Virtually every vintage Bentley enthusiast holds a special place in their heart for the heroic Cricklewood-built 3-Litre; the car that started it all for W.O. Bentley when the very first prototype was fired up in 1919. By the following year, Bentley had demonstrator on the road, and by 1921 customers began taking delivery of their magnificent new sports cars. In the hands of works drivers and privateer sportsmen alike, the stout, powerful 3-litre four-cylinder would soon be heard roaring along the great racing circuits of the world. Just a few short years later, a 3-litre brought Bentley its first outright win at LeMans, followed by another win in 1927 that lead to a win streak that lasted until 1930. For a motor company that had been founded just a few short years prior, such results were quite astonishing.
The resounding success of the 3-litre was a testament to the exceptional talent of W.O. Bentley. The large four-cylinder engine featured four valves per cylinder, pent-roof combustion chambers, an overhead camshaft, and twin-plug ignition. The cars were not only powerful but incredibly well-built, with a light but strong chassis that could handle whatever abuse that was thrown at it. Customers could choose from three states of tune as well as three different chassis lengths depending on their wishes, and the 3-litre proved to be an incredibly versatile machine, with bodies (many by Bentley’s favored coachbuilder Vanden Plas) ranging from touring limousines to outright racers. Today, these early Cricklewood Bentleys are highly prized for their spirited performance, robust quality, and unrivaled competition legacy.
It is with great pleasure that we offer this 3-litre Bentley, chassis number AP311; a highly desirable short-chassis “Red Label” Speed model with Super Sports upgrades performed by the factory. Outstanding in every respect, this matching-numbers example is one of just 830 cars built on the shorter 9 ft. 9 ½ in. wheelbase chassis, of which just 513 were red label Speed Models. It is understood that this is the only car so equipped with a Super Sports engine (the remaining Super Sports rode on the race-spec 9-foot chassis).
According to Bentley Driver’s Club records, the first owner of AP311 was Sir Warden Chilcott, notable for being a friend and political confidant of Sir Winston Churchill. Chilcott’s Bentley was delivered on the 11th of December, 1925 wearing a sports four-seater body by Saunders of Cowes, one of just two Bentleys bodied by the firm – both, incidentally, for Sir Chilcott. First registered YM 1462, it is believed the enthusiastic Chilcott retained his Bentley through 1933 and in that time, he used the car quite regularly, returning to Bentley’s Works department for service and upgrades. Equipped with twin S.U. “sloper” carburetors, dual magnetos and high-compression pistons, there’s little doubt of the 100 mph potential of this magnificent Bentley.
As is typical, the ownership history goes quiet during the wartime period, with BDC records picking back up again with Dr. W. Mayne of Bristol, England then with John Douglas who is seen in period photos from the 1950s with the car wearing a body of unknown origins. Sometime thereafter, AP311 was exported to the United States where it would eventually join the collection of the famed Texas-based architect O’Neil Ford, remaining with him from 1964-1984. From 1984 to 2007, AP311 was in the hands of well-known Bentley enthusiast Richard A. “Dick” Burdick who performed the exceptionally high-quality restoration while AP311 was in his tenure.
The current Vanden Plas-style Weymann-type coachwork was supplied to Mr. Burdick by the highly respected James E. Pearce Coachbuilders of England in the 1980s. The rest of the car has since been fully restored to concours standards and presents in truly impeccable condition. While undergoing restoration, it was determined to be an incredibly original car, backed by Bentley Driver’s Club documents showing period Works upgrades to Super Sports specification. The serial number is found stamped on all of the major components, including the chassis, rear axle, bonnet sides, interior switch plate, and gearbox. The engine number, SS HP 376 designates this as a 100mph Super Sports unit, also verified by the correct 4,000 RPM tachometer. Period factory modifications include the addition of a large-capacity sump and high-performance oil pump, and it is believed that the long-skirt pistons were fitted by Bentley at the time of the engine rebuild in 1930. Fitted with a host of highly desirable factory speed parts such as twin “sloping” S.U. Carbs, a close ratio six-bolt gearbox, finned drums, and twin Bosch magnetos, there is no doubt that Sir Chilcott’s Bentley was built with performance in mind. Today, it features a modern electric fuel pump cleverly fitted inside the Autovac tank to aid in reliable running in all conditions. Beautifully restored, the engine is a magnificent work of art highlighted by jewel-like polished brass carbs, bare alloy castings as original, and fastidiously detailed fittings and hardware.
Cosmetically, the restoration could not be finer. The body is finished to a very high standard in green Rexine-type fabric with green painted wings and bonnet, all in excellent order. Detailing is exquisite, with precisely fit doors, a high quality folding canvas top, and the beautifully restored fittings and German silver radiator shell. The cabin is trimmed in traditional green leather on the seats and interior panels, with matching green wool carpets. The dash retains its original instrumentation, restored and fully functioning. The quality is outstanding, and since the restoration was completed it has been maintained in impeccable condition. Included in the sale is a comprehensive history file, including copies of drawings of the car by O’Neil Ford, restoration photos and Bentley Driver’s Club documents. The original registration plate was carefully preserved as part of the restoration and is now framed for display. Surely one of the finest and most authentic 3-litre Cricklewood Bentleys available today, this is an exceptional opportunity to acquire a beautifully restored example of the legendary model that built the Bentley legacy.