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Lot 232: Bentley 4 ¼ litre Four Door Cabriolet

Goodwood Festival of Speed, Bonhams (29 June 2012)

The marque Bentley has across the world been renowned for fast and elegant motor cars of the highest quality and of particular appeal to the sporting motorist. The first Bentley model, a 3-litre motor car, was fired up in a mews garage off Baker Street in 1919 – a momentous occasion in motoring folklore – and Bentley exhibited at The London Motor Exhibition at Olympia on Stand 126 in November 1919. Bentley Motors Ltd of 16 Conduit Street, London, W1, exhibited just one car on a simple stand – a far cry from the prestigious, commissionaire-controlled exhibition stands of that company at Olympia and Earls Court in later years. Walter Owen Bentley, educated at Clifton College, apprenticed at the Great Northern Railway Works in Doncaster, agent for the French-built DFP motor car and designer of aero engines during the 1914-18 hostilities, was the driving force behind Bentley Motors. His name would later be associated with not only his own marque but that of Lagonda, Aston Martin and Armstrong-Siddeley, securely earning his significant place in the history of the motor car. The 1920s saw Bentley dominant at Le Mans with such giants as Woolf Barnato, Jack Dunfee, Tim Birkin and Sammy Davis hurling the British Racing Green Bentleys around European racing circuits with notable success. No-one more than W.O. Bentley recognised the importance of motor racing success to the commercial marketing of production road cars, although the cost of motor sport involvement, combined with the impact of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, was ultimately to contribute to the liquidation of Bentley Motors Ltd. Although D. Napier & Son Ltd. of Acton, motor car and aero engine manufacturers, considered rescuing Bentley from its financial quagmire in 1931, it was Rolls-Royce Ltd who saw the potential of developing the marque with its sporting pedigree. The injection of financial backing and introduction of further engineering finesse following the take-over by Rolls-Royce Ltd. ensured the continuity of the celebrated Bentley marque and 'WO' took up a five year contract with the new company. Production was moved from Cricklewood to the Rolls-Royce factory in Derby. The first of the 'Derby' Bentleys continued the marque's sporting associations in a manner even more refined than previously. There was an uncanny hush before the first of the all new 'Silent Sports Cars' was offered to the public in 1933. The new car was powered by a smooth, six cylinder, 3 ½ litre engine, mounted in a development of the 'Peregrine' chassis, originally intended for a new small Rolls-Royce, but which never saw production. The six-cylinder engine had pushrod-operated overhead valves, bore and stroke of 3 ¼ in x 4 ½ in and a cylinder capacity of 3,669cc. It developed around 110bhp at 4,500rpm and had a top speed of around 95mph. W.O. Bentley himself acknowledged that the Rolls-Royce-built 3 ½ litre was the finest Bentley ever to bear his name, reporting at the time:- 'taking all things into consideration, I would rather own this Bentley car than any car produced under that name'. Essentially an owner-driver sports car, the 3 ½ litre Bentley and later 4 ¼ litre models found favour with such motoring celebrities as Briggs S Cunningham, N S Embiricos, Eddie Hall, Woolf Barnato and Land Speed Record merchant Capt. Sir Malcolm Campbell. The 4 ¼ litre engine offered from 1936 onwards had the bore increased to 3 1/2in., giving a capacity of 4,257cc and initially this was offered as an option. The more powerful 4 ¼ litre engine soon replaced the 3 ½ litre engine as standard and the later 4 ¼ litre models enjoyed the benefit of overdrive top gear, further enhancing the high speed, long distance, continental touring journeys. True to Rolls-Royce and Bentley tradition, customers were invited to select their own bespoke coachbuilders, so many customers at that time having loyalties going back to horse-drawn carriage days. In England Messrs Park Ward, Vanden Plas, Gurney Nutting, Barker and Freestone & Webb were firm favourites although continental coachbuilders who were to clothe Bentley chassis included Van Vooren, Kellner and Figoni. Absolutely unique is this four-door cabriolet whose coachwork was entrusted to Carrosserie Worblaufen of Switzerland – this being the only pre-war Bentley to carry Worblaufen's distinctly teutonic-style coachwork. Carrosserie Worblaufen had been established in 1929 by Fritz Ramseier who had served his time with Gangloff in Geneva. Worblaufen were to exhibit at the Geneva Salon in 1932, executed coachwork on Lancia, Mercedes-Benz, Panhard-Levassor and Alfa Romeo chassis amongst others, each car having its own distinctive styling with that clean design line at which Swiss coachbuilders excelled. Chassis B125LE was despatched to Switzerland via Dover and Dunkirk per SS Shepperton Ferry and Bentley Motors' Guarantee was issued on 15 September 1938 when the car was delivered via agents SA Perrot Duval & Cie of Geneva to its first owner, Professor Dr. Hans Wildbolz – a professor of medicine. Little is known of its subsequent history until 1975 when it was first registered with the Bentley Drivers' Club in America in the ownership of C.F. Brown of Ohio. In 1985 it passed to E.H. Adolph of Connecticut who owned the car until 2003 when the car passed to well-known West Coast collector, Barrie Hon. In 2004 the car was shipped to Europe and exhibited by invitation on the Concours d'Élégance lawns at Ville d'Este in Italy, rubbing shoulders with its peer group of the world's most elegant motor cars. The same year the car was exhibited at the prestigious Concours d'Élégance at Pebble Beach. In 2007 further restoration was carried out by Chris Kidd's Tired Iron Works of Monrovia, California. In 2007, fresh from restoration, the car appeared again at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Élégance, impressively winning third in class against formidable competition. B125LE is strikingly presented in two-tone silver-grey livery and the coachwork, so rare as a four-door 4 ¼ litre convertible, is furnished with deep red pigskin upholstery. The chromium-framed wind-up windows and taut cabriolet hood, with its leather hood envelope, provide for comfortable open motoring in the warmer climes of Southern Europe or the West Coast of America, as well as very snug motoring in less clement conditions. The car also features a most practical wind-up rear screen affording weather protection for the rear seat passengers. Correct period dashboard instrumentation is metrically calibrated. The practical luggage boot contains two fitted silk-lined suitcases. A coachwork feature of particular note is the door hinging where opening the back door automatically closes the front door and vice versa. The overall elegance and fine condition of this car is enhanced in our opinion by the polished wheel discs, although a new owner may prefer to remove these, exposing spoked wheels in a condition commensurate with the overall condition of the car. Work carried out during the present ownership has included the complete refurbishment of the practical one shot lubrication system. The driving experience in this car is enhanced by the 1939 specification overdrive gearbox with which it is fitted. So here is a fine touring car from England's premier motor car manufacturer with supremely elegant coachwork to the finest Swiss design, restored in America and a previous contestant in Concours d'Élégance events on both sides of the Atlantic. The car is currently U.K. registered and is offered with a current MoT certificate of roadworthiness, a most comprehensive history file including some restoration invoices and Factory Order and Build Sheets. It comes also with FIVA Identity Card dated July 2004. B125LE is offered ready to take its place on the most prestigious concours d'élégance lawns or participate in the more demanding long-distance motor tour.

Lot Details
Auction Goodwood Festival of Speed
Bonhams, Chichester, Goodwood,UK
Lot Number232
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price£120000
Hammer Price (inc premium)£135900
Condition rating
Registration numberIJ 6810
Chassis numberB125LE
Engine numberH9BG
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors4