The arrival of the 3 ½ Litre in 1933 signified a new beginning for Bentley. The company produced its first car in 1920, and in spite of a relatively short existence, Bentley established itself as one of the finest motor car companies in the world, becoming a dominant force in motor racing. As with other talented engineers through history, W.O. Bentley was somewhat less successful as a businessman. Despite the impeccable reputation the marque had earned, the enormous cost of cars such as the 8-Liter would ultimately cost him control of the firm that bore his name. In 1931, Rolls-Royce Ltd. acquired Bentley - the company as well as the services of W.O. himself - and moved production to their Derby works. While some of Bentley’s staunchest supporters were dismayed at the thought of their beloved company falling under the auspices of rival Rolls-Royce, the sale proved to be a very successful venture for both firms, as subsequent Bentley models proved to be comfortable, reliable, and highly capable grand touring machines.
The first new Bentley released under the Rolls-Royce umbrella was the 3 ½ Liter of 1933. While the Cricklewood-built cars from the W.O. period were highly focused, uncompromising machines for the sportsman, Rolls-Royce transformed Bentley into “The Silent Sports Car.” The sporting spirit of Bentley remained, now with greater comfort, refinement and importantly, broader appeal. In keeping with tradition, Derby Bentleys were shipped only as complete rolling chassis to be bodied to order by dealers or individual buyers. The light, sturdy double-drop frame allowed for low-slung styling, allowing the finest coachbuilders of the era to grace the 3½ with the latest streamline designs.
This marvelous Bentley 3 ½ Litre bears chassis number B93AE, clothed in Park Ward’s handsome four-passenger Drophead Coupe coachwork. It presents in very good condition, with a lovely older restoration that has mellowed gracefully with time and care. B93AE is a very early Derby Bentley, believed to be the 43rd chassis built under Rolls-Royce ownership. The first owner was Sir Frederick Charles Stewart, who took delivery on March 24, 1934. F.C. Stewart served as the managing director for John Brown & Company, one of the largest and most illustrious shipbuilders in the world.
At the time of Stewart’s leadership, John Brown & Company received a commission from Cunard to build two of the largest, fastest ocean liners in the world. After the onset of the Great Depression Cunard merged with rivals White Star Lines, and after a worrisome pause, construction of Hull Numbers 534 and 552 resumed. These two ships would later become Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, respectively: Two of the most prestigious and prominent ocean liners of the twentieth century. The Queen Mary held the coveted Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing from 1938 to 1952, with only one break in that record.
A man with such stature in Britain’s proud shipbuilding industry deserved nothing less than the finest motorcar, and F.C. Stewart rewarded himself with the purchase of his sporting and stylish Bentley 3 ½ Litre, which he cherished for many years. In 1950 the car passed on to Iain Maxwell Stewart, then to Dr. David MacMyn, and then Dr. Hector Seymour Peter Monroe, of Lockerbie, Scotland. Intriguing badges from the Rhodesian AA, Rondalia Toerklub, and Institute of Advanced Motorists, South Africa (an organization founded in 1964) hint at the car’s post-war history. The trail picks up more clearly in 1978 when Robert G. Parker of Pebble Beach, California registered B93AE with the RROC. It was later listed for sale by Dr. R.P. Buedingen of Castro Valley, California. The Bentley received a complete restoration in the early 1990s and spent many years lovingly maintained as part of the Sid Craig collection.
This motorcar presents in fine condition today, both cosmetically and mechanically. Park Ward’s design is equally handsome with the hood folded or in place. It has a distinctly low-slung appearance, enhanced by the rear-mounted spare wheel, painted radiator shell and polished alloy wheel discs. In many ways, the Park Ward Drophead Coupe is the quintessential Derby Bentley: Elegant, discreetly sporting, and of exceptional build quality. The subtle duo-tone red exterior pairs well with the sporting nature of the coachwork, highlighted by a dark feature line and subtle gray and gold pin striping. The matching red Everflex vinyl roof is in excellent order and accessories include the Winged B mascot, Lucas King of the Road headlamps, and enclosed spare wheel. Reflective of its age, there are some very minor imperfections and superficial cracks in the paint, which do little to detract from the striking overall appearance.
Rich red leather features in the opulent cockpit. The front seats are pleasingly broken in, with an appealing character in the leather. Red Wilton carpets are excellent, as is the fabulous woodwork on the dash and door caps. The door cards are finished in red leather, embossed with bold Winged B logos. Instruments are beautifully restored, and the controls and switches are correct original items.
The original, matching-numbers engine remains in place, complete with numbers matching timing cover, starter, and dynamo. It mates to a four-speed manual gearbox operated via Bentley’s signature right-hand shift lever that delivers a satisfying mechanical feel. Some signs of use and age are apparent on the splash pans and elsewhere around the engine compartment, lending the car well to regular enjoyment with the Bentley Driver’s Club or the Rolls Royce Owner’s Club, while it remains worthy of casual show.
The extensive file includes build sheets and chassis cards obtained by the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club, as well as the original English registration book in Sir Frederic Charles Stewart’s name, first stamped March 23, 1934. Receipts and a hand-written ledger started by the third owner further document this car’s fascinating journey. On its own, this marvelous automobile stands as a highly attractive, finely preserved, and usable Derby Bentley. With its rich and fascinating history, B93AE becomes an alluring artifact from the romantic era when financiers, socialites, and captains of industry traveled swiftly and opulently both by land and by sea.