6,567cc, SOHC Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
Twin SU Carburetors, approx. 160bhp at 3,500rpm
4-Speed 'C' Manual Transmission
Semi-Elliptic Leaf Spring Suspension
4-Wheel Mechanical Servo assisted Drum Brakes
*Well known touring car
*Documented history with factory build sheets on file
*Uprated by factory to twin carburetor (Speed Six) engine specification in 1932
*Eligible for Vintage Bentley, CCCA, and other Club tours
THE SIX-CYLINDER BENTLEY
Next year, the Bentley marque will pass a milestone in its story, with the centenary of the brand. It is a huge achievement, not least because throughout those 100 years it is a company that has always been associated with the utmost sporting and luxurious cars.
That reputation was founded on the basis of magnificent automobiles like the 6½ Liter offered here today, cars which exemplified style and performance. Walter Owen Bentley would commence operations with his four-cylinder cars which as early as 1922 were stealing the march on others in events such as the Tourist Trophy, and even Indianapolis where a sole car debuted in 1922, but it wasn't long before the 'Grand Prix d'Endurance' at Le Mans was in his sights as the ultimate proving ground.
Forays began in 1923, with a 4th place and the following year an outright win became the first of a series of wins. Despite a dry spell through 1925-1927, the bigger 4-cylinder 4½ Liter achieved victory in 1928. Throughout this period, and frustrated by retirements at La Sarthe, production quickly evolved, and in 1926 Bentley introduced the model which would be the backbone of his final Le Mans campaigns – the fabulous 'Big Six'.
The tale goes that development of the 4-cylinder was deemed not enough by 'WO' after a chance encounter with the prototype Rolls-Royce 'New Phantom' in France, sending them back to the drawing board. The result was two more liters! Boasting a stoic high-quality chassis, this now behemoth power unit was matched with beefed up transmission and axles. Production of these cars continued from 1926 through to the introduction of their eventual successor the 8 Liter in 1930. Along that journey the stealth of the 6-cylinder cars brought Le Mans wins in 1929 and 1930.
Whereas four-cylinder cars tended to receive light weight coachwork, the 6½ was unrestrained, so it is not surprising that of the 544 cars built, only 10% were delivered with open touring bodies. The buyer of the six-cylinder Bentley knew what they were doing, each country had its pinnacle cars, in Belgium the Minerva, in France the Hispano-Suiza, in Italy the Isotta-Fraschini and here in America Duesenberg and Packard tied for this crown, but arguably none blended luxury with sport as Bentley did, the owner of a Bentley was the driver and the 'red mist' was usually in the air!
THE MOTORCAR OFFERED
This majestic 'All Weather' Touring car has a well-documented history, including factory records back to day one, and in its two decades of current custodianship has been frequently toured in a variety of club events. It offers the best of all worlds in terms of the versatility of its bodywork, underpinned by the surging power house of 'WO' six-cylinder, twin carburetor drive train which propelled others of its brethren to the ultimate crown of Le Mans.
As stated on its build sheets, PR2310 was a late 1927 order by dealers Gaffikin Wilkinson & Co. of Hanover Square in London, and was built on the 12ft 6inch platform, to 1928 specifications which included C Type gearbox, no. 6144 and camshaft damper. Its coachwork as new was a lightweight Saloon, built to Weymann patents, and when completed it was guaranteed on December 2, 1927 and registered for the road with London license plate 'YU 6868'. The lucky first owner was a P. Worthington, of 32 Davis Street, near London's famed Berkeley Square, early in 1928 he would no doubt have been haring around these roads, close to the stomping grounds of the Bentley Boys such as Benjafield, who lived in a large town house at the top of the square.
Charting the history of these wonderful automobiles in this period is straightforward when cars were based in the London area, as they would invariably be serviced by the factory as PR2310 was. From this, the very detailed records tell us that within the first two years of the original ownership more than 35,000 miles had been covered and much work over those 24 months, the factory elected to fit it with a replacement unit, MD2458, which rather interestingly had been removed from chassis PR2317, a Saloon owned briefly by Barnato. According to the factory records, they re-stamped it with the number of the original unit, PR2308 (today the stamping of the engine number has clearly been adapted, we presume, but are not certain, that it was done at this early juncture). Perhaps the refurb was not enough for Mr. Worthington, or he had simply moved on to other cars, but at this point it was put up for sale and then purchased by Alfred Zeitlin, of the same locale in Piccadilly. By May 1931, the car was newly the property of Capt. R. A. Abercromby of Eaton Terrace, also in London's 'SW1' jurisdiction.
Captain Abercromby may also have been someone susceptible to the effects of the 'red mist' and in May 1932 following an accident the car returned to the factory for a more substantial overhaul. At this point, the car's chassis was reconditioned, seemingly following damage to the right-hand side of the car, the steering arm being replaced and also the front spring. Importantly it was also uprated to the latest performance specifications afforded to Speed Sixes, of twin SU HG5 carburetors and manifold which it retains today.
The Captain appears to have taken the opportunity to modernize the car's looks also and commissioned new coachwork by T.H. Gill of Paddington in London. The name Gill is certainly not well known, or that prolific, but the coachwork they built in this period is particularly interesting, for they were one of a handful of worldwide licensees of Hibbard and Darrin coachwork.
Between 1923 and 1931, Carrosserie Hibbard et Darrin was operated by expat American partners Thomas L. Hibbard and Howard Dutch Darrin in Paris. The duo designed and built bodies for the finest automotive chassis available and served a clientele that included royalty, tycoons and celebrities.
Dutch Darrin personally designed and held a patent for Torpedo Transformal Phaetons with a distinctive convertible top treatment and trapezoidal-shaped side windows. With the top up, an inverted triangle-shaped flap fills the area between the retractable glass side windows, creating a weather-tight body with an elegant, intimate appearance. With top and side windows down, the style is that of a sporting dual-cowl phaeton. Most Hibbard & Darrin commissions were for formal town cars, but a few had sporty two-piece Vee-windshield designs.
To the trained eye Gill's licensed bodywork is interchangeable with the contemporary Hibbard and Darrin work, and they can be noted for providing none other than W. K. Vanderbilt Junior with similar coachwork for his 8 Liter Bentley. A period article on that car in Autocar, notes 'Mr. Vanderbilt has had this car prepared for fast touring on the Continent, and he chose a Gill all-weather body as its dual character appealed to him, since it is an excellent open tourer' 'and yet for social functions in town or for touring in wet weather it affords him all the comfort of a saloon.'
The body that Gill tailored for the car, was either built for Abercromby or perhaps its next owner, the famed privateer racing driver Hugh Curling Hunter. Hunter taking delivery of it in the middle of 1932.
Hugh Hunter was one of a breed of characters who dominated the Brooklands racing scene in the 1920s and 1930s, unshackled by the burden of a working career, his time was devoted to a love of machines and performance machinery, and where others may have channeled their competitiveness into their profession, Hugh's was firmly focused on racing. Over the course of the 1920s he would campaign all manner of motor cars, from an Alta to Bentleys, to a Frazer Nash BMW. After the war he campaigned the Embiricos Bentley at Le Mans, but he will be indelibly associated with the ownership of one of the all time great automobiles, an Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B, the car that today lives here in the Simeone Foundation in Philadelphia, the Mille Miglia Winner of 1938! In Hunter's care, the Alfa was raced in the 'Fastest Road Car' contest at Brooklands in 1939.
Bonhams has been able to access Hunter's family archives, from which previously unseen images show PR2310 in its brand-new guise proudly photographed by him. After Hunter, a Lady H.G. Walston of Newton Hall, in Cambridgeshire was the car's last documented pre-war owner. As with many cars, it seems to have been hidden away through the war years, surfacing next in the West Country region of the UK with another titled gentleman, Major W. Enderby of Luxborough, in Somerset.
The Bentley would disappear from UK Club circles at this point and in fact migrated to these shores and into the ownership of Daniel B Schwartzkopf of Stowe, Massachusetts. It would rest there until the 1980s, when it was discovered. By now in somewhat tired order and a significant 'Bentley in the Barn' find, it subsequently a major focal point of late 1980s London auction falling under the gavel of Bonhams Malcolm Barber, to pass into a significant Vintage Bentley collection.
The Bentley underwent a thorough restoration at Scott Moncrieff, which was completed by Chris Shenton for its then owner, next it passed through another significant collection to the current owner in the mid-2000s. In the course of its current career, the car has been regularly toured and proven to be an absolutely perfect tour car, its 'All weather' coachwork living up to its name and allowing the owners to enjoy a rally whatever the conditions. To improve long distance events an overdrive unit has been discreetly added.
After more than two decades since its restoration was completed the car still shows well today and could be as at home on the road as a show field.
The ethos behind this era of Bentley continues to perpetuate the genus of these cars today, the sporting, romantic, 'devil may care' attitude of the Bentley Boys proving inspirational nearly one hundred years after their creation. This well-known and eminently usable 6½ Liter, with its dual carb set up should continue to provide its next custodian with a great tour car.