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Lot 244: Bentley 4-Litre/8-Litre Le Mans-style Tourer

Automobiles d'Exception a Retromobile, Bonhams (23 January 2010)

Although the prevailing image of Bentley cars during the vintage Cricklewood period of the company's life is that of out-and-out sports cars and fast tourers, it is often overlooked that W O Bentley made a determined bid for the carriage trade, particularly with his larger 4-, 6- and 8-Litre models, and it is largely because of this that Napier's bid for the company in 1931 was thwarted by Rolls-Royce, which doubtless saw that a rejuvenated Bentley company would present strong competition to their own models. As it is, only 100 examples of the 8-Litre model had been produced before bankruptcy overtook the original Bentley company, but had they been in a stronger financial position it might well have been a different story. The chassis price of the 8-Litre Bentley at £1,850 was in direct competition with the Rolls-Royce Phantom II, allied with better performance, and the contemporary motoring press was lavish with its praise for the 8-Litre model. The latter had debuted at the 1930 London Motor Show and was the largest-engined car made in the UK at that time and arguably the fastest. Bentley's advertising claimed '100mph without noise' and tests bore out that claim, the 8-Litre being fully capable of the 'ton' even when burdened with weighty formal coachwork. As W O Bentley himself said: 'I have wanted to produce a dead silent 100mph car, and now I think we have done it.' The 8-Litre represents an evolutionary step in the development of the vintage Bentley, combining proven features of the 6½-Litre model with the latest engineering advances. Rather than trying to extract more power from the existing 6½-Litre engine, W O Bentley followed his long-preferred method of improving performance and simply enlarged it, increasing the bore size from 100 to 110mm. Although the 8-Litre's engine followed conventional Bentley practice, its gearbox - designated 'F-type' - was radically different from its predecessors, the redesign having been necessitated by the greatly increased power and torque it was required to transmit, as well as the quest for silence. The massive chassis frame likewise was entirely new, being of the 'double drop' design that enabled overall height to be reduced and the centre of gravity lowered, these aims also dictating the use of a hypoid-bevel rear axle. Seven tubular cross members resulted in a much stronger and less flexible frame than hitherto, which was available in a choice of wheelbases: 12' or 13'. Revised suspension incorporating longer road springs, out-rigged at the rear, together with Bentley & Draper shock absorbers made for increased smoothness and stability, both vital considerations when designing a large and weighty vehicle capable of three-figure speeds. The 8-Litre's steering and braking systems also featured numerous detail improvements. 'Motoring in its very highest form,' eulogised The Autocar in December 1930, having recorded a top speed of 101.12mph in W O Bentley's own saloon-bodied 8-Litre over the half-mile. Between 1930 and 1939, Britain's foremost motoring magazine bettered that figure only once, while testing an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300. The 8-Litre was destined to remain the fastest production Bentley until the R-Type Continental's arrival in 1953. The 8-litre Bentley offered here  chassis number 'VF4012'  started life as a 4-Litre, which was the old Cricklewood company's swansong model before its absorption by Rolls-Royce and was intended to compete with the latter's successful 20/25hp. The six-cylinder engine was designed by Ricardo, with overhead inlet/side exhaust valves and a claimed output of 120bhp at 4,000rpm. A double-drop chassis was adopted, closely based on that of the contemporary Bentley 8-Litre, and offered in two wheelbase lengths: 11' 2" and 11' 8", both of which were shorter than the shortest of the two 8-Litre chassis available. Only 50 4-Litres were completed before the original Bentley company's liquidation, of which only 12 are known to exist today. The 4-Litre model has been much maligned and is little understood, as so few were built. Because it was too heavy for its power, yet had the best chassis, gearbox and rear axle of all the Bentleys, many were converted into 6½-litre and 8-litre specials, the car offered here being one such. First registered on 21st August 1931, 'GP 7192' was supplied new to the Earl of Dumfries and originally fitted with saloon coachwork by Freestone & Webb. In 1950 the Bentley was bought by Oliver Batten, who over three years made many modifications to convert 'GP 7192' into the well-known competition car it is now, using engine number 'YM5046' and components from other 8-Litre cars. Up-rated for competition and fitted with three SU carburettors (instead of the original two), the huge engine drives via an 8-Litre F-type gearbox and 2.62:1 final drive, giving a top speed (then) of 125mph (201km/h). Panelcraft of Putney built a two-seater sports body and Oliver Batten and his son David competed successfully in this very fast car until 1989 when David Batten sold 'GP 7192' to Victor Gauntlett, the well-known collector and (at the time) owner of Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd and Pace Petroleum. Since then, the mechanical and chassis layout has not changed although the car has been completely restored. The engine and drive train were overhauled by the well-known Bentley restorers, Elmdown Engineering Ltd of Hungerford, who increased the engine performance considerably. The complete chassis assembly was painstakingly restored by David Gaul and fitted with a Le Mans Tourer body, beautifully proportioned and detailed by Roger Wing, while the trimming, seats and hood were all perfectly finished by well known Bentley trimmer Alan Geater. The panelwork, aluminium and detailed finishing work were carried out to the highest standard. A previous owner reputedly spent approximately £100,000 on 'GP 7192' and this latest rebuild has been a 'no expense spared' restoration. Oliver Batten raced 'GP 7192' extensively throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and his results are recorded in the Bentley Club Reviews. In Belgium in 1959 the Bentley covered the Flying Kilometre at a speed of 124.828mph (201km/h) and the Flying Mile at 123.6mph (199km/h). 'GP 7192' often competed in the Brighton Speed Trials and many other Club events and hill climbs. This car is well documented by the Bentley Drivers Club and has often been mentioned for its exceptional performance in the Bentley Review. 'GP 7192' also appears in Bentley Specials and Special Bentleys by Ray Roberts (pages 85 and 86). 'GP 7192' continued to be campaigned successfully by its immediately preceding owner, attending the Vintage Monthléry weekend, the Historic Festival at Rockingham Speedway, the Jersey Festival of Motoring and the European Concours d'Elegance at Schloss Schwetzingen, Heidelberg as well as club meetings at Silverstone and Goodwood (see detailed write-up on file). These trips and many other excursions put approximately 4,500 miles on the odometer and provided the opportunity to get everything 'on the button'. Immediately prior to its acquisition by the Marbella Collection early in 2003, 'GP 7192' was serviced, cleaned and fitted with rebuilt front road springs, new tyres, a new heavy-duty battery and four new aluminium Bentley 'B' steps (see correspondence and invoice on file). Benefiting from a high quality restoration, this is a thoroughly sorted car: well appointed, sensationally fast, very good looking and possessing an interesting history.

Lot Details
Auction Automobiles d'Exception a Retromobile
Bonhams, Porte de Versailles, Paris
Lot Number244
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price€340000
Hammer Price (inc premium)€381500
Condition rating2
Registration number
Chassis numberVF4012
Engine numberYM5046
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors