1939 Bentley 4 1/4 Litre
Year of manufacture1939
Number of seats2
From the estate of the late Air Marshal Sir Freddie Sowrey KCB, CBE, AFC
1939 Bentley 4¼-Litre All-weather Cabriolet
Coachwork by Windovers
Registration no. FLO 3
Chassis no. B-80-MR
Introduced in 1936, the 4¼-Litre Bentley chassis, developed from the preceding 3½-Litre, was the finest that the wealthy sporting motorist could aspire to. Although Rolls-Royce's acquisition of Bentley Motors in 1931 had robbed the latter of its independence, it did at least ensure the survival of the Bentley name. Launched in 1933, the first of what would become known as the 'Derby' Bentleys continued the marque's sporting associations, but in a manner even more refined than before. Even W O Bentley himself acknowledged that the 3½-Litre model was the finest ever to bear his name.
Based on the contemporary Rolls-Royce 20/25, the 3½-Litre Bentley was slightly shorter in the wheelbase at 10' 6" and employed a tuned (115bhp), twin-SU-carburettor version of the former's 3,669cc overhead-valve six-cylinder engine. Add to this already remarkable package a part-synchromesh four-speed gearbox and servo assisted brakes, and the result was a vehicle offering the driver effortless high performance in almost absolute silence. 'The Silent Sports Car', as it was quickly dubbed, had few peers as a tireless long-distance tourer, combining as it did traditional Rolls-Royce refinement with Bentley performance and handling.
By the end of the 1930s the 'Derby' Bentley had undergone a number of significant developments, not the least of which was an increase in bore size in 1936 that upped the capacity to 4,257cc, a move that coincided with the adoption of superior Hall's Metal bearings. This new engine was shared with the equivalent Rolls-Royce - the 25/30hp - and as had been the case with the preceding 3½-Litre model, enjoyed a superior specification in Bentley form, boasting twin SU carburettors, raised compression ratio, and a more 'sporting' camshaft. Thus the new 4¼-Litre model offered more power than before while retaining the well-proven chassis with its faultless gear-change, and servo-assisted braking. Land speed record holder Sir Malcolm Campbell appreciated its formidable performance, praising the 'absolute perfection' of the Bentley's engine, handling, and braking.
It was the construction of modern highways in Continental Europe, enabling cars to travel at sustained high speeds, that had prompted the introduction of the Hall's Metal bearings and would lead eventually to the adoption of on an overdrive gearbox and improved lubrication system on Bentley's peerless Grande Routière, improvements which coincided with the introduction of the 'M' series cars in 1939. Refinement, reliability, and effortless long-distance cruising (3,000 revs equates to 78mph) were hallmarks of the coveted overdrive-equipped 'M' series. Only some 200-or-so were produced during 1939 and all are most highly regarded today.
With its 4¼-litre engine, overdrive gearbox, and all-weather touring body, 'B-80-MR' represents the Derby Bentley in its ultimate and most desirable incarnation. The car is offered from the estate of the late Air Marshal Sir Frederick Beresford Sowrey, KCB, CBE, AFC, who acquired it in 1969 from his father, Group Captain Frederick Sowrey, DSO, MC, AFC, a WWI flying 'ace' credited with 13 aerial victories, who also shot down Zeppelin L32 in 1916. A senior Royal Air Force officer, Sir Freddie Sowrey served as Director of Defence Policy at the Ministry of Defence from 1968 to 1970, and as Commandant of the National Defence College from 1972 to 1975. He died in July 2019. Prior to his father's ownership, the Bentley belonged to Wing Commander Willie R Read, MC, DFC, AFC.
First registered on 24th February 1939, chassis number 'B-80-MR' was completed with all-weather cabriolet coachwork by the respected coachbuilding firm of Windovers. The Bentley's body was later converted and strengthened at the rear to allow passengers to stand in the trunk. There is a fitted tool tray in the boot and heavy tools under the bonnet. 'B-80-MR' is featured in Johnnie Green's book Bentley 20 Years of the Marque and is illustrated in the definitive work on the subject, Bentley The 1938/1939 Overdrive Cars by Mervyn Frankel and Ian Strang.
The car's dark green paintwork is in fair condition, while the green leather interior trim is mostly original, as are the worn but serviceable carpets. The beige canvas hood dates from the 1960s, while the grey hood bag is more recent. The odometer of circa 75,520 miles might well be original considering that the driver's notebook in the file records the mileage in July 1958 as 62,600 miles.
Last serviced by West Hoathly Garage in August 2019, 'B-80-MR' had prior to that date been on display for circa two years at the Bentley Wild Fowl Motor Museum in Sussex. The history file contains receipts from West Hoathly Garage, Paddon Bros, and Goudhurst Service Station; a quantity of expired MoTs; a service instruction book for Bentley cars; an original handbook for 'B-80-MR'; Bentley 4¼-Litre Instruction Book; old buff and green logbooks; and a V5C document. In short: this is nicely original example of the ultimate Derby Bentley, ripe for sympathetic refurbishment.