Following in the wake of Rolls-Royce’s contentious takeover of Bentley Motors in 1931, the first new Bentley model to come out of Rolls-Royce’s Derby Works was the 3 ½ Liter of 1933. Rolls-Royce bosses were initially unsure of how to satisfy traditional Bentley buyers, but “the silent sports car” seemed to resonate with a broad audience and sales grew steadily. In this new car, the spirit of Bentley remained, though now with greater comfort and refinement. At its heart was a new inline six, pushrod engine of 3,669 c.c. derived from the Rolls-Royce 20/25. To maintain Bentley’s sporting image, the engine was fitted with a high-compression crossflow cylinder head, a sportier camshaft profile and twin S.U. carburetors. The result was approximately 110 horsepower, which allowed the car (depending on coachwork) to reach a very respectable 90 miles per hour. While it was certainly a far cry from the thundering 8-liter, the new Bentley 3 ½ liter was much easier to drive and maneuver in tighter modern traffic conditions, and it proved to be very popular with buyers, with nearly 1200 cars sold before the revised 4 ½ liter replaced it.
In keeping with both Rolls-Royce and Bentley tradition, Derby Bentleys were shipped only as complete rolling chassis to be bodied to order by dealers or individual clients. Many buyers continued to favor Vanden Plas, who was W.O. Bentley’s preferred coachbuilder in the Cricklewood days. But with the Derby chassis, a number of other traditional English coachbuilders got in on the action with numerous bodies built by Park Ward, James Young, and H.J. Mulliner. Freestone & Webb would also practice their craft on the versatile 3 ½ liter, however in much smaller numbers than its competitors. Of the 1183 3 ½ liter Derby Bentleys built, just 59 were bodied by Freestone & Webb. Of those, only 9 cars, including our featured example, were built in the fixed-head coupe style.
This 1934 Derby Bentley, chassis B136 AH, is a handsome and exquisitely restored car wearing unique close-coupled “Saloon Coupe” coachwork by Freestone & Webb. It was originally delivered in June of 1934 via Dex Garages of Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. The first registered owner was William L.P. Miesegaes, also of Newcastle. Period photos of this car, as shown in Michael Ellman-Brown’s book The Silent Sports Car reveal the distinctive coachwork remains in the same configuration as it was originally delivered; with its low roofline, upholstered top with faux irons, and large boot with rear mounted spare and luggage rack. The large boot and rack hinted that Mr. Miesegaes intended to use his Bentley as a long distance tourer.
The extensive history file contains build sheets and works service records that show the car was regularly cared for during Mr. Miesegaes’ tenure which appears to have lasted through 1951. The Bentley then came Stateside with the second owner, listed as Major S. Levin of Tarzana, California. The next record is from a 1971 RROC directory which lists the car as belonging to Russell Keller, who kept it a further 15 years. It was then sold to Peter Hageman or Kirkland, WA who kept it until 1995 before passing it to Wilson Borden of Bryn Mawr, PA. It then returned to Hageman in 2004, and following two short-term owners, the Bentley would be acquired by Karl Thomas who would continue to care for it from 2008 through 2018.
Today, chassis number B136 AH presents in beautiful condition wearing a high-quality cosmetic and mechanical restoration that has been exceptionally well-maintained by its passionate owners. The claret red body is accented with black wings and a black upholstered roof, which suits the sporty nature of the body quite well. Panel fit is excellent, and the doors open and close with the precise feel that reveals the quality of the restoration. The fascinating coachwork has a number of unique details including Lucas P100 headlamps mounted on shortened stanchions to maintain a lower profile. The aforementioned boot incorporates the original tool kit on the underside of the lid and the roof features a large sliding sunroof to bring some light into the cozy four-place cabin. As with the paint, the brightwork is excellent, with consistent high-quality plating and good fit.
The inviting four-place cabin has been restored using high quality black leather and gray Wilton carpet. The excellent seats appear barely broken-in with just slight creasing on the leather, and a warm character from light recent use. Lavish woodwork on the dash and door caps is surely a highlight of the interior, refinished to a high standard. Fine details include intricately finished vanity cubbies in the blind quarters and a period Philco radio integrated into the fascia.
Build sheets confirm the car retains its original, numbers-matching engine. These remarkable engines are under-stressed and famously durable, and this example has been maintained in excellent order, usefully updated with a stainless steel exhaust. It runs very well and delivers its signature smooth power through a four-speed gearbox as originally equipped. The right hand lever is precise and positive, with a deeply satisfying mechanical feel when shifting gears. The sale will include the rare original tool kit, extensive documentation, service and maintenance manuals, and Derby Bentley technical information.
With rare and intriguing coachwork, this lovely 3 ½ liter has enjoyed outstanding care thanks to a string of dedicated enthusiasts, and it is ready for enjoyment in the hands of its next owner.