Following up on the success of the inaugural 3-Litre model, W.O. Bentley supplemented the line with the big six-cylinder 6 ½ Litre, which he offered to accommodate growing customer demand for larger, heavier, and increasingly luxurious coachwork. The 6 ½ and the high-performance Speed Six derivative served as the flagships of the marque - powerful touring cars built to compete with Rolls-Royce’s New Phantom. By 1927, the four-cylinder 3-litre reached the end of its development, and Bentley needed a suitable replacement. Unlike Rolls-Royce, who remained staunchly opposed to participating in motorsport, Bentley’s core audience remained the racing fraternity. While the 3-liter had more than proven its worth on the circuit, the time had come for a stronger and more powerful variant to take its place and uphold Bentley’s sporting honor.
The 3-litre served as the blueprint for the new car, which retained the same four-cylinder, sixteen-valve, overhead-cam layout, albeit with displacement punched out to 4,398 cubic centimeters. The chassis, brakes, and gearbox were suitably upgraded and strengthened to handle the additional output of the new engine. The new 4 ½ Litre was powerful and fast, proving itself at LeMans and elsewhere in the hands of the Works “Bentley Boys.” As always, Bentley only supplied the cars only as rolling chassis to dealers and customers, so the choice of coachwork was left to the buyer or selling dealers. Vanden Plas remained Bentley’s favored coachbuilder, and they constructed the majority of the bodies for all Cricklewood-built Bentleys, which ranged from sporty open tourers to more formal saloons and coupes. The 4 ½ Litre remains the quintessential Vintage Bentley, supported by a passionate and knowledgeable group of owners who take great pride in using their cars as W.O. Bentley originally intended.
With its evocative original Vanden Plas coachwork and honest, well-earned patina, this 1929 Bentley 4 ½ Lire, represents the quintessential Vintage Bentley. Chassis number FB3317 is a superb motorcar that comes to us with an extensive history file complete with a Clare Hay Report, factory service records, and extensive receipts. Bentleys of this era were generally driven hard and fast by their enthusiastic owners. As a result, very few survive intact with the factory coachwork, engines, and other major components. Nearly a century of racing, fast road use, and the occasional prang will take its toll on any car, even a famously robust Bentley 4 ½, so it is a particularly special occasion to encounter such a well-documented car with many important original components.
According to Dr. Hay’s exhaustive research, FB3317 received the Vanden Plas standard sports four-seater body, serial number 1553. Upon completion from the coachbuilder, it returned to Bentley for final testing and was first delivered in January 1929 to F.W. Howarth of The Danes, Higher Crumpshall, Manchester. Mr. Howarth was quite the Bentley man, as he also owned a 3-Litre Arnold Saloon, a 4 ½ J. Gurney Nutting Saloon, and a 1930 4 ½ Litre Supercharged Vanden Plas coupe. Factory service records show the car returned to the factory for repairs following a minor road accident in 1930, where it received a new radiator with a stone guard and a racing-style quick-release radiator cap.
The Hay Report documents the subsequent owners, return trips to the Works for service, and components changes. The car endured a couple of incidents and returned for a new front axle, fuel tank, and minor chassis fittings. All the while, the engine, gearbox, and coachwork remained intact. FB3317 was likely taken off the road during the war, only to emerge again with Maj. A.W. Jones in 1946, followed by J.B. Mort circa 1953. Somewhere in this period, the chassis frame from AD3671 replaced the original. Dr. Hay’s theory is that AD3671 was broken up during the war and because FB3317 suffered fatigue from its earlier accidents, replacing the frame was the most logical course of action.
Captain Geoffrey Hunt brought the car to the ‘States in 1956, adding the superb Marchal Trilux Superphare headlamps it wears today. Subsequent ownership is well-documented, and by the 1960s, FB3317 was in the hands of W.A. Boone in the United States. Boone treated the Bentley to a deserved high-quality restoration, documented by the Bentley Driver’s Club Review (number 100). At that time, Don Carpenter of Kenosha, WI restored the original Vanden Plas fabric coachwork, taking great care to retain as much of the 1929 wooden structure as possible. Boone and his Bentley went on to win numerous concours awards in the coming years. Highlights include an average score of 97 points in CCCA events, including one 100 point win, an AACA National 1st Prize, and multiple RROC and BDC awards. In addition to its concours success, FB3317 has seen regular use in rallies and tours from the 1970s through today.
Today, this remarkable Bentley 4 ½-Litre presents in a condition befitting a properly-loved Vintage Bentley; with a restoration honestly but gently weathered through a history of continuous, enjoyment, maintenance, and care. It features many desirable fittings, including the factory-fitted racing-type radiator cap, the Marchal headlamps, and LeMans style petrol tank. The dark green paintwork on the bonnet and cycle wings is glossy and in excellent overall condition, proudly wearing stone chips and cracks as badges of honor acquired through its long history as a touring car. The upholstery has a similarly honest, careworn appeal with excellent black leather front and rear. In 2018, Steve Babinsky of Automotive Restorations of Lebanon, New Jersey, restored the existing top frame and made a new canvas roof including new side curtains and tonneau cover.
In the hands of the most recent owners, FB3317 has enjoyed expert mechanical care by Mr. Babinsky’s workshop, including a rebuilt generator, water pump, and valve adjustment in 2018, with records going back several years. The car has been a regular participant in driving events, including the 2017 Colorado Grand and 2017 California Mille, both bookended by the 2016 and 2018 Bentley Tours. Thanks to the attentive owner, it remains in superb mechanical condition, ready to carry on its impressive record on the road. With its exceptionally well-documented history, evocative presentation, and highly desirable features, this superb motorcar is sure to bring years of joy to connoisseurs of the cars of W.O. Bentley.
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