1936 Bentley 4.5 Tourer

Despite all of the inimitable road and racing motorcars to come out of W.O. Bentley’s Cricklewood workshops, Bentley Motors often struggled with a severe shortage of cash. W.O. Bentley’s perfectionism resulted in lengthy and expensive development periods as well as constant and costly refinement of production models. Were it not for a much-needed investment courtesy of “Bentley Boy” Woolf Barnato; the firm may not have survived past 1925. Once stabilized, Bentley continued to develop some of the finest, fastest, and toughest motorcars in the world, moving from the 3-litre to the 4 ½, and through to the ultimate “Vintage Bentley” – the mighty 8-litre. Even with the public sporting success at places like Le Mans, Bentley Motors began to struggle again. By 1931, the debts were too massive for even a wealthy playboy like Barnato to handle, and the firm went into receivership, eventually being sold off to an anonymous holding company that was only later revealed to be a front for Bentley’s chief rival, Rolls-Royce.

Nobby Clarke, the long-time head of Hendon-based Works Service was a stalwart of Bentley Motors and an integral part of their motorsport success. He was a loyal Bentley man and remained so even after the Rolls-Royce takeover, still tending to owners who preferred to work with “the old guard.” Following the sale to Rolls-Royce and revamping of the Bentley lineup, a number of new components for 3-litre and 4 ½-litre cars remained in stock at Bentley’s Works Service Department, well after the main production moved to Derby. To use those remaining stocks, Clarke first took in four pre-owned 3-litre cars and thoroughly reconditioned them using as many new components as possible. Each of those was renumbered with the “RC” prefix (for ReConditioned) and sold to new clients.

In addition, Clarke and his team built six complete 4 ½ - litre cars, which shared the same chassis prefix despite being entirely new from the ground up. The six “RC” 4 ½ litre cars were built using the latest and best components available. Each one received the latest heavy-gauge chassis, a D-Type gearbox, six-litre rear axle, and 12:1 ratio steering box. Five of the cars were fitted with Vanden Plas tourer coachwork (much in the style of the contemporary Derby cars), while the sixth received a Corsica-built saloon body. The RC series is a fascinating footnote in the history of Bentley Motors, and given that they were built by Bentley employees using Cricklewood made parts, they are recognized and welcomed by the Bentley Driver’s Club as true Vintage Bentleys, and therefore eligible for their events.

Chassis number RC44 is the fourth of the six RC-series built under the supervision of Nobby Clarke. It is a marvelous car, with just five owners and well-documented history back to new. Documents show that Mr. Charles Clare Regnart was the first caretaker of RC44, taking delivery in September 1936. According to the original English VE60 registration booklet, it was assigned the registration number EMF 115. Regnart owned RC44 through 1959 when Ralph Denby of Sussex acquired it.

Interestingly, we learned that it was not Mr. Denby’s first encounter with RC44. According to a letter from Mr. Denby dated 1960, he owned a PB series 4 ½ litre in 1935 which he brought to the works service department at Hendon. Nobby Clarke had pulled him aside to have a look at the new cars he was building, proudly proclaiming all of the improvements the vehicles will feature. It turned out that one was still available, though Mr. Denby sadly had to accept that it was just a bit too far out of his reach.

About two years later, Denby found himself a bit more financially secure and managed to extract the names of the owners of the RC-series cars from Clarke. Coincidentally, the one car that he had interest in was RC44, Mr. Regnert’s car and the very same one he saw at Hendon two years prior. Denby reached out to Regnert inquiring if the Bentley was for sale, receiving a polite response that it was his favorite of his many automobiles and that he hoped to keep it for the rest of his life. One more attempt was made after WWII, and with the same reply, the Bentley was largely forgotten.

In the spring of 1959, Mr. Denby was perusing The Autocar when he spotted an ad for a one-owner, RC-series Bentley with open four-seat touring coachwork by Vanden Plas. He knew right away that it was RC44, and immediately arranged to purchase it. Mr. Denby re-registered the car as “AK 13” – his lucky number plate - and would continue to care for the Bentley into the mid-1970s, with numerous receipts showing the level of care he lavished on it well into his stewardship.

In approximately 1975, the Bentley was sold to Albert George Sparrowhawk, whose name is the last to appear on the original VE60. It seems the car was re-registered in 1981 as AS6000, and a stack of receipts, tax discs, and MOT certificates document its progress through the 80s and into the late 1990s. Around 2000, RC44 was sold to Roy Perler of Connecticut. Mr. Perler was responsible for the concours-quality restoration done in England by L. Sykes Ltd. It is not known what became of the original coachwork, but invoices show current lightweight Vanden Plas-style body was crafted by the highly-respected Roger Wing Coachbuilders, with additional components and full weather equipment coming from James E. Pearce.

In 2004, RC44 was acquired by its most recent owner; a passionate American collector who continued to care for it regardless of cost, and regularly used it in its natural environment on tours and rallies. It has been maintained in top mechanical and cosmetic condition and presents in near-concours condition, with gorgeous brightwork, finely finished traditional dark green paint and exquisite detailing. As a testament to the strength of the original components chosen by Nobby Clarke, this car retains its original engine, front axle, rear axle, and steering box. The engine has been updated with Arias 7.8:1 pistons, bumping it to 150 horsepower. The original Carl Zeiss headlamps wear custom stone guards, and subtle turn signals have been integrated for safe touring on today’s roads. The most recent owner added additional storage in the form of a lovely upholstered trunk in the rear, and a pair of locking toolboxes affixed to the chassis. A selection of road spares and emergency tools will be included.

Now returned to its original registration of EMF115, this outstanding automobile has been cherished by each of its five owners, and presents in truly outstanding condition. It is CCCA registered and recognized by the RROC and Bentley Driver’s Club, making it a prime candidate for any number of domestic or international events. Finely sorted and proven on numerous events, RC44 is ready for its next keeper to experience the particular joys that come from motoring in a Vintage Bentley.

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