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1939 Bentley 4¼-Litre Vanden Plas-style Tourer
Coachwork by James E Pearce
Registration no. FYU 313
Chassis no. B-137-MX

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. These and other improvements, most notably the adoption of Marles cam-and-roller steering in place of the Rolls-Royce worm-and-nut, 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 and overdrive gearbox, 'B-137-MX' represents the Derby Bentley in its ultimate and most desirable incarnation. This car was originally bodied by Park Ward as a four-door sports saloon and was delivered new in September 1939 to Alan Samuel Butler, Chairman of the de Havilland Aircraft Co Ltd. The Bentley was registered as 'FYU 313'.
Exported to the USA in 1952, returning in 1989, the car was owned for many years by the Ingham family of Surrey, who used it for many Continental tours, one of which was the Around the World in Eighty Days Rally in 2000! 'FYU 313' had been campaigned hard throughout its life and continued in use well into its seventh decade. It was then that the family decided to strip the car and give it a new lease of life, and renowned specialist James E Pearce was chosen to ensure that the quality of the rebuild would stand the test of time. Work commenced in 2007.
It was decided to re-body the car as a Vanden Plas-style tourer, and an original VdP tourer body was used as the buck. James E Pearce's invoices for the restoration are on file together with those issued by various other specialists for works carried out both before and after. Some ten years later the result still looks wonderful; indeed, the quality of the workmanship has often been recognised, as evidenced by various R-REC and BDC concours rosettes. The Bentley has also been chosen for display by the RAC at their Hampton Court Concours twice, and also for display within the Rotunda in their Pall Mall Clubhouse.
Last serviced in July 2019, the car comes with a comprehensive history file containing copy chassis cards; old/current V5C registration documents; a quantity of expired MoTs and tax discs; a list of previous UK owners; and the aforementioned bills and rosettes.
Not only is this VdP-style tourer undeniably attractive, it is said to drive sublimely too, starting on the button and running perfectly. As a late M-series example, it affords the benefits of overdrive and 'soft' steering, making it relaxed on the motorway and more manageable in town. Retaining its original registration number, engine, and gearbox, this fabulous Derby Bentley is not to be missed.

Bonhams 1793
101 New Bond Street
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