With characteristic humility 'W O' was constantly amazed by the enthusiasm of later generations for the products of Bentley Motors Limited, and it is testimony to the soundness of his engineering design skills that so many of his products have survived. From the humblest of beginnings in a mews garage off Baker Street, London in 1919 the Bentley rapidly achieved fame as an exciting fast touring car, well able to compete with the best of European and American sports cars in the tough world of motor sport in the 1920s. Bentley's domination at Le Mans in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930 is legendary, and one can only admire the Herculean efforts of such giants as Woolf Barnato, Jack Dunfee, Tim Birkin and Sammy Davis, consistently wrestling the British Racing Green sports cars to victory.
W O Bentley proudly unveiled the new 3-litre car bearing his name on Stand 126 at the 1919 Olympia Motor Exhibition, the prototype engine having fired up for the first time just a few weeks earlier. Bentley's four-cylinder 'fixed head' engine incorporated a single overhead camshaft, four-valves per cylinder and a bore/stroke of 80x149mm. Twin ML magnetos provided the ignition and power was transmitted via a four-speed gearbox with right-hand change. The pressed-steel chassis started off with a wheelbase of 9' 9½ then adopted dimensions of 10' 10 ('Standard Long') in 1923, the shorter frame being reserved for the TT Replica and subsequent Speed Model. Rear wheel brakes only were employed up to 1924 when four-wheel Perrot-type brakes were introduced.
In only mildly developed form, this was the model that was to become a legend in motor racing history and which, with its leather-strapped bonnet, classical radiator design and British Racing Green livery, has become the archetypal Vintage sports car.
Early success in the 1922 Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, when Bentleys finished second, fourth, and fifth to take the Team Prize, led to the introduction of the TT Replica (later known as the Speed Model) on the existing 9' 9½ wheelbase, short standard chassis. Identified by the Red Label on its radiator, the Speed Model differed by having twin SU 'sloper' carburettors, a higher compression ratio, different camshaft and the close-ratio A-type gearbox, the latter being standard equipment prior to 1927 when the C-type 'box was adopted. These engine changes increased maximum power from the standard 70 to 80bhp and raised top speed to an impressive 90mph. Other enhancements included the larger (11-gallon) fuel tank and (usually) André Hartford shock absorbers. Bentley made approximately 1,600 3-Litre models, the majority of which was bodied by Vanden Plas with either open tourer or saloon coachwork.
Chassis number '589', registered 'XU 205' was completed in April 1924 and first owned by one W H B Moorehead. The car still retains its original engine, '591'. How long its first owner kept the Bentley is not known. Nevertheless, a photograph reproduced in the Bentley Drivers' Club's magazine shows 'XU 205' in Londonderry on VE Day, 1945 while in the ownership of the Heywood family (see copy and correspondence on file). Further BDC correspondence reveals that Members Lists record 'XU 205' as owned in August 1948 by Mr J V Sandbach of Sutton Coldfield, followed by Mr G C Pyle of Coventry (January 1955 list) and Maxwell Gilbert of Moseley (1963 list). The Bentley's next owner, Bob Ward, bought the car from Maxwell Gilbert in 1962, when he was 22 years old, and would keep it for the next 38 years. The Vanden Plas replica body dates from his period of ownership.
'XU 205' had been laid up for some considerable time when acquired, and with the assistance of fellow BDC Midland Region members, Bob Ward had it back on the road within two years. Bob Ward's 3-Litre would be campaigned extensively over the course of the succeeding decades, becoming very well known in BDC circles. He recalled: 'In the 60s and 70s XU 205 attended many, many BDC meetings both local and national...
'When my wife and I were first married we went everywhere in XU 205 including trips abroad, holidays in Cornwall, visits to her family in Norway and every BDC meeting we could find.
'In 38 years XU 205 has never let me down on the road. I guess this is due to the fact that when work was needed no expense was spared.'
In December 2000, Bob Ward offered the Bentley for sale at auction and it was purchased by the current vendor. The catalogue description at that time stated that the pistons had been replaced two years previously and that the car was fitted with a rare 6½-Litre rear axle. Since then the dynamo has been changed from three-wire to two-wire; an electronic voltage regulator fitted; and 12-volt LED lighting adopted. We are advised that the battery now charges when all the lights are on. The vendor describes the Bentley as in generally good condition - with a very good engine displaying excellent oil pressure - and says that it drives well.
As one would expect from a car that has been cherished and carefully maintained for the last 50-plus years, 'XU 205' comes with a most substantial history file (inspection recommended). A wonderful opportunity to acquire a well maitained 'W O' Bentley, benefiting from long-term BDC-member ownership.