Bentley 3½ Litre Sports, 1934
Bentley 3½ Litre Sports, year 1934. Colour two tone pale green/dark green with a cognac leather interior and matching carpet. Chassis number B111BL. This ‘Derby’ Bentley left the factory with an open tourer bodywork on 3 August 1934. The automobile was shipped to the first owner in South Africa. In the 1940ies the Bentley was shipped back to the UK. In the late 1980ies, early 1990ies the automobile was given the current beautiful two-seater sports bodywork by an English coach building firm. From this period a vast amount of restoration invoices are in file. This Bentley 3½ Litre Sports is in beautiful condition and the car drives absolutely majestic! The 1930ies Bentley slogan ‘The Silent Sports Car’ is very applicable indeed. The automobile feels rock solid and the car can be mastered and handled perfectly by seasoned motorists. This Bentley Sports is a sheer beauty in the masculine and rugged sense of the word. A highly desirable and unique Bentley.
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The Bentley 3.5 Litre was presented to the public in September 1933. The Bentley 3.5 Litre was the first new Bentley model since Rolls Royce took over the company in 1931. These Bentley models are also known as "Derby Bentley's" this because they were built in the Rolls Royce factory located in Derby, England.
The Bentley 3.5 Litre was the result of the Rolls Royce project "Peregrine" which was aimed at developing an automobile on a shorter chassis. The car was projected below the Rolls Royce 20/25 en the Rolls Royce Phantom. The Bentley 3.5 Litre was going to be a competitor for the Alvis Speed 20 and the Lagonda M45.
The Bentley 3.5 Litre was available from the factory as rolling chassis or with several standard bodywork variant. The factory bodywork models were made by Park Ward and the model program consisted of a saloon, a streamline saloon and a drophead coupe.
The rolling chassis which left the factory were "dressed" by other well known coachwork builders like H.J. Mulliner, Trupp & Maberly, James Young, H.R. Owen, Gurney Nutting, William Arnold, Kellner (Paris) and the Swiss coachwork builder Graber.
The steel chassis was produced using nickel steel. The chassis was designed with a "double-dropped" layout to gain vertical space for the axles and to keep the cars profile low. The chassis was constructed with six cross members and no diagonal cross bracing. The strong chassis was very light in comparison to the chassis built by the contemporary competitors.
The Bentley 3.5 Litre six cylinder in-line engine was a further development of the Rolls Royce 20/25 engine. The 3.5 Litre however was far more powerful... The engine was given a larger cylinder capacity, higher compression, a sharper (sporty) camshaft profile and two S.U. carburettors.
Because of the high power potential of the new 3.5 litre engine some standard high quality Rolls Royce parts were considered inferior by the engineers. They stated that the critical parts had to be of ultimate quality for use in this engine...
Building a sportive Bentley with a lower price tag than a Rolls Royce became more and more an impossible goal to aim for.
Engineer in charge of the project, Mr. Hives, wrote in a memo addressed to the staff of the company; "Our recommendation is that we should make the car as good as we know how and then charge accordingly".
No need to say more...
Six cylinder engine with overhead valves and a crankshaft with seven bearings
Cylinder capacity: 3669 cc.
Carburettors: 2 x S.U., 1 3/8 inch
Capacity: 114 bpk. at 4500 tpm.
Top-speed: approx. 150 km/h.
Gearbox: Four speed manual, 3th. and 4th. gear
Weight (chassis): 1140 kg.
Bentley history 1919 - 1931
The famous Bentley make, erected by Mr. W.O. Bentley, existed as a independent firm for only twelve years (1919-1931) before the proud firm was taken over by the Rolls Royce motor company. Those twelve exhilarating Bentley years were filled with racing successes and many important victories. The Bentley name as manufacturer of large, heavy, powerful and rugged sports cars has been imprinted in the human mind since the "roaring" 1920ies.
Bentley motorcars won the famous 24 hours of Le Mans race in the years 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930. The years they did not win the long distance reliability race for production cars they finished second or third. Not only successes at Le Mans were counted but also victories in other long distance events like the Brooklands 500 mile race. The racing successes were mainly due to the rugged built of the cars and the meticulous preparation of the cars. In every race they learned and had the cars improved on small but important details (Head lamp covers, mesh gauze on the petrol tank, quick filler caps for engine oil and radiator, driver adjustable brakes.)
The Bentley 3 Litre was W.O. Bentley’s first design. The car was presented in 1919 but the first cars were sold in 1921. The four cylinder cars of rugged construction where in a class of their own for they combined the size and comfort of the big tourers and saloons with the road holding, and speed of the smaller sports- and racing cars. The Bentley was a true owner-driver car for the sporting motorist and connoisseur. The Bentley car could be had in three different types which were designated with three different radiator badges*. Red badge: short chassis speed model, Blue badge: the early short and then long chassis type for bespoke bodywork, Green badge: very rare and used for about eighteen 100 mph. These Green badge car won at Le Mans in 1924 and 1927 (Old Number Seven.) The 3-Litre was built from 1919 until 1929.
*The Bentley radiator and the logo were designed by the genius motoring artist Gordon Crosby. The logo is a ‘badge’ and not a ‘label’ as stated by AFC Hilstead in his book ‘Those Bentley Days’ (published 1953).
6.5 Litre and Speed Six
Then in 1926 the 6.5 Litre and the Speed Six were presented, these six cylinder models were in the eyes of W.O. Bentley the best cars the Bentley firm ever built. The bigger capacity was needed for many a customer had built a bespoke heavy saloon body on their chassis and thus eliminating the sporting element the chassis had to offer. The Speed Six brought Bentley the most racing successes and Le Mans victories. In the year 1929 the Speed Six came home first with Bentley 4.5 Litres second, third and fourth! In 1930 the same Bentley Speed Six 'Old Number one' came home a victor followed by another Speed six in second position!
Next came the upgraded four cylinder Bentley 4.5 Litre in the year 1927. The 4.5 Litre featured four valves per cylinder and two spark plugs per cylinder engine. Most of these cars were given open tourer and saloon bodywork and only nine short chassis were built.
4.5 Litre Supercharged (Blower)
The 4.5 Litre Blower was built in the ‘Barnato’ period. Financed by the Hon. Dorothy Paget Tim Birkin successfully experimented at Brooklands with his blower Bentley and even achieved the Brooklands lap record with his Blower Bentley. As Woolf Barnato was now in charge of the Bentley firm, and W.O. now only responsible for the development of the Bentley cars, Birkin convinced Barnato to enter a separate team of Blower Bentleys for the 1930 Le Mans race. This was against W.O. Bentley’s ideas for he was of the opinion that the supercharger would only add trouble to a perfectly good and reliable machine. The 1930 Le Mans race proved W.O. right as none of the blown cars finished and Barnato and Kidston won on a Speed Six model.
The supercharged 4.5 Litre engines were real "gas-guzzlers", the naturally aspirated 4.5 Litre engine used one litre of petrol every 5.6 kilometres, the supercharged engine used one litre for just 3.5 kilometres, a very large petrol tank was fitted additionally.
Another problem was that spark plugs in the supercharged engine wore out very quickly resulting in loss of power. Bentley engineer Nobby Clarke stated one day: "The blower eats spark plugs like a donkey eats hay". Only 55 Bentley 4.5 Litre ‘blower’ cars have been built by the firm of which 26 carried the Van den Plas open tourer bodywork.
In 1931 the most impressive Bentley model ever saw the light of day; the 8-Litre. This car can be regarded as a real ‘super car’. Only 100 of these big cars have been built.
Also in 1931 a down scaled 8-Litre was introduced, the 4-Litre. The car was designed to sell more cars to improve the cumbersome financial situation at Bentley’s. The 1929 Wall Street crash affecting the firm immensely. The 4-Litre featured the chassis, transmission and brakes of the 8-litre. The newly constructed 120 bhp ‘Ricardo’ engine proved underpowered for the chassis and as a result the 4-litre never became the success Bentley hoped for. Only 50 chassis were built.
1931 Rolls Royce take over
In 1931 business prospects looked very black and the firm went into receivership. Napier & Son were negotiating with Bentley's receiver to take over the company. Then another interested party arrived at the scene named British Central Equitable Trust. They outbid Napiers in a sealed bid auction. The Trust later was found to be a front for Rolls-Royce Limited. Rolls Royce had cleverly defeated the threat of a firm that could become a very unwelcome competitor.
From 1933 all Bentley cars were based upon their Rolls Royce counterparts and production was then moved from Cricklewood to Derby. Purists tend to name the Rolls Royce produced cars – Rolls Royce Bentley’s. Rolls Royce took good care of the Bentley ‘marque’. Many magnificent automobiles were built with a distinctively different character than the Rolls Royce models.
© Marc Vorgers