1939 Bentley 4 1/4 Litre

James Young Fixed


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Following the takeover of Bentley Motors by Rolls-Royce in 1931, the first new model built at Derby was announced just two years later; nicknamed “The Silent Sports Car”, the 3 ½-litre model is widely acknowledged as one of the finest cars made in Britain before the war.  Designed around a “double dropped” ladder frame chassis with semi-elliptic springs front and rear, the new Bentley was powered by an in-line six-cylinder engine with overhead pushrod-operated valves.  The cylinder block and head were cast iron while the crankcase, sump and clutch housing were all aluminium.  Twin horizontal SU carburettors and a 6.5:1 compression ratio resulted in an output of 114 horsepower at 4500rpm, while the gearbox was a four-speed unit with synchromesh on third and top.  The 3 ½-litre Bentley proved a favourite with British coachbuilders, the vast majority bodied by Park Ward but all the leading designers of the day contributed exceptionally attractive bespoke bodywork for wealthy clientele, including Vanden Plas, H J Mulliner, Hooper, Barker, Freestone & Webb, Gurney Nutting and James Young.  Bentley updated the 3 ½-litre to become the 4 ¼-litre in early 1936, the new engine’s bore was raised to 88.5mm while the stroke remained 114mm, raising power output to 125 horsepower and lifting top speed from 90mph to 96mph.  Other improvements including revised main and big end bearings, the compression ratio raised to 6.8:1, bigger valves and larger carburettors for better breathing.  Other changes included the switch to a Borg & Beck clutch and the additional of an air-cooled dynamo.  The final batch of just over 200 cars, the so-called ‘MR’ and ‘MX’ chassis, featured a completely redesigned overdrive gearbox, allowing for more relaxed cruising in top gear (the 3.64:1 ratio equated to 26mph per 1000rpm).  Other improvements included a Marles cam and roller steering box, a stronger back axle and 17-inch wheels with 6.50 section tyres in place of the earlier 18-inch and 5.50 combination.  A new instrument panel saw an electric clock, better lighting and repositioned dials.  Of the 1,234 4 ¼-litre Bentleys produced, James Young were responsible for clothing just 35, of which just ten were built on the ‘overdrive’ chassis. 

- Stunning coachbuilt Derby Bentley with original body
- The ultimate ‘overdrive’ derivative
- Fascinating, well-documented history

Chassis B139MX is one of the last series of the so-called ‘overdrive’ 4 ¼-litre Bentley chassis and retains the original superbly proportioned James Young coachwork penned by A F McNeill, formerly of Gurney Nutting and reportedly one of only three completed in this style.  Built as a demonstrator for legendary London dealer Jack Barclay, the car was delivered on June 24, 1939 and wore his personal plate ‘JB 1’ before passing to the first private owner, a Mr Ernest Taylor on January 4 the following year, who previously owned five other Derby-built cars.  The Bentley made its way to Australia in the immediate post-war period, initially going to Bowenville in Queensland before moving to an address more suited to the Bentley’s bespoke qualities, Point Piper, NSW in 1954.  B139MX was owned by Charles Lloyd Jones – a descendent of the David Jones family and an active club member  - in Sydney between 1963 and 1980 before passing into the renowned collection assembled by Murray Dewar of Flinders, Victoria where it resided for more than two decades.  Since November 2007, the 4 ¼-litre has formed part of a small private collection on the outskirts of Sydney, NSW alongside several other Bentleys and Rolls-Royces.  At some point the original engine (no. S2BG) was replaced with W6BC, a unit from another overdrive car (‘B115MX’) and the car was regularly exercised at club events until ill health prevented the current owner from driving.  Repainted several years ago, the Bentley presents well, with the interior still in good condition and some wear evident to the seats and carpet.  Lovely period features and styling touches abound, including the Art Deco side lights, hidden drinks compartment behind the rear armrest, purdah side glass and rear blind for additional privacy, along with a tool tray built into the boot lid.  A sister car, B181MX, formed part of Briggs Cunningham’s magnificent collection for many years and is now housed in the world-class REVS museum facility in Naples, Florida.  Previously shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1951, the Cunningham Bentley was aptly described in period as “a carefully groomed object – rigid, poised, powerful – with a patrician urbanity of style that schools of design have failed to render obsolete”.  The history of B139MX has been well-documented in the usual references like “Rolls-Royce and Bentley in a Sunburnt Country” by Tom Clarke and David Neely, the car also appears in Bernard King’s book “The Derby Built Bentleys” on page 300, along with Mike Ellman-Brown’s “Bentley: The Silent Sports Car” on page 299.  Currently on non-transferable NSW historic plates and lightly recommissioned in preparation for sale, the Bentley will be sold unregistered. 
Note: Shannons advise that all potential buyers research all vehicles before purchase to authenticate originality.