Bentley Motors achieved success with its first car, the single overhead camshaft 4-valve per cylinder 3-Litre introduced in 1919. Always intended as a sporting car the 3-Litre was, if anything, overbuilt and its rugged reliability was successful in competition, rallies and daily use on the rudimentary roads of the day.
It proved itself in the toughest test of the day, the 24 Hour of Le Mans, winning outright in 1924 and 1927.
Soon, however, owners began to specify heavy, enclosed coachbuilt bodies that taxed the 3-Litre’s performance and its stiffly-sprung but flexible chassis frame. Bentley expediently responded with a longer wheelbase chassis that, if anything, further taxed the 3-Litre’s roughly 80hp engine. More was needed.
For that Bentley designed a new engine with two more cylinders and roughly 4 ½ litres displacement. A chance encounter with the prototype Rolls-Royce “New Phantom” on the way back from Le Mans in 1924 turned into a speed contest which showed the Bentley needed even more speed. The decision was taken to drastically increase displacement to 6 ½ litres (6,597cc) which became the production 6 ½ introduced in 1925 and first produced in early 1926.
The 6 ½’s design was faithful to the fully developed 3-Litre with a single overhead camshaft, fixed cylinder head, 4 valves per cylinder and an eight main bearing crankshaft. The Speed Six followed in 1928 with twin SU carburetors and revised intake system that brought it up to 160hp – circa 200hp in Team Car specs. The Speed Six’s 140mm stroke augmented its horsepower with steam engine-like low rpm torque that made it easy to drive in all situations.
The Bentley Speed Six was consistently successful in competition, winning Le Mans in 1929 and 1930 on the way to taking five wins and four seconds in major races between 1929 and 1931, an achievement that has made it a favorite for collectors and competitors.
Most 6 ½ Litres were bodied with large, luxuriously appointed, heavy multi-passenger coachwork on long wheelbase chassis that ranged upward from 11 feet to an awesome 12 feet 7 ¼ inches (12 feet 8 ½ inches in some chassis with repositioned front axles). Contrasting, however, most survivors today wear Vanden Plas style 4-seat Sports Tourer bodies.
1930 Bentley 6 ½ Litre s/n LR2779 is one of those fortunate survivors. Originally bodied by Thrupp & Maberly with open-front semi-formal cabriolet de ville coachwork, LR 2779 survived only until the late 40’s or early 50’s, when it disappeared into the mists of Bentley history. Parts from LR2779 were resurrected in Australia and entrusted to Rod Warriner to be built up as a Speed Six Vanden Plas Le Mans Replica Sports Tourer. Its chassis number, recognized on its registration documents, is attributed to its rear axle “banjo”, the center section housing the differential and the tubes housing the axle shafts.
The engine is largely new, with aluminum castings and a non-standard but effective dual SU carburetor intake manifold on the dual port fixed cylinder head. A Bentley “C” type gearbox is fitted as was standard for this 6 ½ Litre although this was originally fitted to a 4 ½ Litre s/n UK3288. Rod-operated 4-wheel brakes are assisted by a Dewandre L2 vacuum brake servo.
The bodywork is a Vanden Plas-style Sports Tourer with two doors and four seats finished in green with fabric-covered passenger tonneau. The interior is in standard green leather with a full folding top and rear seat cloth tonneau cover. Other details are patterned after the famed Speed Six “Old No. 1”, Le Mans winner in 1929 and 1930, including the Lucas P100 headlights and Hartford friction shocks. The 4-spoke Bluemels steering wheel is appropriately reeded for better grip. There is even a French-origin “Les Billards” counter adapted to the cockpit surround for keeping track of laps, just as the Bentley Team Cars did at Le Mans.
The Le Mans Bentley presentation is continued with dual Brooklands aeroscreens, a wire mesh folding windshield, mesh shielded rear fuel tank and cycle fenders.
LR2779 is the subject of an exhaustive April 2019 analysis by Bentley expert Clare Hay comprising 29 pages of narrative, analysis and photographs. It is further supported by historical documents and a copy of the Bentley Service Record.
All of which is just precis to appreciating what this Speed Six is, a fabulously detailed, meticulously restored dynamic driving automobile from the classic era that preserves and imparts the sensation of a 100 mph plus car from the Bentley marque’s glory days. It has been sampled by our usually-jaded Hyman Ltd. techs and each of them has come back from a romp smiling ear-to-ear. It has acquired in its most recent prominent collection’s ownership some of the “Old No. 1” details that characterize it while being fastidiously maintained in road and tour ready condition.
It is what it purports to be, and that is fast and evocative with six cylinders of nearly 1100cc per hole that have an irreproducible sound and emotional effect.
It is emblematic of the best, the very best, of Bentley’s Cricklewood years.
Offers welcome and trades considered
Stock number 7615
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