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1926 Bentley 3-Litre Speed Model

A

Coachwork by. Vanden Plas Ltd.

Chassis No. AP 324

Body No. 1155 (Ex-Chassis No. 1088, fitted circa 1938)

Engine No. HP 397

Registration No. YO 6757

+44 (0)1869 244 255

info@robertglover.com

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The Bentley 3-Litre provided the launch pad for one of the most successful and enduring brands in motoring history. Good looks, innovative developments born out of WWI aircraft engine design and a plethora of competition success, including victories at the Le Mans 24-hour race, all contributed to the enduring popularity of both the model and the marque. The 3-Litre Bentley remains as popular amongst enthusiasts and collectors today as they were with the eager buying public during the 1920s. Powered by a four-cylinder engine of 2996cc, the engines featured many innovations for a production model including: four valves per cylinder, an overhead camshaft and twin spark ignition. Even in standard form they were good for 80mph. By the time production ceased three chassis length variants were offered including: The (oft termed) “Blue Label” on a 10’ 10” wheelbase chassis, the “Red Label” Speed Model on a 9’ 9½” wheelbase chassis and a “Green Label” Super Sports model on an even shorter 9’ wheelbase chassis, the latter with 100mph performance guaranteed by the works.

Based on Bentley’s “standard-short” 9’ 9½” wheelbase chassis, the Speed Model benefited from a higher compression motor, breathing through twin “sloper” carburettors and, mated to the A-type close ratio gearbox, had a significantly improved performance in comparison to the standard “Blue Label” Bentley 3-Litres both in terms of acceleration and top speed. The most popular coachwork design fitted to this chassis length was the supremely elegant yet sporty design of the standard 4-seat two-door coachwork from Vanden Plas. This design was basically the same design of body that featured on the works cars that were so successful at the Le Mans 24-Hour races and a superb example of form following function. The Bentley 3-Litre is an iconic British sports car and a Speed Model, such as the example offered for sale here, remains one of the most sought after vintage sportscars to this day – and rightly so.

One of just 513 Speed Model 3-Litres produced by the works, chassis no. AP 324 was completed on the 5th June 1926, sold via Gladstone Motors to a Sub Lieutenant J.E.D. Scott and registered for the road with the Yorkshire number YO 6757. Copy chassis records, on file, indicate that ‘AP 324’ was originally fitted with engine number AP 306 and Gurney Nutting Coachwork of Weymann construction, most likely a saloon. Standard long chassis frame type springs were fitted to the rear and the back-axle ratio was 13/55. ‘AP 324’ like so many 3-Litre Speed Models was obviously driven quite hard during its early years and the copy service records demonstrate this point. By 1928 the original engine had been completely rebuilt and in 1935 the chassis frame had to be repaired by Bentley Motors for McKenzie’s Garages after an accident. It is possible that the original Vanden Plas coachwork now fitted to AP 324 (Body no. 1155, ex chassis no. 1108) was fitted at the time of the accident repair, but, as Hay points out in a brief report on ‘AP 324’ contained in the file, this is unlikely as chassis no. 1108, from whence the body came, was still in circulation until 1937. To this end it is likely that the original Vanden Plas coachwork currently fitted to ‘AP 324’ was fitted in around 1938 instead. The service records for ‘AP 324’ end in 1935 and between 1926 and 1935 there are no recorded changes of ownership.

The first recorded change of ownership of ‘AP 324’ is in 1938 when the car passed to a T.P. Terry. In 1949 the Bentley was sold to Ian Macdonald who retained ownership for circa ten years until ‘AP 324’ was sold to E.J. Splaine. In 1958/9 ‘AP 324’ was exported to America and by 1980 was in the ownership of Gilbert L. Steward Jnr. of Massachusetts. Gilbert ‘Gil’ Steward was a former president of the Vintage Sports Car Club of America, an active member of North American Vintage Bentley Club and Bentley Drivers’ Club. In 1988 the Bentley was re-patriated by Brian Classic and sold to Roger Firth of Cheshire by Plus Four. At some stage the original engine, no. AP 306 was removed and for quite some time ‘AP 324’ was fitted with engine no. RT 1541.

In 2010 the Bentley was purchased by Hamish Monro who promptly replaced the existing and very tired 3-Litre engine, no. RT 1541, with a correct period 3-Litre engine, no. HP 397. Engine no. HP 397 (as fitted to AP 324 now) was treated to a comprehensive engine overhaul by Simon Adams of Edinburgh. All the usual and sensible upgrades were incorporated, including a new crankshaft (by Farndon Engineering) with main and big end bearings converted to shell type bearings, new connecting rods and pistons with new camshaft, phoenix rockers, new valves, valve springs and a replacement original 3-Litre cylinder block. Further upgrades to the car itself included 4½ -Litre type steering gears for lighter steering, ideal for longer trips and endurance rallying. Hamish Monro used the Bentley regularly including four pilgrimages to Le Mans for the 24-Hour race and only sold the car eventually to assist with the restoration of an SE 5 aircraft – possibly also by Vanden Plas?

The current owner purchased ‘AP 324’ in 2012 and has continued the annual pilgrimage to the Le Mans 24-hour race, with the Bentley ably completing the trip some seven times. Not only has it completed the trips successfully but it has also been utilised each time in the pre-race driver parade. Invoices on file date back to Roger Firth’s ownership and the current custodian has continued a good level of regular maintenance and work. These works have included the fitment of a “4-star” type differential from Kingsbury Racing Shop based here at Bicester Heritage, with further works carried out by the same firm as well as Tim Walker Restorations and Brewster Mudie. Aside from regular Le Mans trips ‘AP 324’ has been a regular feature of many a VSCC hillclimb driven with some vigour and has continued to be enjoyed in much the same way as was intended by W.O.

Well maintained, much loved and fitted for most of its life with the preferred original Vanden Plas coachwork, ‘AP 324, is sold only to allow for more time “Frazer Nashing” and is ready to be enjoyed on a plethora of national and international events when we can all get back to them. In the meantime, the current owner has continued to use the Bentley for essential trips to the supermarket. If one is to social distance then why not do it in style with a vintage Bentley?

Please note that viewings at this time are strictly by appointment only. We are able to arrange “facetime” calls and walk/talk you around the car. It is also possible for us to demonstrate the car in motion on the private test track at Bicester Heritage whilst, at the same time, respecting and adhering to the Government’s social distancing rules and guidelines in relation to Covid-19.