W.O. Bentley began selling cars out of his Cricklewood workshops in 1920, and within a few short years, grew his company into a dominant force in endurance motor racing across Europe. His cars were powerful, robust, and exquisitely crafted, finding favor with sportsmen and aristocrats alike. Despite his enormous engineering talents, W.O. Bentley was somewhat less successful as a businessman and soon, financial troubles afflicted the firm. The considerable cost of developing the flagship 8-Litre right on the cusp of an economic downturn ultimately cost him control of his eponymous firm. In 1931, fierce rivals Rolls-Royce Ltd. acquired Bentley - the company as well as the services of W.O. himself - and moved all 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 takeover eventually proved to be very successful for both firms. That said, W.O. Bentley did not enjoy much of his short stay at Rolls-Royce, departing for Lagonda at the end of 1935.
The first new Bentley released under the Rolls-Royce umbrella was the 3 ½ Litre 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 left the works only as complete rolling chassis. Dealers and individual buyers selected coachwork from a wide variety of builders, including the great English firms Vanden Plas, Park Ward, H.J. Mulliner, and Freestone & Webb among many others. The light, sturdy double-drop chassis allowed for low-slung styling, which inspired coachbuilders to grace the 3½ with the latest in streamlined designs, ranging from formal to sporting, conservative to flamboyant. Regardless of the coachwork, the Bentley 3 ½-litre proved to be Bentley’s saving grace, selling more than 1,100 units before the arrival of the replacement 4 ¼ in 1936.
Our featured Bentley 3 ½-litre is a charming example fitted with Park Ward’s handsome four-passenger Drophead Coupe coachwork. This Derby Bentley has never been fully restored, and shows moderate patina yet remains an inviting car for driving enthusiasts. Factory records show chassis number B 82 FB was ordered in August 1935, and delivered in October 1935 to Park Ward where it received this handsome and sporting drophead coupe coachwork. The build sheet indicates an original color scheme of Wedgewood Blue with light blue accents and dark blue Connolly hides, similar to how the car appears today. The ownership chain is well documented, thanks to a copy of the original UK registration book, which shows continuous ownership among the Nicoll family of London from the 1940s through 1960, then to Miss Denise E. Jackson-Moore of Berkshire. Rolls-Royce Owner’s Club documents show B 82 FB came stateside in approximately 1963 under the care of Mr. Jerry Hicks of Elyria, Ohio. Mr. Hicks enjoyed the car in numerous RROC events and cared for it through about 1981. It later appeared for sale in the Flying Lady classifieds, offered by Bruce Earlin of Milford, Pennsylvania. In 1984, the most recent owner purchased the Bentley and continued to enjoy and maintain it over the past 35 years.
All the while, this Bentley 3 ½ has enjoyed regular use and maintenance. It appears this car has never been fully restored; rather, it has had a respray or two and consistent mechanical care through the years. The body is in remarkably good condition, with straight panels and consistent gaps. Notably, the doors show none of the typical “drop” that commonly afflicts these cars; opening and closing with the kind of precision and feel expected of a Derby Bentley. The paintwork is older, and while there are visible imperfections, it is sound and generally glossy, befitting the honest character of this car. Similarly, the brightwork is careworn; however, the bumpers, radiator shell, and Lucas headlamps are relatively straight and free of significant blemishes.
The interior is a particular high point, with blue leather on the seats and door panels, and complementing blue carpets. The hides are in excellent condition, feeling supple and lightly broken-in on the seating surfaces. The wood instrument fascia is also in attractive, sound order, with a warm patina and some checking evident in the lacquer. Gauges, switches, and fittings all present in fine original condition.
Thanks to a life of regular care and maintenance, this 3 ½ Litre is in good running and driving order. Some additional mechanical sorting is recommended prior to embarking on any significant tours, yet the car is generally quite well-behaved on the road. It retains its original, numbers-matching engine (no. T6BM) which runs well, with the refinement expected from The Silent Sports Car. With minimal preparation, this honest and well-loved Bentley would make a marvelous event car, while also serving as a superb basis for a more extensive restoration. Well-documented and cherished through the years, and with handsome Park Ward coachwork, this Derby Bentley is ready for its next long-term caretaker.
Offers welcome and trades considered