Bentley rose to prominence with powerful early models that were equally capable of winning the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans or carrying the most elegant coachwork effortlessly. But even the fascinating figure of Woolf Barnato – diamond heir, investor, Le Mans winner and leading Bentley Boy – could not save Bentley from receivership in 1931. W.O. Bentley believed he had reached agreement with Lagonda for a sale to be approved by the receivership court. He believed, that is, until a gentlemen stood to address himself to the court with a higher offer from an unidentified bidder. The receiver was obligated to accept the higher offer. The bidder was soon revealed to be Bentley’s keen rival, Rolls-Royce.
The first Bentley to be produced in Rolls-Royce’s Derby factory was the 1933 Bentley 3.5 Liter. This Bentley was also the first from the 1933-1940 era that collectively became known as Derby (‘Darby’) Bentleys. The 3.5 Liter resulted from Rolls-Royce ‘Peregrine’ project, intended to create a fine motorcar on a reduced scale appropriate to the increasingly difficult Great Depression. That project ultimately produced two motorcars: the Rolls-Royce 20/25 and the Bentley 3.5 Liter. Development of the Bentley 3.5 Liter was completed under the ongoing direction of W.O. Bentley and resulted in the creation of two very different motorcars, fortunately for Bentley enthusiasts. There is a reason, after all, that the counterpart to the Rolls-Royce Owners Club is the Bentley Drivers Club!
The Bentley 3.5 Liter became known as ‘The Silent Sports Car’, featuring a cross-flow cylinder head design with twin S.U. carburetors and twin fuel pumps that produced 105 horsepower that when fed through a four-speed synchromesh transmission was good for 90 mph. The Bentley 3.5 Liter was well received by an adoring public for its masterful blend of luxury and performance. W.O. Bentley is said to have called this the best motorcar ever to carry his name at the time. Displacement was enlarged to 4.25 liters in 1936 raising output to 126 horsepower and top speed to nearly 100 mph, both increasing performance and once again the ability to carry a wide range of coachworks. Chassis and engines built in Derby were delivered exclusively to coachbuilders who designed and constructed bodies to buyers’ individual specification. Given this level of exclusivity, a total of only 1,234 Bentley 4.25 Liters were produced between 1936 and 1940.
This 1938 Bentley 4.25 Liter Park Ward Saloon is a very good original automobile that has never required nor received a complete restoration, but has recently been refreshed to a high standard as shown in the accompanying images. This automobile presents as just what one would want an old Bentley to be, formal and familiar at once. The coachwork displays one of the handsomest bodies constructed on this chassis; perhaps more suited to a government minister than a monarch. The exterior is finished in a tasteful black and tan and a contrasting red coach line, with black fenders and full wheel covers displaying both colors to good effect. The older paint shows cracks and a few obvious imperfections as to be expected with age, but has been polished to a bright shine that provides a splendid first impression. Brightwork has been applied sparingly and is in good order.
The original interior lives up to Bentley’s reputation for sporting luxury. The bone colored leather seats and door cards have been retained with all their patina, calling to mind a venerable club environment. The chairs are comfortably inviting, but have been showing their age for some time now. The headliner and carpet are new. The extensive original wood is very nice, not cracked or split. A sliding metal sunroof opens over the front seat, simply inviting sunny drives. The trunk is original and shows it age, but includes some original tools and a clever trouble light. A fantastic small detail is an original sticker on the windshield that testifies to the fact that this Bentley participated in the 1967 International Rolls-Royce and Bentley Pageant at Goodwood. W.O. Bentley, who lived until 1971, is known to have attended this event in person.
It would be very easy to overstate the attraction of this wonderful old Bentley, but certainly that is not what we intend to do. This is a very good original example of a special automobile that also runs and drives very well. The original body is very straight and the interior has been sympathetically updated. The car has never been apart. This is an exceptional pre-war Bentley, and that is an invitation to enjoy this car in every way Rolls-Royce and W.O. Bentley intended. Brisk performance with fine handling, comfortable long-distance touring and stately curb appeal are all at hand.