin first purchased the car, Classic and Sports Car magazine featured a half page editorial about the car and his plans for it, and later featured the car in a full five-page spread in the February 1995 edition, a copy of which is included in the comprehensive history file. With invoices amounting to nearly £150,000, during the early 1990’s Robin fully restored the car to its former body, until it sported once again its full ‘All-Weather tourer’ body by Vanden Plas; a wide body with large doors, wind-up windows and a very weather-proof hood, offering plenty of space and comfort for any touring conditions, with the additional fitment of electric overdrive on top gear adding to its already excellent long-distance capabilities.
It has also been fitted with the sensible upgrades of an oil filter and thermostat in the style of the slightly later MX-series Derby Bentleys. The coachwork was reframed and restored by Steve Penny of Vintage Carriage bodies, with much of the mechanical work undertaken by McKenzie Guppy, details of which can be found in the vast collection of invoices.
Remaining in excellent all-round condition, this Bentley has been very well cared for and is ready for the next owner to use and enjoy. It comes with a large file of invoices, a photographic record, magazine articles, a 1968 logbook, original marketing material and adverts combined with original build sheets and a current UK V5C. A truly unique and stunning Bentley Tourer with equally impressive provenance.